As reported over the past five years, Burma is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and for women and children subjected to sex trafficking, both in Burma and abroad. It is also increasingly a destination and transit country for foreign victims, including women and girls from India. Some Burmese men, women, and children who migrate for work abroad—particularly to Thailand and China, as well as other countries in Asia, the Middle East, and the United States—are subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Men are subjected to forced labor abroad in fishing, manufacturing, forestry, agriculture, and construction, while women and girls are primarily subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, or forced labor in garment manufacturing. NGOs continue to report instances of Burmese males transiting Thailand en route to Indonesia and Malaysia, where they are subjected to forced labor, primarily in fishing and other labor-intensive industries. Some Burmese men in the Thai fishing industry are subjected to debt bondage, passport confiscation, threats of physical or financial harm, or fraudulent recruitment; some are also subjected to physical abuse and forced to remain aboard vessels in international waters for years at a time without coming ashore. Burmese women are increasingly transported to China and subjected to sex trafficking and domestic servitude through forced marriages to Chinese men; Burmese government officials are occasionally complicit in this form of trafficking, as well as in the facilitation of the smuggling and exploitation of Rohingya migrants. Rohingya children fleeing violence were abducted in transit and sold into forced marriage in India, Indonesia, and Malaysia; some of them may have experienced conditions indicative of forced labor or sex trafficking.
Within Burma, men, women, and children from predominantly ethnic minority areas—including the estimated 106,000 persons displaced by conflict in Kachin and northern Shan states and at least 150,000 displaced persons in Rakhine state—are at increased risk of trafficking. In Kachin, displaced women and girls are especially vulnerable to trafficking, including forced concubinism, via forced or fraudulent marriages to Chinese men arranged by deceptive or coercive brokers. Rohingya individuals are particularly vulnerable to labor trafficking in Rakhine state, including forced labor perpetrated by government authorities. Many women and girls among the estimated 687,000 Rohingya who fled from conflict in Rakhine to neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017 have been subjected to sex trafficking in Bangladesh and India. Ethnic Rakhine are reported to be victims of forced labor on the margins of conflict between the Tatmadaw and EAGs in Rakhine State.
Local traffickers use deceptive tactics to recruit men and boys into forced labor on palm oil and rubber plantations, in jade and precious stone mines, and in riparian fishing. In Kachin State, men, women, and children are vulnerable to forced labor in jade prospecting throughout refuse areas created by larger mining operations. A majority of these prospectors are reportedly addicted to opiates or methamphetamines, which some traffickers—including members of EAGs—may exploit to retain their labor. Many people displaced by violence in Rakhine State, including ethnic Rakhine, travel to Kachin for this work. Forced eviction from new mining sites and resulting economic hardships also make Kachin communities more vulnerable to trafficking. Children are subjected to sex trafficking or to forced labor (at times through debt bondage) in teashops, small businesses, the agricultural and construction sectors, and in begging. Children and adults are subjected to domestic servitude. A small number of foreign child sex tourists exploit Burmese children.
Some Tatmadaw personnel, civilian brokers, border guard officials, and EAGs continue to recruit or use child soldiers, particularly in conflict-affected ethnic areas. Civilian recruiters in some cases coerce or offer incentives to children or their families through false promises about working conditions, salary, and promotion opportunities. EAGs force men and boys to serve through intimidation, coercion, threats, arbitrary taxation, and violence. The Tatmadaw has employed the same tactics in the past, although many children identified in military service initially enter under the auspices of civilian brokers or enlist at the behest of their own families. Some child soldiers are deployed to the front-line as combatants. Observers note that, as the Tatmadaw continues to strengthen age verification measures and demobilize children identified among its ranks, forced labor of children in the private sector and by civilian officials is increasing. Tatmadaw-backed militias are also increasingly involved in the recruitment and use of children in conflict settings. Some EAGs abduct or recruit children, including from internally displaced persons’ camps, to fight against the Tatmadaw.
The Tatmadaw, civilian officials, and some EAGs also use various forms of coercion, including threats of financial and physical harm, to compel adult victims into forced labor. In areas with active conflict, members of local populations—mostly men, but also women and children—are subjected to forced labor, including portering, cleaning, cooking, and public infrastructure projects. Civilians are also subjected to forced labor through the Tatmadaw’s “self-reliance” policy, under which battalions are responsible for procuring their own food and labor from local communities. Although reports of Tatmadaw-controlled forced labor and other abuses occur across the country, prevalence is highest among ethnic minority communities in the conflict zones within Shan, Karen, and Kachin states; however, reporting and verification mechanisms are weak or non-existent in these areas, making it difficult to fully assess the scope of the crime. Land confiscation by the Tatmadaw, local government, and private businesses place agricultural workers and people living in mining areas at risk for forced labor, including on lands they had previously occupied.