As reported over the past five years, China is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. China’s internal migrant population, estimated to exceed 180 million people, is vulnerable to trafficking, with Chinese men, women, and children subjected to forced labor in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories, some of which operate illegally and take advantage of lax government enforcement. While the law prohibits employers from withholding property from an employee as a security deposit, previous reports indicate such practices continue, thereby making certain workers vulnerable to forced labor. African and Asian men are exploited on Chinese maritime vessels, working under conditions indicative of forced labor. Forced begging by adults and children occurs throughout China. Traffickers target persons with developmental disabilities and children whose parents have left them with relatives to migrate to the cities—estimated at more than 60 million—and subject them to forced labor and forced begging.
State-sponsored forced labor continued to be an area of concern in China. In 2013, the National People’s Congress ratified a decision to abolish “Re-education through labor” (RTL), a punitive system in which individuals were subjected to extra-judicial detention involving forced labor, from which the government reportedly profited. The government closed most RTL facilities by October 2015; however, the government reportedly converted some RTL facilities into state-sponsored drug rehabilitation facilities or administrative detention centers where, according to unverified reports, forced labor continues. Religious and political activists held in legal education facilities have previously reported forced labor occurring in pretrial detention and outside of penal sentences. Despite an official policy promulgated in 2016 limiting the maximum time women could be detained for prostitution offenses to 72 hours, officials continue to detain Chinese and foreign women on prostitution charges for months at a time without screening for sex trafficking. Officials detain foreign women fleeing abuse, to include sex and labor trafficking, experienced in relation to their forced or fraudulent marriages to Chinese men; many of these women remain in detention for months before authorities repatriate them—or in some cases return them to their abusive circumstances. Some of these women are held without due process in “custody and education” centers, where they are subjected to forced labor. In February 2017, local authorities in Xinjiang issued a notice that rural obligatory labor had been completely abolished throughout the province; however, amid tight government control over the flow of information out of Xinjiang, the extent to which this ban was implemented remained unclear. Although there were no confirmed reports of forced labor in Xinjiang during the reporting year, human rights organizations previously expressed concerns about forced labor under the “hashar” system of compulsory agricultural labor and under the auspices of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps—an economic and paramilitary organization with administrative control over several cities in the province. According to some reports, the Chinese government has also detained tens of thousands—and possibly hundreds of thousands—of Uighurs and sent them to special facilities for the purpose of “political reeducation.” The families of these detainees may be at elevated risk of exploitation in their absence. The impact of formal discriminatory employment policies barring Uighurs from jobs in many sectors may also place them at higher risk of exploitation. Implementation of a law placing foreign NGOs in mainland China under MPS supervision continued to impose burdensome requirements and restrictions on the activities of civil society organizations—including those able to provide services for trafficking victims and communities vulnerable to the crime. International media and the ILO report children in some work-study programs supported by local governments and schools are forced to work in factories.
Chinese women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within China. Traffickers typically recruit them from rural areas and take them to urban centers, using a combination of fraudulent job offers and coercion by imposing large travel fees, confiscating passports, confining victims, or physically and financially threatening victims to compel their engagement in commercial sex. Well-organized criminal syndicates and local gangs play key roles in the trafficking of Chinese women and girls in China, recruiting victims with fraudulent employment opportunities and subsequently forcing them into commercial sex. Illicit brokers increasingly facilitate the forced and fraudulent marriage of South Asian, Southeast Asian, and African women and girls to Chinese men for fees of up $30,000. The men—sometimes in partnership with their parents—often incur large debts to cover these fees, which they attempt to recover by subjecting the “brides” to forced labor or prostitution. Some Chinese men are reportedly circumventing this brokerage system by traveling to Southeast Asian capitals and entering into legal marriages with local women and girls, then returning to China and subjecting them to forced prostitution. There are also reports of Chinese men and their parents deceiving Southeast Asian women and girls into fraudulent marriages in China, then confining them in forced concubinism for the purpose of pregnancy.
Chinese men, women, and children are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in at least 57 other countries. Chinese men, women, and girls are forced to labor in restaurants, shops, agriculture, and factories in overseas Chinese communities. Some are promised jobs abroad and confined to private homes upon arrival overseas, held in conditions indicative of forced labor, and compelled to conduct telephone scams. Chinese men in Africa and South America experience abuse at construction sites, in coal and copper mines, and in other extractive industries, where they face conditions indicative of forced labor, such as non-payment of wages, restrictions on movement, withholding of passports, and physical abuse. Congolese men and boys experience conditions indicative of forced labor in Chinese-owned mining operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Chinese women and girls are subjected to sexual exploitation throughout the world, including in major cities, construction sites, remote mining and logging camps, and areas with high concentrations of Chinese migrant workers. Chinese men reportedly engage in child sex tourism in Cambodia.
Women and children from neighboring Asian countries, Africa, and the Americas are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in China. North Korean women are subjected to forced prostitution, forced marriage, and forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, and factories. According to media and a 2015 UN report, North Korean citizens are subjected to forced labor in China by the North Korean government, possibly with the knowledge of Chinese officials. African and South American women are promised legitimate jobs in China and forced into prostitution upon arrival. The Chinese government’s birth limitation policy and a cultural preference for sons created a skewed sex ratio of 117 boys to 100 girls in China, which observers assert increases the demand for prostitution and for foreign women as brides for Chinese men—both of which may be procured by force or coercion. Women and girls are kidnapped or recruited through marriage brokers and transported to China, where some are subjected to commercial sex or forced labor.