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. The pandemic, however, caused thousands of economic migrants to return to Burma from abroad in 2020; traditional cross-border migration to Thailand and China decreased because of travel restrictions and border closures, which limited instances of irregular migration. Additionally, the economic devastation caused by the February 2021 coup created new patterns of economic migration in the country and increased financial hardship for a wide swatch of the country; economic distress combined with sharply deteriorating political stability also create the conditions for trafficking and exploitation. Traffickers force men to work domestically and 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. Recruitment agencies in Burma and other Southeast Asian countries lure fishermen with promises of high wages, charge fees and curtailment deposits to assign them fake identity and labor permit documents, and then send them to fish long hours in remote waters on vessels operating under complex multinational flagging and ownership arrangements. Senior crew aboard vessels in the Thai and Taiwanese fishing fleets subject some Burmese men to forced labor through debt-based coercion, passport confiscation, contract switching, wage garnishing and withholding, 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. Informal brokers also lure Burmese men onto offshore fishing and shrimping rafts in Burmese waters, where traffickers confine and physically abuse them to retain their labor for months at a time. There are some reports of boys subjected to forced labor in Burma’s fishing industry as well. Traffickers are increasingly transporting Burmese women to China and subjecting them to sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service under the false pretense of marriage to Chinese men; Burmese government officials are occasionally complicit in this form of trafficking. Some traffickers abduct Rohingya women and children in transit while fleeing violence—and reportedly from refugee camps in Bangladesh—and sell them into sex trafficking and forced marriage in India, Indonesia, and Malaysia; some may experience conditions indicative of forced labor. Companies operating under the auspices of the Japanese government’s “Technical Intern Training Program” have exploited Burmese nationals in forced labor in food processing, manufacturing, construction, and fishing.
Within Burma, men, women, and children from predominantly ethnic minority areas – including an estimated 104,000 persons displaced by conflict in Kachin and northern Shan States, 16,000 persons displaced in southeast Burma, and at least 25,000 persons displaced in Rakhine and Chin States – are at increased risk of trafficking as of December 31, 2020. Since the February 1, 2021 coup, due to continued fighting in ethnic areas, an additional 42,000 people have been displaced internally in southeast Burma and 7,000 people have fled across the border to seek refuge in Thailand, most of whom were returned to Burma. In Kachin and northern Shan States 14,000 people have been displaced by fighting. An unverified number of thousands have been displaced due to fighting in Chin State, and between 4,000-6,000 refugees and asylum seekers have crossed to border to seek refuge in India’s Mizoram and Manipur States. Years of violence and ethnic conflict in Rakhine State continues to result in the migration of Rohingya, where many of them are at high risk of sex and labor trafficking—especially via transport to other countries for the purpose of economic migration. Children in Kachin and northern Shan States are particularly vulnerable to sex traffickers operating near the Chinese border. Human smuggling and trafficking networks reportedly prey on girls living in Rakhine IDP camps and subject them to forced labor and sex trafficking in Malaysia. Restrictions on IDP camp residents’ freedom of movement and employment, particularly among Rohingya communities, drive internal migration through irregular, unsafe channels known for trafficking vulnerabilities. Criminals in EAO-controlled areas reportedly force children, especially boys, to serve as drug mules in Shan, Kachin, and Karen States. Absent oversight and enforcement measures in non-government controlled areas, often in border zones, women and girls from these border regions and elsewhere in Southeast Asia may be vulnerable to sex trafficking in casinos and Special Economic Zones owned or operated by EAOs and Chinese and Thai companies. Farming communities displaced following land confiscation by the military and private commercial entities are also at higher risk of exploitation due to ensuing economic hardships.
Approximately one quarter of the population in Burma does not have access to citizenship or identification documents, generating human trafficking risks that disproportionately affect ethnic minority groups – particularly in Kachin, Shan, and Rakhine States. In Kachin, displaced women and girls are also vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking, including forced concubinism leading to forced childbearing, via forced or fraudulent marriages to Chinese men arranged by deceptive or coercive brokers who use fraudulent offers of employment or promises of a better life; traffickers recruit victims through in-person connections, digital platforms, and—increasingly due to the pandemic—social media. 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 at particularly high risk of labor trafficking in Rakhine state, including forced labor perpetrated by the military. Many women and girls among the estimated 740,000 Rohingya who fled from conflict in Rakhine State 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 military and EAOs in Rakhine State. Traffickers subject members of Burma’s vulnerable populations 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. Illegal logging operations near the Chinese border may subject local communities to forced labor.
Local traffickers use deceptive tactics to recruit men and boys into forced labor on oil palm, banana, and rubber plantations; in jade and precious stone mines; in bamboo, teak, rice, and sugarcane harvesting; and in riparian fishing. IDPs from the Sagaing, Bago, Irrawaddy, Mandalay, and Tanintharyi regions, as well as from Shan and Rakhine States, experience contract discrepancies, wage garnishing and withholding, forced and arbitrary cost-sharing of pesticides, penalty fees, coerced overtime, identity document retention, and restricted freedom of movement in banana plantations in Kachin State. Communities displaced by environmental degradation resulting from the establishment and operation of these plantations, which are often Chinese owned, are also vulnerable to trafficking, including on lands they previously occupied and through internal economic migration to other parts of the country. In Kachin State, men, women, and children are also at risk of forced labor in jade prospecting throughout refuse areas created by larger mining operations, as well as in road and dam construction. A majority of these prospectors are reportedly addicted to opiates or methamphetamines, which some traffickers—including members of EAOs 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 State for this work. Forced eviction from new mining sites and resulting economic hardships make some communities in Kachin, Shan, and Kayin States 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, in domestic work, and in begging. Traffickers subject children and adults to forced domestic service. A small number of foreign child sex tourists exploit Burmese children.
Some military personnel, civilian brokers, informal civilian intermediaries, border guard officials, and EAOs continue to recruit or use child soldiers, particularly in conflict-affected ethnic areas. Ethnic minority groups in Burma—particularly internally displaced Rohingya, Rakhine, Shan, and Kachin communities—continued to be at elevated risk of forced labor as a result of longstanding armed conflict between the military and EAOs. EAOs continued their recruitment and use of child soldiers during the reporting period amid ongoing violence in several areas of the country. Civilian recruiters in some cases coerce or offer incentives to children or their families through false promises about working conditions, salary, and promotion opportunities. EAOs force men and boys to serve through intimidation, coercion, threats, arbitrary taxation, and violence. The military has employed the same tactics in the past, although most children identified in military service initially enter under the auspices of civilian brokers or enlist at the behest of their own families. The military may still deploy some child soldiers to the front-line as combatants. Military-backed militias are also involved in the recruitment and use of children in conflict settings. Some EAOs abduct or recruit children, including from IDP camps, to fight against the military. The military, informal civilian brokers, and some EAOs also use deception and various forms of coercion, including threats of financial and physical harm, to compel adult victims into short-term forced labor. Under the auspices of the legacy counter-insurgency strategy of “self-reliance,” some military authorities in areas with active conflict subject members of local populations—mostly men, but also women and children—to forced labor in portering, construction, cleaning, cooking, and public infrastructure projects. Reports of military-controlled forced labor and other abuses are highest among ethnic minority communities in the conflict zones within Shan, Rakhine, and Kachin States. Since the military coup in February 2021, similar tactics have been used across the country, including in majority Bamar regions.
The government operates as many as 47 prisons and 48 labor camps called “agriculture and livestock breeding career training centers” and “manufacturing centers,” respectively. The labor camps house thousands of inmates across the country, likely including some political prisoners. Eighteen of these camps feature government-managed mining operations. According to previous limited reporting, authorities at times may subject these incarcerated populations to unlawful prison labor or conditions with indicators of forced labor for private gain. Anti-LGBTQI+ laws place some LGBTQI+ individuals at higher risk of extortion and psychological coercion by law enforcement. Discriminatory hiring practices complicate access to formal sector employment for LGBTQI+ individuals and persons diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, forcing some to seek opportunities in unregulated sectors known for trafficking vulnerabilities – particularly among transgender persons in commercial sex.