Human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Vanuatu, and traffickers exploit victims from Vanuatu abroad. Labor traffickers exploit individuals from China, Thailand, Bangladesh, and the Philippines in Vanuatu. Chinese nationals working in Vanuatu may have been forced to work by Chinese companies, including state-owned enterprises. Traffickers target migrant women in the hospitality and tourism sectors and low-skilled foreign workers in high-risk sectors, such as agriculture, mining, fishing, logging, construction, and domestic service. Chinese and South Asian migrant women are particularly at risk for labor trafficking in bars, beauty salons, and massage parlors. Bangladeshi criminal groups have reportedly lured Bangladeshi individuals with false promises of high-paying job opportunities in Australia, transported them through Fiji, India, and Singapore, and then subjected them to forced labor in the construction industry in Vanuatu. Some of the victims take out substantial loans to pay relevant travel expenses, which traffickers exploit through debt-based coercion. Foreign fishermen working on Vanuatuan-flagged, Taiwan-owned vessels have experienced indicators of forced labor, including deceptive recruitment practices, abuse of vulnerability, excessive overtime, withholding of wages, physical and sexual violence, and abusive living and working conditions on board.
Natural disasters and climate-induced displacement significantly increases Vanuatuans’ vulnerability to trafficking, particularly as a majority of the population relies on small-scale and subsistence agriculture. Thousands of Vanuatuans who permanently or temporarily evacuated from the islands of Ambae and Ambrym due to volcanic activity are at higher risk of trafficking due to the economic hardships ensuing from their ongoing displacement. Women and girls may also be at risk of debt-based coercion in sex trafficking and domestic servitude via the customary practice of “bride-price payments” where a man’s family gives a woman’s male relatives money or other valuables in order for the man and woman to become married. The man’s family may at times force the woman to “pay back” the money through commercial sex acts or forced domestic service. The incidence of bride-price payments is linked to broader economic hardship and vulnerability, particularly in the context of the country’s frequent natural disasters; increased reports of child marriage, where children may be exploited in domestic servitude or sex trafficking, occurred immediately after a cyclone in April 2020. Children are also subjected to trafficking through “child swapping” – brokered as an inter-familial cultural practice or as a method to pay off debts. Women in commercial sex face physical and sexual violence and are reportedly coerced into forced pregnancy and forced marriage; reports acknowledge a correlation between the lack of economic opportunities and an increase in commercial sex. The limited ability for women and girls in commercial sex to seek justice increases vulnerability to trafficking. There were reports of children exploited in commercial sex facilitated by taxi drivers. Forced labor and child sex trafficking occur on fishing vessels in Vanuatu. Foreign tourists aboard boats reportedly approach remote Vanuatuan communities and offer money in exchange for marriage with underage girls as a ploy for short-term sexual exploitation. Locals onshore, acting as recruiters, also reportedly take underage girls aboard vessels and subject them to commercial sexual exploitation by foreign workers, often for weeks at a time. The local recruiters, and in some instances the families, receive payment for recruiting and transporting the girls to the boats. Children may also experience conditions indicative of forced labor in the illegal logging industry and in newspaper sales.