As reported over the past five years, human traffickers subject men, women, and children to forced labor, and women and children to sex trafficking, both in Burma and abroad. There have also been limited reports of traffickers transporting foreign victims through Burma en route to other countries in Asia. Traffickers subject 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—to forced labor or sex trafficking. Traffickers force men to work abroad in fishing, manufacturing, forestry, agriculture, and construction, and they subject women and girls primarily to sex trafficking or forced labor in garment manufacturing and domestic service. NGOs continue to report instances of Burmese males transiting Thailand en route to Indonesia and Malaysia, where traffickers subject them to forced labor, primarily in fishing and other labor-intensive industries. Senior crew aboard Thai-owned and flagged fishing vessels subject some Burmese men to forced labor through debt-based coercion, passport confiscation, threats of physical or financial harm, or fraudulent recruitment; they also subject some to physical abuse and force them to remain aboard vessels in international waters for years at a time without coming ashore. Traffickers are increasingly transporting Burmese women to China and subjecting them 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. Traffickers abduct Rohingya women and children in transit while fleeing violence—and reportedly from refugee camps in Bangladesh—and sell them into forced marriage in India, Indonesia, and Malaysia; some of them may experience conditions indicative of forced labor or sex trafficking.
Within Burma, men, women, and children from predominantly ethnic minority areas—including more than 107,000 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. Approximately one quarter of the population in Burma does not have access to citizenship or identification documents, generating trafficking vulnerabilities that disproportionately affect ethnic minority groups—particularly in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States. In Kachin, displaced women and girls are especially vulnerable to trafficking, including forced concubinism leading to forced childbearing, via forced or fraudulent marriages to Chinese men arranged by deceptive or coercive brokers. One academic study found that 2,800 out of 5,000 Kachin and Shan women returning to Burma after experiencing forced marriage in China had also been subjected to forced childbearing. 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 728,000 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. Traffickers subject members of Burma’s Shan, Burman, and Thai Yai ethnic groups to sex trafficking and forced labor in seasonal strawberry and longan harvesting, year-round orange farming, manufacturing in registered and unregistered factories, and construction of roads and city government facilities across the border in northwestern Thailand. Traffickers use deceptive recruitment tactics and immigration status-based coercion to subject migrant workers from Shan State to forced labor on sugarcane plantations in China’s Yunnan Province.
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 and government-supported militias—may intentionally facilitate and exploit to retain their labor. Crime syndicates subject women and girls to sex trafficking in massage parlors located in close proximity to these refuse mining areas, often in partnership with local government and law enforcement officials. 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 make Kachin communities more vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers subject children to sex trafficking or to forced labor, at times through debt-based coercion, in teashops, small businesses, the agricultural and construction sectors, and in begging. Traffickers subject children and adults to forced 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. The Tatmadaw deploys some child soldiers to the front-line as combatants. 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, the Tatmadaw subjects members of local populations—mostly men, but also women and children—to forced labor in portering, construction, cleaning, cooking, and public infrastructure projects. The Tatmadaw also subjects civilians to forced labor as part of its “self-reliance” policy, under which battalions are responsible for procuring their own food and labor from local communities. Reports of Tatmadaw-controlled forced labor and other abuses are highest among ethnic minority communities in the conflict zones within Shan, Karen, and Kachin states. Land confiscation by the Tatmadaw, local government, and private businesses places agricultural workers and people living in mining areas at risk for forced labor, including on lands they had previously occupied.
The government operates as many as 47 prisons and 49 labor camps, which it officially dubs “agriculture and livestock breeding career training centers” and “manufacturing centers,” respectively. The camps house more than 20,000 inmates across the country, including Rohingya and others convicted under spurious or politically motivated charges. Eighteen of these camps feature mining operations. Authorities reportedly send prisoners whose sentences do not include “hard labor” to these labor camps in contravention of the law. Labor camp authorities also “rent out” portions of the prison population as a labor source for private companies. Political prisoners may be at elevated risk of trafficking upon release due to laws preventing them from securing documents related to proof of identity, travel permission, or land ownership. Anti-LGBTI laws place some LGBTI individuals at higher risk of extortion and psychological coercion by law enforcement.