As reported over the last five years, Laos is a source and, to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country for women, children, and men subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Lao trafficking victims, especially from the southern region of the country, are often migrants seeking opportunities abroad who then experience labor or sexual exploitation in destination countries—most often Thailand, as well as Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Taiwan, and Japan. Some migrate with the assistance of brokers charging fees, while others move independently through Laos’ 23 official border crossings using valid travel documents. Traffickers take advantage of this migration—and the steady movement of Lao population through the country’s 50 unofficial and infrequently-monitored border crossings—to facilitate the trafficking of Lao individuals in neighboring countries. Traffickers in rural communities often lure acquaintances and relatives with false promises of legitimate work opportunities in neighboring countries, then subject them to sex or labor trafficking.
A large number of victims, particularly women and girls, are exploited in Thailand’s commercial sex industry and in forced labor in domestic service, factories, or agriculture. Lao men and boys are victims of forced labor in Thailand’s fishing, construction, and agricultural industries. Lao victims of forced labor in the Thai fishing industry have been identified in Indonesian waters. NGOs report individuals offering transportation services near the Thai border facilitate the placement of economic migrants into forced labor or sex trafficking in Thailand. Foreign traffickers increasingly collaborate with local Lao middlemen to facilitate trafficking. Many trafficking victims may be among the thousands of migrants deported or “pushed back” annually from Thailand without official notification, often by way of boats across the Mekong River. Recent changes in Thai immigration policy are reportedly driving many among the 100,000 Lao migrant workers in Thailand to cross back into remote, mountainous regions of the country via porous or unsupervised portions of the shared border. Vehicle drivers sometimes intercept these migrants when they return to Laos and facilitate their re-trafficking. Some number of women and girls from Laos are sold as brides in China and subjected to sex trafficking or forced domestic servitude. Some local officials reportedly contributed to trafficking vulnerabilities by accepting payments to facilitate the immigration of girls to China.
Laos is reportedly a transit country for some Vietnamese and Chinese women and girls who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in neighboring countries, particularly Thailand. Chinese women and girls are also subjected to sex trafficking within Laos. Some of the Vietnamese men and women working in or near (often illegal) logging and construction areas along the Laos-Vietnam border may be trafficking victims. Burmese nationals work as manual laborers or are involved in prostitution near the Lao portion of the “Golden Triangle”—the geographic area marked by the intersection of the Lao, Burmese, and Thai borders.
Some of the 20,000 registered migrant workers in Lao Special or Specific Economic Zones, along with a high number of undocumented workers in these areas, are reportedly vulnerable to trafficking or other labor abuses. An increasing number of Chinese- and Vietnamese-owned companies reportedly facilitate the unregistered entry of labor migrants from their respective countries into Laos—including with possible assistance from corrupt Lao immigration officials—and subject them to forced labor in mines, hydropower plants, and agricultural plantations. Some Lao adults are subjected to forced labor in these sectors within Laos; children in particular are subjected to forced labor in agriculture—often by their families. Other Lao communities may be vulnerable to forced labor in the ongoing construction of a major railway connecting China and Laos, along with a high number of Chinese migrant workers brought to Laos for the project. Some Vietnamese, Chinese, and Lao women and children are subjected to sex trafficking in larger cities and in close proximity to national borders, casinos, and special economic zones—especially those with heavy Chinese investment—reportedly to meet the demand of Asian tourists and migrant workers. NGOs estimate 13,000 individuals are in prostitution in Lao commercial establishments, with as many as three times that figure operating independently throughout the country. International organizations note insufficient or informal birth registration procedures leave as much as 30 percent of the Lao population without identity documentation, significantly increasing their vulnerability to exploitation. Communities resettled due to the construction of dams and other large infrastructure projects may be especially vulnerable to trafficking. Reports indicate child sex tourists from the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States have traveled to Laos for the purpose of exploiting child sex trafficking victims.