MONGOLIA: Tier 2

The Government of Mongolia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Mongolia remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating, prosecuting, and convicting significantly more traffickers, including in relation to alleged forced labor crimes; improving coordination among ministries and with key international and NGO stakeholders; and repatriating more victims than the previous reporting period. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. For at least the ninth consecutive year, the government did not formally identify any male victims. Police continued to penalize some child sex trafficking victims under commercial sex offenses, rather than formally identifying and referring them to protection services. Law enforcement officers found guilty of facilitating trafficking crimes received administrative sanctions, rather than facing criminal charges for their complicity.

Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses—including those allegedly committed or facilitated by law enforcement officials, and in partnership with law enforcement counterparts in common destination countries—using Articles 12.3 and 13.1 of the criminal code, rather than under alternative administrative or criminal provisions that prescribe significantly lower penalties. • Increase efforts to detect, investigate, prosecute, and secure convictions for forced labor crimes. • Amend relevant laws to ensure victims’ access to protection services regardless of whether officials initiate formal criminal proceedings against their alleged traffickers. • Systematize and fully implement formal procedures to guide government officials, including police, immigration, and labor authorities, in victim identification and referral to protective services—especially among men and boys; foreign workers; domestic and foreign nationals transiting major border crossing areas; domestic coal transport workers exploited or abused by Chinese employers; women and children living in mining communities; and LGBTQI+ persons. • Strengthen inter-ministerial coordination to combat trafficking and protect its victims. • Amend Articles 16.1 and 16.4 of the criminal code to increase prescribed penalties such that they are in line with penalties for other child trafficking crimes. • Cease all penalization of child sex trafficking victims. • Amend relevant legislation to explicitly prohibit employers, recruiters, and labor agents from charging workers recruitment fees, confiscating their identity or travel documentation, switching their contracts without consent, and withholding their wages as a means of coerced retention. • Allocate additional resources for, and increase efforts to train officials on, implementation of anti-trafficking provisions of the criminal code, especially among rural prosecutors’ offices. • Allocate increased funding to support and expand both government and NGO-run shelters and other forms of tailored victim assistance and protection, including for male victims and children. • Expand the availability of assistance funds to all Mongolian victims identified abroad, regardless of what type of trafficking crime they suffer. • Strengthen efforts to monitor the working conditions of foreign laborers employed in Mongolia and screen them for labor trafficking indicators, including by increasing funding, resources, and training for labor inspectors and allowing them to conduct unannounced inspections.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. Article 13.1 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking; it prescribed penalties of two to eight years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim, and five to 12 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. Article 12.3 of the criminal code criminalized sexual exploitation offenses, including some forms of sex trafficking; penalties ranged from two to eight years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving individuals older than the age of 14, and 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment for those involving children younger than the age of 14. As in prior years, authorities sometimes prosecuted trafficking crimes under statutes carrying lesser penalties. Articles 16.1 and 16.4 criminalized “inducing a child to the committing of a crime” and “forcing a child into begging,” respectively; they both prescribed penalties of a travel ban for one to five years or one to five years’ imprisonment. In previous years, some prosecutors reportedly charged child forced begging cases as misdemeanors, rather than as criminal offenses. Observers noted complex case initiation and referral procedures, coupled with restrictions on contact between anti-trafficking police and prosecutors, at times hindered investigations and prosecutions.

The government frequently redirected law enforcement resources and personnel to contain the pandemic, at times interrupting certain anti-trafficking efforts. Despite this change, arrests, investigations, and judicial proceedings continued. During the reporting period, the government initiated 36 sex trafficking investigations involving at least 49 alleged perpetrators (compared with 10 investigations involving 24 alleged perpetrators in 2019). Eleven of these investigations resulted from police raids on saunas, massage parlors, hotels, karaoke bars, and other venues suspected of facilitating commercial sex, as well as from police monitoring of sex solicitation on social media. The National Police Agency (NPA) maintained an anti-trafficking unit, which conducted eight of these investigations (compared with 10 in 2019). Sixteen investigations of alleged sex trafficking crimes initiated in the previous reporting period were ongoing. Unlike in 2019, authorities initiated a new investigation into a case of alleged forced labor during the reporting period; the case involved three Burmese nationals reportedly coerced to work without pay through threats of deportation. Three forced labor investigations initiated prior to 2019 and one investigation into a possible case of forced child begging initiated in 2019 remained in process at the end of the reporting period. As in previous years, authorities did not initiate any new prosecutions of alleged forced labor crimes; however, they newly prosecuted a total of 21 defendants for alleged sex trafficking crimes, including four defendants under Article 12.3 and 17 under Article 13.1 (compared to three and six, respectively, in 2019). Proceedings against 40 defendants whose prosecutions began in 2019 were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Courts convicted 18 individuals under anti-trafficking articles in 2020—17 under Article 13.1 and one under Article 12.3—compared to a total of 12 in 2019; courts did not secure any convictions of labor traffickers (compared with three in 2019). Courts also convicted two individuals under Article 12.6 (“organizing prostitution”); authorities did not provide sufficient detail to ascertain whether these cases featured trafficking elements according to international definitional standards. Unlike the previous year, the government did not initiate any prosecutions under Articles 16.1 or 16.4. The government did not report full sentencing data, but officials reported courts sentenced 17 traffickers to prison terms ranging from five to 26 years’ imprisonment under Article 13.1 and one trafficker to seven years’ imprisonment under Article 12.3—a significant increase from 12 traffickers convicted and sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to eight years in 2019. The government did not provide information on restitution payments to victims as part of sentencing (compared with 798,400 Mongolian tugriks (MNT), or $280, to at least one victim in 2019).

Due to the misconception among many government officials that traffickers only exploit women and girls, authorities rarely used Articles 13.1 or 12.3 to prosecute cases in which traffickers targeted male victims and instead used provisions with less stringent penalties. The government continued organizing, facilitating, and providing funding and in-kind support for specialized training courses for law enforcement officers and social workers on trafficking. However, law enforcement authorities noted judiciary officials’ general unfamiliarity with trafficking-specific provisions of the criminal code continued to lead to lesser charges in some cases. Contacts described an acute need for additional training, resources, and dedicated personnel to properly handle trafficking cases. Mongolia maintained mutual legal assistance agreements with China, Thailand, and Malaysia. Law enforcement authorities continued to share information and cooperate on an ad hoc basis with anti-trafficking counterparts in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region of China.

In September, a police officer aided the owner of a massage parlor in abusing and coercing the continued labor of three Burmese nationals through threats of deportation; in response, the NPA issued an administrative sanction barring the police officer from promotions or transfers for one year but did not seek criminal liability for the officer’s complicity in forced labor. As in prior years, authorities did not report any criminal investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.

The government increased efforts to protect victims. Mongolia maintained a National Anti-Trafficking Program (2017-2021) and work plan aimed at improving prevention and protection efforts; the government continued to operate on a budget of 509 million MNT ($178,610) allocated in 2019 to implement this program (709 million MNT ($248,790) in 2018 and no funding in 2017). However, the government redirected portions of this budget to respond to the pandemic. In previous years, this budget allocation allowed border authorities to use immigration software to screen for trafficking indicators among hundreds of Mongolian children traveling internationally with and without their parents or legal guardians; as pandemic mitigation closures largely prevented the crossing of international borders during the reporting period, no victims were identified or prevented from leaving the country using this software in 2020 (compared with 105 interdictions in 2019 and none in 2018). The government also allocated 30 million MNT ($10,530) to fund the primary service provider NGO’s activities in shelter provision, psycho-social and medical care, and legal assistance. In October, Mongolia’s cabinet approved a resolution to increase the 2021 budget for child welfare by 2.5 billion MNT ($877,260) and to more than triple the number of child protection officers working nationwide.

NGOs continued to provide the vast majority of Mongolia’s limited victim services, in some cases with government assistance. Two shelters run by an NGO were the main victim service providers in the country; only one could accommodate male victims, and neither was accessible to persons with disabilities. The government ran at least two shelters that housed trafficking victims alongside victims of domestic violence and other forms of abuse; only one shelter was designated solely for trafficking victims, and contacts reported child sex trafficking victims experienced further sexual abuse within two of these shelters due to poor oversight and lack of specialized care. NPA investigators reported using a trafficking risk assessment checklist containing 11 questions to identify victims; however, use of this checklist was sporadic, and the process did not include screening of vulnerable groups. In practice, NGOs indicated victim identification and referral procedures were vague, not sufficiently systematic, and often depended largely on the awareness and initiative of individual officers.

Authorities did not maintain complete statistical records on victim identification or service provision. Redirection of human and financial resources to the pandemic response at times negatively affected the capacity of front-line officers to identify victims of trafficking, particularly among child victims of forced labor. Neither the government nor the primary service provider NGO identified any male victims during the reporting period, despite continued NGO reports of the prevalence of trafficking among men and boys. However, unlike the previous year, the government collaborated with an NGO on the identification of foreign victims of forced labor. According to available data, police identified 40 female trafficking victims, including 24 girls – a decrease from 20 girls and 48 adult women identified in 2019 (20 total victims identified in 2018). Observers ascribed this decrease to the closure of businesses traditionally associated with commercial sex as a public health measure during the pandemic, which complicated law enforcement detection of some trafficking crimes. Authorities referred as many as 41 Mongolian victims to NGO shelter services during the reporting period—a significant increase from five referrals in 2019—although some of these may have originated from other NGOs or victims’ personal relationships. Police separately referred three potential child victims to government shelter services. With funding from the government, the primary service provider NGO reported assisting 46 potential victims, including 43 Mongolians and three Burmese nationals (compared with 34 Mongolian sex trafficking victims in 2019). Immigration authorities granted the Burmese nationals temporary residency status until they were ready to repatriate. The NGO also provided 24 victims with pro-bono legal assistance during the reporting period (compared with 11 in 2019). The same NGO in turn formally supplied information on 13 cases involving 39 of the victims to the NPA for criminal investigations into the relevant suspects (compared with 12 cases involving 20 victims in 2019). The NPA’s Victim and Witness Protection Department reportedly staffed psychologists who were equipped to handle domestic violence cases, but they did not provide information on services provided to trafficking victims in 2020 (no services rendered in 2019). In previous years, NGOs conducted screenings for at-risk women and girls at a key border crossing with China, at times advising some of them not to travel and providing them with information on available assistance options. Amid comprehensive border closures and travel bans during the pandemic, much of this work was suspended.

Article 8.1 of the criminal procedural code included language that reportedly denied trafficking victims’ access to protective services until prosecutors had initiated cases against their alleged traffickers, thereby obstructing access to protective services for some victims. In practice, some officials claimed victims were able to access protection services regardless of whether relevant prosecutions had begun. In an effort to address this ambiguity in 2018, the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs (MOJHA) created a working group and instituted an intra-governmental comment period to consider amendments to the Law on Victim and Witness Protection. However, for the second consecutive year, authorities did not report on the outcome, status, or projected timeframe of that review process. Some trafficking victims may have experienced delays in or denials of access to protection services while awaiting the results of mandatory COVID-19 screening procedures. Article 15 of the anti-trafficking law stipulated victims were entitled to compensation for damages wrought by their traffickers, but officials and non-governmental observers agreed inconsistencies between the criminal code and the civil code made this provision impossible to fully implement. Mongolia’s Immigration Agency, the General Authority for Border Protection (GABP), and the Consular Department within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) shared responsibility for handling cases involving Mongolian trafficking victims abroad. The latter maintained a fund to assist Mongolian victims, but it was only available in cases involving organized crime syndicates or “grave harm” – a distinction that was unclear in application. In 2020, authorities partnered with NGOs to repatriate 15 Mongolian victims from Malaysia, compared with one each from China, Kyrgyzstan, and the Philippines in 2019.

Mongolia’s Law on Petty Offenses, which allowed authorities to detain anyone apprehended on suspicion of commercial sex crimes for seven to 30 days, reportedly continued to place some victims at risk of penalization for unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. Following a series of raids conducted during the reporting period, authorities fined two girls under prostitution provisions of the Law on Petty Offenses (compared with none in 2019). Contacts also noted some victims were hesitant to self-report or testify due to fear that they may face prosecution for such crimes. Mongolian law did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries in which they could face retribution or hardship. The Immigration Agency did not provide comprehensive deportation statistics for 2020 (compared with more than 1,500 foreign nationals deported to 26 countries in 2019), but the volume was likely significantly lower given pandemic-related travel restrictions and border closures. The adequacy of screening procedures was difficult to gauge amid limited deportations in 2020, but screening procedures in previous years were neither universally implemented nor sufficient to detect all forms of trafficking.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. Authorities postponed or curtailed some elements of anti-trafficking training, funding, and general interagency coordination as a result of the pandemic. The government also redirected over half of funding previously allocated for the National Anti-Trafficking Program (2017-2021) and corresponding work plan to pandemic prevention activities. Under the management of a National Sub-Council, the program aimed to provide technical guidance on trafficking prevention and coordinate interagency efforts to implement relevant legislation; some contacts continued to express concern over insufficient interagency coordination, but the government sought expertise and resources from international donors and NGOs in an attempt to address this shortcoming. In conjunction with international organizations, the government conducted three trafficking-related research programs during the reporting period—an assessment on Mongolia’s anti-trafficking legislation, an analysis of risk factors among trafficking victims in Mongolia, and a study on child victimization through social media channels—but it did not provide information on the outcome of these studies or their utilization. In 2019 the Family, Child, and Youth Development Agency began assembling a large database containing information on at-risk populations, and it worked with an international organization to establish multidisciplinary committees focusing on at-risk children’s rights and protections at the district and provincial capital levels; however, authorities did not provide information on the status of this work in 2020. A portion of government funding for the primary service provider NGO supported the maintenance of a hotline system; although five potential victims were identified through the hotline, the calls did not result in trafficking investigations (compared with one sex trafficking investigation in 2019). Officials continued to disseminate a daily trafficking-themed public service announcement (PSA) on social media and television. In partnership with the Government of South Korea, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection (MLSP) continued to produce materials raising awareness on trafficking. Mongolian officials also participated in international training sessions on sex trafficking prevention under a four-year agreement with the Government of South Korea.

The MLSP’s General Agency for Labor and Social Welfare had the authority to monitor labor agreements for foreign nationals working in Mongolia, as well as those for Mongolians working in countries that had bilateral work agreements with Mongolia. The government maintained such agreements with South Korea, Czech Republic, and Japan; observers noted these agreements were not always sufficiently implemented to prevent labor abuses, including trafficking. The General Authority for Specialized Investigation (GASI) had the authority to inspect labor contracts, monitor compliance with the law for all workers in Mongolia, and conduct inspections of working conditions in Mongolian formal sector establishments. In prior years, officials and NGOs noted funding and resources for the inspectors were too low to provide comprehensive oversight, and the government did not report statistics on, or the outcomes of, these inspections. Moreover, GASI was required to give employers five days’ advance notification before conducting an inspection in most cases, raising concerns that employers may have been able to conceal violations in the interim. In 2019 authorities reportedly began a formal process to consider amendments outlining unannounced inspections, but the process did not culminate in the introduction or passage of any such amendments for the second consecutive year. Officials stated redirection of human and financial resources in response to the pandemic constrained inspection activities. Observers noted the government did not take adequate measures to monitor or protect the labor rights of Mongolian truckers facing a range of vulnerabilities—including wage garnishing, arbitrary fines, injuries, and substandard living and working conditions—stemming from prolonged customs delays on the Chinese border and abusive policies set by attendant Chinese employers. For the second consecutive year, and despite the marked increase in reported commission of commercial sex at private residences and other nontraditional sex-on-site establishments during the pandemic, the government did not report taking measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Contrary to international standards, the government did not explicitly prohibit employers, recruiters, and labor agents from charging workers recruitment fees, confiscating their identity or travel documentation, switching their contracts without consent, or withholding their wages as a means of coerced retention. To improve regulation of recruitment practices according to international standards, the government collaborated with an international organization to draft revised labor legislation; the draft remained in process at the end of the reporting period.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mongolia, and they exploit victims from Mongolia abroad. Traffickers may also use Mongolia as a transit point to exploit foreign individuals in sex trafficking and forced labor in Russia and China. Traffickers exploit Mongolian men, women, and children in forced labor in China, India, Kazakhstan, Norway, Sweden, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, and in sex trafficking in Belgium, Cambodia, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Philippines, South Korea, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States, as well as in Mongolia. Traffickers sometimes use drugs, fraudulent social networking, online job opportunities, or English language programs to lure Mongolian victims into sex trafficking. Most sex trafficking of Mongolian victims from rural and poor economic areas occurs in Ulaanbaatar, provincial centers, and border areas. A recent civil society survey found domestic violence drives the vast majority of Mongolian trafficking victims to seek and accept unsafe employment opportunities on which traffickers prey; this vulnerability has reportedly increased as a result of state-ordered residential quarantines amid the pandemic. During periods of pandemic-related business closures, clandestine sex trafficking in private residences is reportedly increasing, including through the use of blackmail on social media as a coercive method. Traffickers exploit women and girls in sex trafficking in Mongolian massage parlors, illegal brothels, hotels, bars, and karaoke clubs, sometimes through the permissive facilitation of local police. LGBTQI+ individuals are vulnerable to trafficking amid widespread discrimination that often jeopardizes their employment status and complicates their access to justice. Transgender women in particular are at higher risk of sex trafficking due to pervasive social stigma barring them from employment in the formal sector. Mongolian communities experiencing widespread unemployment due to the pandemic- especially women and informal sector workers- are more vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor. Tourists from Japan and South Korea reportedly engaged in child sex tourism in Mongolia in prior years; some civil society groups believe this practice persists.

The ongoing development of the mining industry in southern Mongolia continues to drive growing internal and international migration, intensifying trafficking vulnerabilities – especially along the China-Mongolia border. Truck drivers transporting coal across the Chinese border in Omnogovi Province are often more vulnerable to labor traffickers due to an arrangement under which employers confiscate their passports as collateral for their vehicles. These drivers often wait in truck lines with minimal sleep, heating, or access to basic needs for weeks or months at a time until they receive permission to cross and make deliveries in China, where Chinese employers and customers impose wage deductions for the delays; this loss of income reportedly makes them further vulnerable to labor exploitation. The families of coal transporters who are delayed at the border, who are injured, or who die as a result of the poor working conditions may also be vulnerable to sex trafficking due to ensuing economic hardships. Traffickers exploit women and girls in sex trafficking in these border crossing truck lines, along the coal transport roads connecting mining sites to the Chinese border, at nightlife establishments in mining towns, and at entertainment sites across the border in Inner Mongolia. Mining workers sometimes leave their children at home alone while on extended shift rotations, during which time the children are at elevated risk of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking and child forced labor also occur in connection with artisanal mining.

Traffickers force some children to beg, steal, or work in other informal sectors of the economy, such as horseracing, herding and animal husbandry, scavenging in garbage dumpsites, and construction. Some families are complicit in exploiting children in sex trafficking and forced labor. In previous years, traffickers have forced Mongolian girls to work as contortionists—often under contractual agreements signed by their parents—primarily in Mongolia and Turkey, and to a lesser extent in Hong Kong and Singapore. Mongolian boys are at high risk of forced labor and sex trafficking under visa regimes that enable them to work indefinitely as horse jockeys and circus performers across the Chinese border, provided they return with a chaperone once a month; this frequent facilitated transit also makes them more vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers compel women and girls to work in domestic service and engage in commercial sex acts after entering into commercially brokered marriages with men from China and, to a lesser extent, Korea. Mongolians stranded abroad as a result of pandemic-related travel restrictions may have been at elevated risk of sex trafficking and forced labor due to immigration statuses that prevent them from seeking employment in host countries’ formal sector economies. Chinese companies hire Mongolian men and boys to work at agricultural operations for compensation far below minimum wage and under ambiguous immigration status, placing them at high risk of trafficking. Some micro-lending institutions in China reportedly retain Mongolians’ passports as a form of collateral, leaving them vulnerable to immigration status-related coercion.

Chinese workers employed in Mongolia are vulnerable to trafficking as contract laborers in construction, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, wholesale and retail trade, automobile maintenance, and mining. Some of them experience contract switching when they enter the country, making them especially vulnerable to coercion due to resultant immigration violations. Some Russian and Ukrainian women entering Mongolia through Chinese border crossings for short visits under visa-free regimes may be sex trafficking victims. Observers report corruption among some Mongolian officials facilitates sex trafficking in illicit establishments and impedes the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.

U.S. Department of State

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