As reported over the past five years, human traffickers subject domestic and foreign individuals to trafficking in China, and they subject Chinese individuals to trafficking abroad. Traffickers also use China as a transit point to subject foreign individuals to trafficking in other countries throughout Asia and in international maritime industries. Well-organized criminal syndicates and local gangs subject Chinese women and girls 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. China’s national household registry system (hukou) continues to restrict rural inhabitants’ freedom to legally change their workplace or residence, placing China’s internal migrant population—estimated to exceed 180 million men, women, and children—at high risk of forced labor in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories. Some of these businesses operate illegally and take advantage of lax government enforcement. African and Asian men reportedly experience conditions indicative of forced labor aboard Chinese-flagged fishing vessels operating in the Atlantic Ocean; men from other regions may be in forced labor aboard these vessels as well. Women and girls from South Asia, Southeast Asia, and several countries in Africa experience domestic servitude, forced concubinism leading to forced childbearing, and sex trafficking via forced and fraudulent marriage to Chinese men. Traffickers target adults and children 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 bodies subject members of Muslim minority groups to forced labor as part of arbitrary mass detention and political indoctrination schemes.
State-sponsored forced labor is increasingly prevalent in China. In 2013, the National People’s Congress ratified a decision to abolish “Re-education through labor” (RTL), a punitive system that subjected individuals 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 civil society and media reports, forced labor continues.
State-sponsored forced labor is intensifying under the government’s mass detention and political indoctrination campaign against Muslim minorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (Xinjiang). Authorities have arbitrarily detained more than one million ethnic Muslims, including Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and Kyrgyz, in as many as 1,200 “vocational training centers”—internment camps designed to erase ethno-religious identities. According to civil society reports derived from interviews with survivors and family members of current detainees, the government subjects many of these individuals to forced labor in on-site or adjacent factories producing garments, carpets, cleaning supplies, and other goods for domestic and possibly international distribution. Authorities offer subsidies incentivizing Chinese companies to open factories in close proximity to the internment camps, and local governments receive additional funds for each inmate forced to work in these sites at a fraction of minimum wage or without any compensation. A small number of Han Chinese individuals may also be in detention within this system. Reports indicate the government has begun transporting thousands of people arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang to other provinces for forced labor.
Authorities in some localities also subject the families of men arbitrarily detained in Xinjiang to forced labor in their absence. Authorities are increasingly placing the young children of interned Muslims in Xinjiang in state-run boarding schools, orphanages, and “child welfare guidance centers,” and forcing them to participate in political indoctrination activities and report on their families’ religious activities. Authorities reportedly place older children among these groups in vocational schools, where some may be victims of forced labor. Some Kazakhstani and Kyrgyzstani citizens are arbitrarily detained while visiting family in Xinjiang; their children, now unaccompanied abroad, are also at elevated risk of trafficking.
Xinjiang authorities issued a notice in 2017 abolishing rural obligatory labor under the hashar system, in which thousands of Uighur adults and children were reportedly subjected to forced labor in government infrastructure projects and agriculture each year. Despite this policy change, similar forms of state-sponsored forced labor continue in Xinjiang, including under the auspices of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (Bingtuan)—an economic and paramilitary organization with administrative control over several areas in the province. Bingtuan regiments manage at least 36 agricultural prison farms throughout Xinjiang; unlike the aforementioned mass detention campaign, this system primarily subjects Han Chinese inmates—many of whom may be victims of arbitrary detention—to forced labor. Bingtuan authorities also force inmates to build new prison facilities in several areas of the province and may subject inmates to forced labor in coal and asbestos mining. There are also reports of children in forced cotton picking under direction of the Bingtuan. The impact of formal discriminatory employment policies barring Uighurs from jobs in many sectors—including in the annual cotton harvest—reportedly drives thousands of Uighur farmers out of their communities in search of alternative work, placing them at higher risk of forced labor. The same is true of the government’s targeted forced-displacement programs, including the Bingtuan’s construction of new settlements designated for ethnic Han internal migrants, which reportedly disperses Uighur communities and disrupts their livelihoods.
The government reportedly subjects some Tibetans to arbitrary detention featuring similar political indoctrination and forced prison labor practices in the Tibet Autonomous Region (Tibet) and in neighboring provinces. Authorities also reportedly subject some Buddhist clerics to political indoctrination activities and forced labor in monasteries repurposed as factories. Elsewhere, religious and political activists held in legal education facilities continue to report forced labor occurring in pretrial detention and outside of penal sentences. The government subjects Christians and members of other religious groups to forced labor as part of detention for the purpose of ideological indoctrination; survivors report having been forced to work in brick kilns, food processing centers, and factories manufacturing clothing and housewares. Law enforcement officials detain some Chinese and foreign women on prostitution charges without due process in “custody and education” centers, where they are subjected to forced labor. International media report local authorities force children in some government-supported work-study programs to work in factories.
Traffickers subject Chinese men, women, and children to forced labor and sex trafficking in at least 60 other countries. They force Chinese men, women, and girls to work in restaurants, shops, agricultural operations, 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. Traffickers subject Chinese women and girls to sex trafficking throughout the world, including in major cities, construction sites, remote mining and logging camps, and areas with high concentrations of Chinese migrant workers. Chinese traffickers operating abroad also subject local populations to forced prostitution in several countries in Africa, the Mediterranean region, and South America. Chinese men reportedly engage in child sex tourism in Cambodia and Mongolia.
Chinese traffickers subject women and children from neighboring Asian countries, Africa, and the Americas to forced labor and sex trafficking within China. Traffickers promise African and South American women legitimate jobs in China and force them 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 continues to drive the demand for prostitution and for foreign women as brides for Chinese men—both of which may be procured by force or coercion. Traffickers kidnap or recruit women and girls through marriage brokers and transport them to China, where some are subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor. Illicit brokers increasingly facilitate the forced and fraudulent marriage of South Asian, Southeast Asian, Northeast 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 compelling them into 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 involving rape leading to forced pregnancy. In cases where this forced concubinism leads to childbirth, the men and their parents sometimes use the children as collateral to retain the women’s forced labor or sexual slavery, or use the women’s immigration status as coercion to dissuade them from reporting their abuses to the authorities.
Many North Korean refugees and asylum-seekers living illegally in China are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers lure, drug, detain, or kidnap some North Korean women upon their arrival in China and compel them into prostitution in brothels, through internet sex sites, or in relation to forced marriage. Traffickers also subject these women to forced labor in agriculture, as hostesses in nightclubs and karaoke bars, in domestic servitude, and at factories. According to media and a 2018 NGO report, the North Korean government subjects North Korean citizens to forced labor in China as part of its proliferation finance system, possibly with the knowledge of Chinese officials; this includes forced labor in hotels, restaurants, and in remote cyber operations.