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Yemen (Special Case)

Yemen remains a Special Case for the seventh consecutive year. The civil conflict and humanitarian crisis in Yemen continued during the reporting period, while the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the crisis and further hampered both government and NGO operations. Information on human trafficking in the country has been increasingly difficult to obtain since March 2015, when much of the Republic of Yemen Government (ROYG) took refuge in Riyadh, following the takeover of Sana’a by Iranian- backed Houthi rebels, and lost control of significant portions of the country. Although a ROYG and Southern Transitional Council (STC) power-sharing agreement returned the ROYG to its temporary capital of Aden in December 2020, implementation of the agreement remained incomplete at the close of the reporting period. Furthermore, de facto control over territory in northern Yemen by the Houthis hindered the ROYG from exercising control over large portions of the country or adequately combating trafficking and collecting data on trafficking during the reporting period. NGOs and international organizations reported vulnerable populations in Yemen were at an increased risk of human trafficking due to the protracted armed conflict, civil unrest and lawlessness, and worsening economic conditions. During the reporting period, the Yemen Armed Forces (YAF) continued recruiting or using child soldiers. Migrant workers, especially women and children from the Horn of Africa who remained or arrived in Yemen during the reporting period, may have endured intensified violence. Due to pandemic- related border closures and movement restrictions, many migrants traveling through Yemen to Gulf countries were stranded in Yemen, heightening their risk to trafficking. The international organizations and NGOs remaining in Yemen focused primarily on providing humanitarian assistance to the local population and lacked adequate resources and capacity to gather reliable data on human trafficking. The vast majority of Yemenis required all types of assistance and basic social services, as the national infrastructure had collapsed.

GOVERNMENT EFFORTS

Due to the protracted conflict and tenuous political situation, the government faced serious challenges to combat trafficking, including substantial internal security threats, weak institutions, systemic corruption, economic deprivation, food insecurity, social disintegration, limited territorial control, and poor law enforcement capabilities. Although the ROYG exercised only nominal control over government- controlled areas and formal state institutions, increased government reporting suggests some, albeit limited, capacity to address trafficking in persons. The absence of a law criminalizing all forms of trafficking and the government’s conflation of human trafficking with migrant smuggling hindered government efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders. Article 248 of the penal code criminalized slavery and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. However, Article 248 narrowly focused on transactions and movement and therefore did not criminalize many forms of labor and sex trafficking as defined under international law. Article 279 criminalized child sex trafficking under its prostitution provision and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment, which could be increased to up to 15 years’ imprisonment under aggravating circumstances; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2014, the government adopted a bill that it subsequently referred to the Parliament, which aimed to combat all forms of trafficking, protect and assist victims, generate societal awareness of the risks of trafficking to reduce the incidence of the crime, and promote national cooperation.

Although the ROYG had some oversight over its court system, experts noted that due to the conflict-inflicted infrastructure damage; severe staff shortages; financial and security challenges; weak law enforcement capacity; and the fragmented nature of authority in several areas in Yemen, the government was unable to ensure judicial institutions functioned fully across the country during the year. Despite this limitation, for the first time since 2010, the government reported efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers during the year. In February 2022, authorities arrested two males for allegedly exploiting a female in sex trafficking; the government reported it referred the case to judicial authorities, where the case remained pending prosecution at the close of the reporting period. One alleged perpetrator brought a female victim to a hotel for the purposes of commercial sex; law enforcement authorities subsequently raided the hotel room and arrested the male and detained him pending prosecution. The government reported the second perpetrator was arrested separately for participating in the crime. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, including the alleged recruitment and use of child soldiers by the YAF, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government reported it received training from an international organization on preventing the unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers and reintegrating former child soldiers but did not report if it conducted training on trafficking for any government officials or provided support to NGOs or international organizations that may have conducted anti-trafficking training throughout the year.

ROYG authorities and institutions that oversaw migrant flows, provided services and protection to migrants, and assisted vulnerable groups— which may have interacted with trafficking victims—exhibited minimal function during the year. The government had limited capacity to identify and provide adequate protection services to trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as women in commercial sex and migrant workers, some of whom were in transit to the Gulf States. However, the government reported some efforts to protect potential and identified trafficking victims, as well as vulnerable migrants who were stranded in Yemen due to pandemic-related movement restrictions during the year. The government reported the female victim identified as part of the sex trafficking case mentioned above was returned to her family following police intervention; however, the government did not report whether the victim was provided protective services. In addition, the government reported coordinating with an international organization, funded by a foreign government, to assist Gulf-bound undocumented migrants with medical assistance and referrals to hospitals during the year. Although formal standard operating procedures for proactive identification of trafficking victims existed, the government did not make efforts to implement or train law enforcement on these procedures due to prolonged unrest; consequently, some potential victims—such as women in commercial sex, migrant workers, and vulnerable migrants traveling to the Gulf through Yemen—may have remained unidentified within the law enforcement system. Furthermore, the government was not able to encourage victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of traffickers and was financially unable to provide assistance to its nationals repatriated after enduring trafficking abroad.

Due to its broad lack of access and capacity limitations, as well as the ongoing conflict, the government did not make sufficient efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. The government maintained the National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking pursuant to the Council of Ministers Decision No. 46 of 2012; its members included governmental and nongovernmental interlocutors. The government reported the committee was unable to meet due to pandemic-related mitigation measures, unstable conditions in the country, the lack of functioning state institutions, and the need to prioritize the worsening humanitarian crisis. A draft national strategy to combat trafficking initiated by the Ministry of Human Rights in a previous reporting period, in coordination with an international organization, remained pending. The draft included plans for raising awareness, increasing cooperation between Yemen and neighboring countries, training officials in victim identification, and instituting procedures to protect victims. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel and did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

During the reporting period, both government-aligned and militia forces continued to unlawfully recruit and use child soldiers. Since the escalation of armed conflict in March 2015, human rights organizations reported all parties to the conflict continued their unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. However, documentation of such cases remained challenging due to intensified military campaigns, security threats against the monitors and communities of interest, continued access restrictions, and waves of increasing COVID-19 infections. As a result of its limited capacity and the ongoing conflict, the ROYG did not implement a 2014 UN action plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, although it continued to express interest in revitalizing the discussion on implementation. In 2018, the government entered into an agreement with the UN on a roadmap for implementation of the existing action plan to prevent the recruitment and use of child soldiers. During the reporting period, the government held a two-day workshop of the Joint Technical Committee of the Government of Yemen to discuss priority activities to expedite the implementation of the 2014 national action plan (NAP) and 2018 related roadmap. An international organization welcomed the government’s renewed engagement to implement the NAP and roadmap but remained concerned that political impediments in the south continued to hinder its implementation. Due to continued military activity by government and Houthi forces, tribal elements, and other foreign-backed militias during 2021, the recruitment, training, and mobilization of children as participants in the conflict by nongovernmental armed forces and by affiliated governmental armed forces continued. An international organization reported armed groups used boys mostly in combatant roles, to guard checkpoints or to drive military vehicles, and forced other children to carry out support duties, such as delivering supplies, escorting, and logistics. During the reporting period, an international organization noted the heightened use of “summer camps” by the Houthis to recruit, indoctrinate, and use children; Houthis ran 186 “summer camps” that were documented during the reporting period and attended by children ages 10 to 15. Reportedly, these camps were held in schools with the objective to deliver cultural, ideological, political, and religious sessions and, in some cases, military and combat training. During the reporting period, cases of the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers occurred with some familial knowledge or consent, and monetary and material support were reportedly incentives for joining both the Houthis and the YAF. According to an international organization, between April and December 2021, armed groups unlawfully recruited and used at least 54 children between the ages of 9 and 17, compared with at least 118 from the previous reporting period, who were between the ages of 12 and 17. Despite challenges in documenting information due to continued persistent security threats and pandemic-related movement restrictions, the recruitment and use of children remained a significant concern during the reporting period; in addition, the age at which children were being recruited and used by the Houthis dropped to the age of 9, indicating the deeply concerning effect of the ongoing conflict on children in Yemen. Recruitment and use of child soldiers were reportedly attributed to Houthis and affiliated factions, the government’s YAF, and Security Belt Forces. In 2021, Yemeni officials did not report demobilizing any child soldiers. In the previous reporting period, the government operated a Saudi-funded interim care center in Marib to assist former child soldiers; however, the center was not operational during the reporting period while it underwent a comprehensive review. It is expected to resume services in 2022. In contrast, an international organization reported instances of YAF detaining boys for their alleged association with an opposition armed group in the conflict; the boys were between the ages of 14 and 17, and some were reportedly interrogated and suffered ill-treatment before they were released. Detention ranged from two days to six months.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Yemen, and traffickers exploit victims from Yemen who reside abroad. The ongoing conflict, lack of rule of law, economic degradation, pervasive corruption, and fractional territorial control have disrupted some trafficking patterns and exacerbated others. Prior to the conflict, Yemen was a transit point and destination for women and children, primarily from the Horn of Africa, who were exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor. Many Ethiopians and Somalis traveled voluntarily to Yemen with the hope of employment in Gulf countries; traffickers exploited some of these migrants in forced labor and sex trafficking in transit countries, reportedly most often in Yemen. Prior to the conflict’s escalation and the government’s departure from Sana’a in March 2015, Saudi Arabia allegedly deported Yemeni migrant workers and returned them to Yemen through the al-Tuwal and al-Buq border crossings. Most deportees reportedly returned to the impoverished Tihamah region located on the west coast of Yemen, many of whom remained displaced and highly vulnerable to exploitation, including trafficking. In July 2021, rights groups reported Saudi Arabia began to terminate or not renew contracts of Yemeni professionals in the country, following a policy change that required businesses to limit the percentage of their workers from certain nationalities, including Yemen. Due to Saudi Arabia’s visa sponsorship system, workers who were terminated or unable to renew their contracts had to find another employer to act as a sponsor to avoid leaving the country or risked detainment and deportation if found to be residing illegally. Furthermore, Yemeni workers who chose to stay in Saudi Arabia without legal status increased their vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking. As the civil war in Yemen continued, Yemeni workers who were forced to return because they could not find employment or were deported by Saudi authorities likely faced famine, extreme violence, and increased vulnerability to exploitation upon their return. Similar to 2020, movement restrictions and border closures related to the pandemic led to a low rate of migrant arrivals in Yemen during the current reporting period; a total of 27,693 people arrived in 2021, a decrease from 37,535 arrivals in 2020. Like previous years, the majority of migrants were from Ethiopia and Somalia.

In 2021, an international organization reported large groups of migrants stranded in traditional transit hubs due to border closures, as well as impacts to internal migrant flows due to escalating military campaigns; many migrants remained stranded, living in overcrowded informal settlements, detained by smugglers and traffickers and subsequently forcibly transferred across the frontlines of the conflict. An international organization estimated nearly 35,000 migrants were stranded in 2021 throughout the country, facing heightened vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking. Moreover, during the reporting period, there continued to be reports of migrants subjected to sex trafficking, forced labor, physical and sexual abuse, and abduction for ransom. Due to a decrease in migrants transiting through Yemen, an international organization continued to report traffickers were increasingly forcing migrant women to work off debts on farms or moving them to cities to work as domestic laborers, subjecting them to debt bondage. During the reporting period, both the pandemic and the country’s civil war continued to generate a substantial flow of reverse migration for migrants who originated in the Horn of Africa, specifically Ethiopia. An international organization reported it repatriated 2,027 Ethiopian migrants in 2021. However, repatriations to Ethiopia were placed on hold due to conflict in the country, pushing some migrants to seek irregular pathways to return home by engaging with smugglers, putting them at risk of exploitation. In 2021, approximately 11,620 migrants returned to the Horn of Africa via smuggling boats. Since the escalation of armed conflict in March 2015, human rights organizations reported all parties to the conflict continued their unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. However, documentation of such cases remained challenging during the reporting period due to intensified military campaigns, security threats against the monitors and communities of interest, continued access restrictions, and waves of increasing COVID-19 infections. Civil society organizations and media outlets assessed in the previous reporting period that traffickers had increasingly targeted Yemeni children since the civil war commenced and children were disproportionately affected by its protracted escalation.

U.S. Department of State

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