TURKMENISTAN (Tier 3)

The Government of Turkmenistan does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity, is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore Turkmenistan remained on Tier 3.  Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including by granting access to an international organization to monitor the cotton harvest, providing in-kind support for anti-trafficking awareness campaigns and training officials in collaboration with international organizations.  However, during the reporting period there was a government policy or pattern of forced labor; the government continued to direct policies that perpetuated the mobilization of adults for forced labor in the annual cotton harvest, in public works projects, and in other sectors in some areas of the country.  As in previous years, the government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions; did not hold any officials accountable for their complicity in forced labor crimes; identified no victims; and did not fund any victim assistance programs.

  • Grant independent observers full access to freely and independently monitor cotton cultivation and deliver an unfiltered report of the annual cotton harvest.
  • End government policies or actions that compel or create pressure for the mobilization of forced labor, to include eliminating the cotton quota, mandatory participation in public works, and ensure local officials do not impose fees for replacement pickers and for businesses and entrepreneurs to support the harvest.
  • Amend the provision, under Article 8 of the Labor Code, that allows for the mobilization of civilians into public works, which would include cotton harvesting.
  • Investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking offenses under Article 128/1 of the criminal code; convict traffickers, including government officials complicit in human trafficking, including in the mobilization of forced labor, and seek adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms.
  • Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
  • In accordance with the provisions of the 2016 anti-trafficking law, provide victim services directly or by otherwise funding organizations to do so, including for male victims, and train relevant government authorities on those provisions.
  • Finalize, implement, and train police, migration officers, and other relevant stakeholders on SOPs to identify and refer victims to services.
  • Develop, adopt, and implement a comprehensive NAP and allocate resources for its implementation.
  • Establish, train relevant personnel on, and implement labor inspection and recruitment oversight protocols to improve forced labor identification and prevention.
  • Train police to detect and investigate sex and labor trafficking crimes under Article 128 of the criminal code.

The government maintained negligible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.  Article 128/1 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 10 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adult victims and eight to 15 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving child victims; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

The Prosecutor General’s Office coordinates anti-trafficking efforts among law enforcement agencies.  For the third consecutive year, authorities did not report initiating any criminal investigations and, for the fourth consecutive year, they did not report any prosecutions or convictions.  The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, corruption and alleged official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action.  Authorities did not report any efforts to end officials’ mobilization of persons for forced labor in the harvest of cotton and other agricultural crops or public works projects.  The government did not report any cooperation on international trafficking investigations.  State-imposed restrictions on the access of independent observers to the cotton harvest likely impeded the detection and referral to law enforcement of forced labor crimes; however, the government reported it continued coordinating with an international organization to arrange a monitoring mission of the cotton harvest for the first time.  The Ministry of Internal Affairs was required to record data on trafficking crimes; however, for the seventh consecutive year, the government did not make publicly available any government data on trafficking crimes or relevant judicial processes.  The government, in collaboration with international organizations, trained law enforcement and judges on anti-trafficking legislation and enforcement.  The government also conducted trainings on victim identification for law enforcement and military officials.

The government maintained negligible protection efforts.  For the fourth consecutive year, authorities did not identify any trafficking victims.  An international organization reported identifying and assisting 21 victims, including six male and 15 female forced labor victims; all were Turkmen exploited abroad – compared with 15 victims assisted in the previous year by an international organization.  For the fifth consecutive year, the government failed to adopt and implement SOPs for victim identification and referral, previously developed in partnership with an international organization.  The trafficking law required the government to certify trafficking victims official status; however, the government required victims to directly apply for such status, further hindering identification efforts.

The anti-trafficking law required the government to provide a wide range of services to trafficking victims, including shelter, food, medical care, and financial support; however, for the seventh consecutive year, the government did not report providing services to any trafficking victims, nor did it fund international organizations or NGOs to provide such services.  NGOs indicated in prior years that some victims were required to pay for their own medical treatment.  Assistance to victims was only provided by international organizations in conjunction with local civil society.  An NGO operated a foreign donor-funded shelter for female and child trafficking victims offering psychological support, reintegration assistance, and legal services.  Foreign victims were entitled to the same benefits as citizens.

By law, victims – including those participating in criminal proceedings – were exempt from administrative or criminal liability for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.  The legal code guaranteed victims the option to seek employment; required law enforcement agencies to respect their confidentiality; and provided free legal assistance to those applying for official victim status, as well as the option to request temporary residency in Turkmenistan for the duration of relevant criminal proceedings.  The trafficking law did not require victim participation in investigations and prosecutions of alleged traffickers in order to access protection services or social support.  The government did not report providing any of this assistance, and there were no reports of victims seeking or obtaining damages in civil suits.  Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities may have arrested some unidentified trafficking victims, including women in commercial sex.

The government began to take positive steps to prevent human trafficking.  The government granted an international organization access to monitor the cotton harvest; however, in the absence of a full-scale independent harvest monitoring mission, it was difficult to ascertain the extent to which authorities eliminated state policies that perpetuated government-compelled forced labor during the cotton harvest or in public works projects.  The government’s 2020-2022 NAP expired in December 2022; the government did not adopt a new NAP.  The government drafted a roadmap with the ILO to reform its labor legislation in accordance with ILO labor standards; which was pending approval by the end of the reporting period.  The government reported expanding cooperation with international organizations and providing in-kind support to civil society for anti-trafficking awareness campaigns among the general population, employers, government officials, teachers, and healthcare specialists.  The government operated a general hotline to report all crimes, including human trafficking, and continued to provide in-kind support for a local NGO to operate a trafficking hotline; no data was available.

International observers reported that the government continued to mobilize tens of thousands of teachers; soldiers of all military units; medical professionals; utility workers; other civil servants; citizens with alimony debts; as well as vulnerable populations, including migrant workers, some women in commercial sex, and individuals with registered substance abuse disorders; to pick cotton during the annual harvest.  Observers noted that private businesses were forced to contribute by sending workers to the annual harvest.  Observers noted that the government threatened farmers, who lease the land from the government and are obligated to utilize it for cotton, with penalties, including loss of land, if they did not meet production quotas and that farmers often paid bribes to local officials in order to plant other crops.  Citizens unable to participate in the harvest were allegedly required to hire a replacement worker – or pay a bribe – and threatened by loss of wages or employment.  Observers reported a small number of children have been used as replacement workers by families and schools, despite the practice being banned in 2005.  The government continued to purchase and receive cotton picking and planting machinery from international industry partners as part of ongoing efforts to mechanize the harvest and reduce dependency on human labor.  As handpicked cotton reportedly attracts higher prices, some cotton fields are too small for tractors, and farmers prefer manual labor due to high maintenance of the tractors, pressure for handpicking could remain.  Authorities reported the mechanization process has caused the percentage of manually harvested cotton to drop from 71 percent in 2015 to 20 percent in 2022.  An NGO claimed the government imposed strict production requirements for silk and that some school children were involved in the production of silk in the Lebap region.  According to media reports, to fulfill orders from the federal government, regional authorities mobilized public sector workers for the harvest of other agricultural crops, such as beets and potatoes.

Due to continued border closures as a result of the pandemic, many Turkmen labor migrants were still stranded abroad, increasing vulnerabilities to trafficking.  The government did not report any labor inspections during the reporting period, compared with 15 in 2021.  The government did not report efforts to hold accountable labor recruiters or brokers involved in the fraudulent recruitment of workers.

Foreign citizens were entitled to the same labor rights as citizens of Turkmenistan.  The government continued to restrict international and domestic travel of Turkmen nationals; these restrictions may have further incentivized migration through unregulated channels commonly associated with trafficking vulnerabilities.  The government reported it provided anti-trafficking training for diplomatic personnel in collaboration with international organizations.  The government did not report making any efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic victims in Turkmenistan, and traffickers exploit victims from Turkmenistan abroad.  State policies continue to perpetuate government-compelled forced labor; in 2016, 2020, and again in 2022, the ILO Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations noted the continued practice of forced labor in the cotton sector.  International observers continue to report that in order to meet central government-imposed production quotas for the cotton harvest, some local government officials require some soldiers; employees at private-sector institutions; public sector workers, including teachers, medical professionals, utility workers, and others; citizens with alimony debts; as well as vulnerable populations, including migrant workers, some women in commercial sex, and individuals with registered substance abuse disorders, to pick cotton without payment, using coerced statements of voluntary participation and, under the threat of such penalties as dismissal, reduced work hours, or salary deductions.  Some local officials reportedly impose informal fees on public sector workers as a tactic to coerce them into picking cotton or otherwise profit from their inability or unwillingness to participate in the harvest.  Some local authorities reportedly also threaten farmers with land expropriation if they attempt to register complaints about payment discrepancies or if they do not meet government-imposed quotas.  Absent government measures to prevent, monitor, or address supply chain contamination, some goods containing cotton harvested through the use of forced labor may have entered international supply chains.  Media sources report the government compulsorily mobilizes students, teachers, doctors, and other civil servants for the harvest of other agricultural crops and public works and community cleaning and beautification projects, such as the planting of trees and the cleaning of streets and public spaces in advance of presidential visits and in unpaid support roles during government-sponsored parades and holiday celebrations.  Police reportedly conduct sweeps to remove individuals experiencing homelessness and subsequently place them in agricultural work or domestic servitude at the residences of law enforcement-connected families.  Media reports noted that some families living in poverty often compel children to serve as porters in local marketplaces and to harvest carrots in the fields.  An NGO reported that some children were forced to work in cotton and potato fields during summer educational camps and throughout the cotton harvest as replacement pickers to support their families.  Workers in the construction sector and at small-scale sericulture operations are vulnerable to forced labor.  Turkmenistan’s very small stateless population – primarily consisting of undocumented residents with expired Soviet nationality documentation – are vulnerable to trafficking.  Criminalization of consensual sexual intercourse between men, social stigma, and discrimination makes some members of Turkmenistan’s LGBTQI+ communities vulnerable to police abuse, extortion, and coercion, and also compound their vulnerability to family-brokered forced marriages that may result in corollary sex trafficking or forced labor indicators.  Residents of rural areas in Turkmenistan are at the highest risk of becoming trafficking victims, both within the country and abroad.

Turkmen men and women are exploited in forced labor abroad in the textile, agricultural, construction, and domestic service sectors; Turkmen migrant men are also subjected to forced criminality in drug trafficking.  Sex traffickers exploit Turkmen women abroad.  Türkiye, Russia, and India are the most frequent destinations of Turkmen victims, followed by other countries in the Middle East, South and Central Asia, and Europe.  Enduring government restrictions on freedom of movement – preventing citizens from leaving the country – incentivizes some citizens to pursue irregular migration rife with trafficking vulnerabilities.  Government austerity measures limiting certain foreign financial transactions, coupled with travel and entry restrictions, may increase vulnerabilities among Turkmen citizens abroad.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future