As reported over the past five years, human traffickers subject adults and children to forced labor and women and children to sex trafficking, both in Burma and abroad. Since 2020, the pandemic continues to cause thousands of economic migrants to return to Burma from abroad, while traditional cross-border migration to Thailand and the PRC decreased because of travel restrictions and border closures, which limited irregular migration. Additionally, the economic devastation and sharply deteriorating political stability caused by the coup created new patterns of economic migration in the country, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, and increased financial hardship for a wide swatch of the country, which created increasing vulnerabilities to trafficking. As of June 2021, more than 114,000 internal migrant workers left Yangon because of the conflict and loss of livelihood and returned to Rakhine State and the Ayeyarwady region. Conflict in Chin, Kayah, and Karen States led civilians to flee to Thailand and India, where they risk exploitation. Burmese economic migrants, including Rohingya, continue to migrate to Thailand and other parts of southeast Asia via irregular channels; these migrants are vulnerable to trafficking because of their irregular or illegal immigration status. Civil society partners reported in 2021 an estimated 500 Vietnamese women in commercial sex in Wa State Special Administrative Region, an area with minimal regime control; some of these women reported indicators of sex trafficking. Similar media reports involving Thai and Malaysian women continue to surface related to the Shwe Ko Ko casino on the Burmese border with Thailand.
Years of violence and ethnic conflict in Rakhine State continues to drive out migration of Rohingya, many of whom are at high risk of sex and labor trafficking—especially via transport to other countries for economic migration. Children in Kachin and northern Shan States are particularly vulnerable to sex traffickers operating near the PRC border. 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 PRC national 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. An academic study from 2019 found that 2,800 out of 5,000 Kachin and Shan women returning to Burma after experiencing forced marriage in the PRC had been subjected to forced childbearing. Migrant smuggling and human trafficking networks reportedly target girls living in Rakhine IDP camps and subject them to forced labor and sex trafficking in Malaysia. 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 PRC and Thai companies. Criminals in EAO-controlled areas reportedly force children, especially boys, to serve as drug mules in Shan, Kachin, and Karen States.
Military personnel, civilian brokers, informal civilian intermediaries, military-backed militias, border guard forces, and EAOs continue to unlawfully recruit or use child soldiers, particularly children from ethnic minority groups. International observers reported in 2021 that the military continues to use children in support roles; the formal recruitment and use of children for combat roles remains low. 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. Some EAOs abduct or recruit children, including from IDP camps, to fight against the military. 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, 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. Since the February 2021 coup, similar tactics have been used across the country, including in majority Bamar regions.
Traffickers subject Burmese males transiting Thailand en route to Indonesia and Malaysia 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, and then charge fees, and curtailment deposits to assign them fake identity and labor permit documents while sending 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. 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.
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 the PRC’s Yunnan Province. Illegal logging operations near the PRC border may subject local communities to forced labor. Local traffickers use deceptive tactics to recruit men and boys into forced labor on oil palm and rubber plantations; in bamboo, teak, and rice 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 on banana plantations in Kachin State. Communities displaced by environmental degradation resulting from the establishment and operation of these plantations, which are often PRC-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, adults 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. Forced eviction from new mining sites and resulting economic hardships make some communities in Kachin, Shan, and Karen States more vulnerable to trafficking. 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.
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. A small number of foreign child sex tourists exploit Burmese children. Discriminatory enforcement of laws places 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.