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Tajikistan (Tier 2)

The Government of Tajikistan 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 with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Tajikistan remained on Tier 2. These efforts included increasing investigations of trafficking cases and funding for Tajikistan’s trafficking shelter. The government also adopted a new National Action Plan (NAP) 2022-2024, which was drafted and finalized with participation from civil society and international organizations. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not report convicting any traffickers. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not adopt standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification and referral to care, contributing to inadequate victim identification efforts and potential penalization of sex trafficking victims due to the lack of screening by law enforcement. Despite allegations of possible official complicity in some localities, including forced labor by local officials in the cotton harvest, the government did not report any criminal investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking crimes. Authorities continued to mobilize citizens for public works, including in agriculture and beautification projects, and although the government has, in previous years, publicized the ban on child labor in the cotton harvest, children continued to be at risk of forced labor in the harvest.

  • Adopt and implement SOPs to identify trafficking victims and refer them to care and train stakeholders on their use to increase victim identification and screening among vulnerable populations, including adults in commercial sex, migrant workers, children and adults working in the cotton sector, and rural women working in the informal sector.
  • Increase oversight of provincial and local authorities’ seasonal labor recruitment processes to ensure no adults or children are subjected to forced labor in the cotton harvest and hold those in violation criminally accountable.
  • Ensure victims are not penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compel them to commit, including victims of sex trafficking.
  • While respecting due process, vigorously investigate and prosecute suspected traffickers, including officials complicit in trafficking, and sentence convicted traffickers with significant prison terms.
  • Increase funding and in-kind support to provide comprehensive care to victims and expand available protection services for male victims.
  • Provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for diplomatic personnel and other government employees, including law enforcement officers, border guards, and customs officials, to prevent their engagement in or facilitation of trafficking crimes and to increase their capacity to identify and assist victims domestically and abroad.
  • Develop mechanisms to prevent trafficking of returned migrants and families that depend on remittances, including by coordinating with international organizations and civil society.
  • Implement a witness protection program and train law enforcement and judicial officials on a victim-centered approach for the treatment of victims and witnesses of trafficking crimes during investigations and court proceedings.
  • In partnership with international organizations, conduct screening among women and children returned from Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan for trafficking and child soldiering indicators, respectively, and provide them with rehabilitation and reintegration support.
  • Improve the collection of anti-trafficking law enforcement data and statistics on labor migration trends.
  • Increase awareness of pre-departure and post-return support services available to Tajikistani migrant workers.
  • Monitor private employment agencies for recruitment fees charged to workers and take steps to eliminate employee-paid fees.

The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Article 130.1 and Article 167 of the criminal code criminalized labor trafficking and sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of five to eight years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 167 defined child trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation; as such, it was difficult to ascertain how many cases investigated, prosecuted, and convicted under Article 167 featured elements consistent with the standard definition of trafficking.

The government investigated 22 trafficking cases involving 25 suspected perpetrators in 2021, compared with 10 cases involving 21 suspected traffickers in 2020. The government prosecuted 14 trafficking cases in 2021, the same number as were prosecuted in 2020. The government did not report any convictions during the reporting period, a significant decrease from 26 convictions in 2020. Even though law enforcement had specialized trafficking in persons units, observers reported law enforcement did not prioritize trafficking investigations due to other competing priorities.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government banned the practice of mobilizing schoolchildren and students for the cotton harvest several years ago; however, students were taken to the fields under the guise of Hashar (collective community work) or to help farmers. Observers reported a group of children were taken to Mehnatobod village to pick cotton at the request of police and teachers on a field that allegedly belonged to a high-ranking law enforcement officer; a 15-year-old child died after falling from a tractor, and the government did not report opening an investigation. The government reportedly mobilized some citizens to perform public works, such as cleaning roads and park maintenance, as part of subotnik (a Soviet era tradition in which individuals “volunteer” to help the community). Private companies have reportedly used subotnik to get their employees to work overtime without pay. Some state employees may have been subjected to forced labor as part of provincial authorities’ efforts to increase participation in the annual cotton harvest, although no information was available on compensation, recruitment methods, or consequences for inability or unwillingness to participate. Authorities opened a criminal case into a senior military official in the previous reporting period for exacting bribes in exchange for exempting an individual from mandatory military service—an arrangement under which failure to pay has often resulted in kidnapping and forcible conscription; the case remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA) continued to conduct training on human trafficking for cadets as part of its training academy curriculum. State university law students received training on trafficking legislation and investigative techniques as part of a government-mandated curriculum. The government also cooperated with an international organization to train judicial officials on methods for successfully prosecuting trafficking cases in criminal courts. Tajikistan maintained a joint law enforcement agreement with the Commonwealth of Independent States that included anti-trafficking provisions, but authorities did not report information on whether the agreement was implemented in 2021.

The government maintained inadequate protection efforts. Authorities identified 15 victims and referred them all to an international organization for protection services, compared with 24 trafficking victims identified and 15 referred during the previous reporting period. Of the 15 identified victims, at least four were Tajikistani citizens exploited in sex trafficking abroad. Tajikistan continued to operate under a National Referral Mechanism (NRM) that included formal written procedures outlining screening, referral, and assistance protocols, but these were generally insufficient to guide interagency anti-trafficking work. In 2018, the government established a working group to append the NRM with SOPs for victim identification; for the fourth consecutive year, authorities did not take action to adopt these guidelines. Article 30 of the trafficking law mandated the creation of governmental and private institutions to directly aid victims with food and shelter, in addition to social, legal, and reintegration assistance; despite these provisions, an international organization continued to fund most victim protection services. A 2014 victim protection law ostensibly formalized the roles of agencies tasked with providing services and established standards for service delivery among government and NGO providers. However, absent standardized and promulgated victim identification procedures, roles and responsibilities among key stakeholder ministries remained unclear. In practice, observers have noted official victim status designation required a complex application procedure that may have prevented some victims from accessing care. The government’s Trafficking in Persons Center continued to train law enforcement and other government employees on screening for trafficking indicators, and some government officials benefited from additional training sessions on victim support provided by an international organization. Gaps remained in the implementation of victim protection law; Tajikistani law enforcement agencies did not develop procedures to grant legal status to victims, forcing some victims to pay for legal and medical services otherwise provided by the government.

The Ministry of Health operated the country’s only dedicated trafficking shelter. The government provided 600,000 Tajikistani somoni ($53,190) for the shelter’s operating costs, medical assistance for victims, legal consultations, and partial funding of staff salaries in 2021, an increase compared with 253,670 somoni ($22,490) in 2020. Additionally, the government allocated 187,900 somoni ($16,660) to an NGO to provide social assistance, including healthcare, psychological, and legal assistance to victims of TIP and domestic abuse, as well as vulnerable labor migrants. The shelter assisted one victim of trafficking in 2021, compared with 28 victims in 2020—the country relied heavily on an international organization to provide assistance to victims. The government reported that facilities are available for both men and women. Neither the government nor NGOs provided residential shelter services outside of Dushanbe, and there were no options for long-term victim support. Insufficient personnel and financial resources reportedly constrained delivery of psycho-social care and funding for victim reintegration services, respectively. An NGO ran a shelter in Dushanbe that provided support to victims of crimes, including trafficking; the NGO reported that 34 women and 36 children lived in the shelter in 2021. The NGO offered women courses in job skills and education skills in different trades. The government funded several NGO-run shelters for of victims of domestic violence, which could also assist trafficking victims. Observers reported there continued to be a lack of sufficient funding for victim services. Some female sex trafficking victims were reluctant to seek protection services due to social norms that stigmatized female victims of sexual exploitation.

Despite provisions in the 2014 law outlining security measures for trafficking victims, the government did not keep victims’ personal information confidential or provide protection for victim witnesses or their advocates. Foreign victims who agreed to cooperate with law enforcement agencies had the legal right to request temporary residency, subject to a one-year extension upon completion of criminal proceedings; no such cases were reported in 2021, 2020, or 2019. Beyond residency, the 2014 victim protection law did not link other benefits to victims’ participation in trials, and protection services were available regardless of legal status or prior consent to participate in subsequently identified trafficking crimes. Victims must appear in person with the trafficker during court proceedings.

In February 2021, the government announced plans to repatriate hundreds of Tajikistani women and children from camps in Syria, some of whom may have been trafficking victims, in continuation of a 2019 process that was subsequently suspended in 2020 as a pandemic mitigation measure. However, the government did not report if it had initiated any of these repatriations at the close of the reporting period. According to media reports, Tajikistani courts have sentenced at least five women repatriated from conflict zones to prison terms on terrorism charges—the women claimed they had been deceived by their husbands to travel to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan; it is unknown if the women were screened for trafficking indicators. The government estimates that approximately 575 women and children currently reside in the Syrian Al-Hawl and Al-Roj refugee camps. Approximately 10,000 Afghan refugees have entered Tajikistan, and refugee camps have been established with foreign donor support. An NGO noted thousands of Afghan refugees in Tajikistan faced difficulties securing refugee status, increasing vulnerabilities to trafficking.

Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities may have detained some unidentified trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers forced them to commit. Officials sometimes temporarily detained sex trafficking victims with their traffickers but later released and referred them to protective care. In previous years, law enforcement officials routinely deported foreign migrant workers without adequate screening for potential trafficking indicators. Law enforcement officers did not attempt to identify sex trafficking victims proactively during law enforcement operations on businesses suspected of engaging in commercial sex nor within sectors known for forced labor. Observers reported several cases involving sex trafficking of children in nightclubs and private homes. Tajikistan has reportedly detained and deported Uyghurs to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), where they could face retribution or hardship. In September 2021, the government signed a memorandum of understanding on labor migration with Russia and agreed to establish offices in Dushanbe and other regions of Tajikistan.

The government slightly increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The 2014 law outlined a framework for the government to address human trafficking and established a national anti-trafficking commission tasked with coordinating the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. On February 2022, the government adopted the NAP for Combatting Trafficking in Persons 2022-2024; the NAP was drafted and finalized with participation from state agencies, representatives from civil society, and international organizations. The government operated a 24-hour hotline for potential victims but did not provide information on how many calls led to the identification of trafficking cases in 2021, for a second consecutive year. The Ministry of Labor launched a hotline for Tajikistani migrant workers in Russia to provide legal and employment assistance, among other services. The government collaborated, including by providing in-kind support, with civil society for awareness-raising activities. Observers reported there is a limited awareness of sex trafficking among the general public.

Unlike in previous years, authorities did not report whether the Ministry of Education disseminated letters to local governments highlighting prohibitions against the use of child labor in the annual cotton harvest. These prior government-funded campaigns targeted potential victims, local officials responsible for preventing trafficking, and school authorities who had previously mobilized children in the cotton harvest. MIA officials instructed local authorities to report incidents of forced or child labor, but no such reports were issued in 2021. It was unclear if the government assigned inspectors to conduct monitoring for child labor in the cotton harvest in continuation of a practice begun in 2010. During previous harvests, NGOs independently monitored the fields on an informal basis for forced labor concerns; no information was available on the extent to which this monitoring took place. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) previously invited an international organization to conduct independent inspections during the cotton harvest season, but these inspections did not occur due to insufficient funding; the government did not report whether any independent inspections occurred during the reporting period. Observers reported lack of sufficient staff, frequent use of inspection moratoriums, and low fines made it difficult to ensure compliance with Tajikistan’s labor laws. According to authorities, 60 qualified inspectors have authority to carry out 2,000 inspections annually throughout the country and 50 percent are in Dushanbe.

Entities engaged in the recruitment of workers for employment abroad were legally required to obtain licenses from migration authorities, and the law established punitive measures for violations; however, Tajikistan did not monitor for the imposition of worker-paid recruitment fees. The government did not report initiating investigations into labor recruitment firms suspected of trafficking, nor did it provide information on the status or outcomes of four such investigations initiated in 2019. The MOL maintained four pre-departure counseling centers in different regions of the country that provided migrants with information on the risk of trafficking prior to travel abroad. However, observers noted that incomplete and disparate data collection on migration among key stakeholder agencies, poor interagency coordination, and deficient cooperation with destination country counterpart entities continued to constrain effective prevention measures among vulnerable labor migrants. A survey conducted by a civil society organization found only 10 percent of Tajikistani migrant workers were aware of support services available to them. In previous years, the pre-departure centers sought to assist migrant workers in diversifying geographical options for work abroad; it was unclear if this work continued. The government continued to support returning migrants, including those banned from re-entering Russia—the returning migrants were provided with employment assistance, vocational training, financial services, and paid public works. Authorities at times were reportedly uncooperative with foreign donor organizations implementing programs to prevent trafficking among vulnerable migrant populations. Tajikistan maintained international labor agreements with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The government did not report anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its troops prior to their deployment as peacekeepers. The government made no efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit victims from Tajikistan abroad and, to a lesser extent, traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims within Tajikistan. Extensive economic migration exposes Tajikistani men, women, and children to the risk of human trafficking. Labor traffickers exploit Tajikistani men and women in agriculture and construction primarily in Russia, UAE, Kazakhstan, and Saudi Arabia, as well as in other neighboring Central Asian countries, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Labor traffickers exploit men in agriculture, construction, and at markets in Tajikistan; there are limited reports of domestic sex trafficking of men. According to an international organization, a large number of domestic trafficking cases involved women and girls in sex trafficking or domestic servitude. Sex traffickers exploit women and children from Tajikistan most commonly in Turkey, UAE, and Russia; also in Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, India, and Afghanistan; and within Tajikistan.

More than one million Tajikistanis seek employment annually in Russia. Between January and September 2021, the Russian government registered more than two million Tajikistani citizens entering the country, including 1.6 million for work. According to international organizations, Tajikistanis in Russia are primarily employed in construction, agriculture, industry, domestic work, and transport; thousands of men, women, and children among them are vulnerable to forced labor. Women traveling with their husbands abroad for this work are also reportedly at elevated risk of sex trafficking and other forms of exploitation. The current economic crisis in Russia has pushed many Tajikistani migrants to return to Tajikistan due to job losses and the devaluation of the ruble—2.5 times more migrants returned in the first quarter of 2022 compared with the same period in 2021. The value of the remittances sent by Tajikistani migrants to their families has decreased, leaving families vulnerable to trafficking. Tajikistani migrant workers in Russia work in industries that were immediately affected by the economic contraction, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking in Russia. Some men among the approximately 2,000 Tajikistanis who have traveled to Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan to fight alongside or seek employment within armed groups are subsequently subjected to forced labor in cooking, cleaning, and portering. Tajikistani women and children traveling with these men, at times under deception, are also vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor on arrival; some are reportedly placed alongside other Central Asian family members in makeshift camp communities, where their travel and identity documentation is confiscated and their freedom of movement is restricted. Many of these women report having lost their husbands to armed conflict, after which their economic hardships and confinement in the camps make them vulnerable to coercive local marriages that may feature corollary sex trafficking or forced labor indicators. Some women who have traveled to Syria or Iraq with promises of marriage have instead been sold into sexual slavery. Some children of Tajikistani ISIS combatants in Iraq and Syria are reportedly trained for deployment in combatant roles. Traffickers transport Tajikistani women and girls to Afghanistan and force them into marriages that feature elements of sex trafficking and forced domestic service, including through debt-based coercion. Traffickers exploit Tajikistani children in sex trafficking and forced labor, including forced begging, in Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

Experts have pointed to the significant gaps in social protections that put rural women at a higher risk of trafficking in Tajikistan; they face discrimination and limited access to education and employment—the majority of rural women work in the informal sector. Widows of male migrants, divorced women, and the families of migrant workers remaining in Tajikistan are also at a higher risk of trafficking. Children separated from their families due to international and domestic migrations are at increasingly high risk of sex trafficking. Thousands of Tajikistani migrant workers were banned from re-entering Russia as a result of alleged immigration violations; these individuals are vulnerable to trafficking due to unemployment and economic hardships.

Tajikistani children and adults may have been subjected to forced labor in agriculture, mainly during Tajikistan’s fall cotton harvest, and in dried fruit production. Some boys, particularly from economically disadvantaged rural communities, are vulnerable to kidnapping by government personnel for the purpose of forcible conscription into military service as part of annual “oblava” recruitment sweeps. The government reportedly subjects some citizens to participate in manual labor, such as cleaning roads and park maintenance. Tajikistani nationals employed by PRC companies engaged in local construction projects experience wage irregularities, threats of termination, and other labor rights violations that may be indicative of forced labor. Some Afghan and Bangladeshi citizens are victims of forced labor in Tajikistan, including in the construction industry. Tajikistani nationals may be vulnerable to forced labor in illegal artisanal coal mines located near formalized commercial mining operations. In past years, police have at times used a punitive registry containing the names of LGBTQI+ individuals to blackmail some members of these communities into sex trafficking and forced informant roles. LGBTQI+ individuals are vulnerable to trafficking amid widespread discrimination that often jeopardizes their employment status or prospects in the formal sector and complicates their access to justice. Widespread social stigma and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals also compound their vulnerability to family-brokered forced marriages that may feature corollary sex trafficking or forced labor indicators.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future