Due to the protracted conflict and tenuous political situation, the government faced serious challenges to combat trafficking, including substantial internal security threats, weak institutions, systemic corruption, economic deprivation, food insecurity, social disintegration, limited territorial control, and poor law enforcement capabilities. The government made few discernible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, though senior ROYG officials have repeated their commitment to fighting trafficking. The absence of a law criminalizing all forms of trafficking and the government’s conflation of trafficking and smuggling hindered government efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders. Article 248 of the penal code criminalized slavery and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. However, Article 248 narrowly focused on transactions and movement and therefore did not criminalize many forms of labor and sex trafficking, as defined under international law. Article 279 criminalized child sex trafficking under its prostitution provision and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment, which could be increased to up to 15 years’ imprisonment under aggravating circumstances; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2014, the government adopted a bill that it subsequently referred to the Parliament, which aimed to combat all forms of trafficking, protect and assist victims, generate societal awareness of the risks of trafficking in order to reduce the phenomenon, and promote national cooperation.
The legitimate government of the Republic of Yemen did not have full oversight of the courts and therefore did not report efforts to prosecute, convict, or punish trafficking offenses during the year. In addition, the government was unable to pursue any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses, despite continued reports of officials engaged in trafficking in both urban and rural areas, including the domestic servitude of children and women, sex trafficking of women, recruitment and use of child soldiers by the government of the Republic of Yemen Armed Forces, and forced labor of migrant workers. Prior to the conflict, the government did not effectively enforce anti-trafficking provisions and lacked resources and awareness of trafficking crimes.
The government did not have the access or capacity to identify and provide adequate protection services to trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as women in prostitution and migrant laborers, some of whom were transiting en-route to the Gulf States. As a result, the government was unable to ensure trafficking victims were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, such as prostitution or immigration violations. Although formal standard operating procedures for proactive identification of trafficking victims existed, efforts to implement or train law enforcement on these procedures were suspended due to the prolonged unrest. Furthermore, the government did not encourage victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of their traffickers and was financially unable to provide assistance to its nationals repatriated after enduring trafficking abroad. During the reporting period, militia forces—including some aligned with the legitimate government—continued to unlawfully recruit and use some child soldiers; however, the government took some action in criticizing or condemning the active and aggressive rebel recruitment of child soldiers, including public press statements, and expressed its commitment to properly address this crime.
Due to its broad lack of access and capacity limitations, the government did not make efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. The government established the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking pursuant to Council of Ministers Decision No.46 of 2012; its members included governmental and non-governmental interlocutors. A draft national strategy to combat trafficking initiated by the Ministry of Human Rights in a previous reporting period, in coordination with an international organization, remained pending. The draft included plans for raising awareness, increasing cooperation between Yemen and neighboring countries, training officials in victim identification, and instituting procedures to protect victims. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel and did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.
Since the escalation of armed conflict in March 2015, human rights organizations reported parties to the conflict continued their unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. However, verification of such cases became increasingly challenging during the reporting period due to intensified security threats against the monitors and communities of interest, in addition to more restrictive humanitarian access. As a result of its limited capacity and the ongoing conflict, the ROYG has not implemented a 2014 UN action plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, although the government continued to express interest in revitalizing the discussion on implementation. Despite the Council of Ministers-issued Decision No.212 of 2012 endorsing the Paris Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces or armed groups and a 1991 law requiring members of the armed forces to be at least 18 years of age, in addition to the May 2014 UN action plan to prevent unlawful recruitment of children into its armed forces, credible reports indicated the protraction of unlawful recruitment of children throughout the country during the reporting period. Due to expansion of military activity by government and Houthi forces, tribal and coalition militias, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, during the year the recruitment, training, and mobilization of children as participants in the conflict intensified. An international organization reported armed groups used both boys and girls in combat and to guard checkpoints and military facilities during the reporting period. This is largely due to endemic customs and culture in which tribal leaders arm children to participate in local militias that may support the government, back the Houthi movement, act as an anti-Houthi force, or be part of an unaligned tribal, local, or regional group that protects the respective village from rival tribes or other outsiders. During the reporting period, verified cases of the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers occurred with some familial knowledge or consent, and monetary and material support were utilized as incentives for joining the army, and to a lesser extent forced enrollment via abductions. Recruitment continued to target schools across Yemen. According to an international organization, between April and December 2018, armed groups unlawfully recruited and used at least 96 children between the ages of 14-17, compared to 370 the previous reporting period; the sharp decline was due to highly restrictive humanitarian access to areas in which heavy fighting occurred, particularly in Al Khawkhah, Ad Durayhimi, Hays, Al Hudaydah and other port city districts, which impacted the documentation and verification of incidents during the reporting period. The majority of incidents were attributed to the Houthis and affiliated factions (62), and to a lesser extent by groups affiliated with the Yemeni government but outside its command and control, as well as the Popular Committees (34). As in years past, in 2018, Yemeni officials did not report demobilizing any child soldiers. In 2018, the Saudi-led coalition demobilized and referred to Yemeni officials an unspecified number of child soldiers alleged to have been recruited by the Houthis. Yemen’s security, political, and economic crises, cultural acceptance of child soldiering, weak law enforcement mechanisms, and limited political will continued to severely encumber the country’s capacity to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers.