Brunei is a destination country and, to a much lesser extent, a source and transit country for men and women who are subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution. Men and women from countries within the region such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, and Malaysia migrate to Brunei primarily for domestic work, and are sometimes subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude after their arrival. There are approximately 100,000 migrant workers in Brunei, some of whom face debt bondage, nonpayment of wages, passport confiscation, abusive employers, and confinement to the home—conditions widely recognized as indicators of human trafficking. Although it is illegal for employers in Brunei to withhold wages of domestic workers for more than 10 days, some employers have been known to withhold wages in order to recoup labor broker or recruitment fees or as a tool to maintain the service of the workers. While officials attempt to ensure that workers understand contracts by reviewing the details and witnessing the signatures, foreign nationals continue to have difficulties understanding contract provisions as many lack basic literacy skills or do not speak the local language. Many victims enter the country on social visit passes or tourist visas.
The Government of Brunei does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Continuing its anti-trafficking law enforcement progress, the government obtained its first successful trafficking conviction, and initiated three prosecutions. The government developed and began implementing procedures to proactively identify victims among vulnerable groups, though no victims were identified during the year. General-purpose government shelters provided services for female trafficking victims identified during a previous year, though no specialized services were available for male or child trafficking victims. The government expanded its anti-trafficking police force unit, forming an ad hoc interagency committee which met to coordinate its efforts. The government continued to monitor recruitment agencies for licensing violations, and it prosecuted a case of forced labor; however, overall efforts to address labor trafficking, including document confiscation and debt bondage, could be improved.
Recommendations for Brunei: Differentiate between human trafficking and smuggling in legal protocol and trainings, and disaggregate data collection on law enforcement efforts to combat these separate crimes; continue to increase the number of investigations and prosecutions of both sex and labor trafficking offenses using the anti-trafficking law, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; train officers on proactive procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers and females in prostitution, and implement them widely; enforce stringent criminal penalties against those involved in fraudulent labor recruitment or forced labor; prosecute employers and employment agencies who unlawfully confiscate workers’ passports as a means of extracting forced labor; ensure that victims of trafficking are not threatened or otherwise punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked; establish a policy whereby all victims are eligible for employment passes to work legally in Brunei; consider a policy to allow resources from the fund established by the 2004 law to be paid directly to victims as restitution; formalize and allocate funding to the ad hoc interagency committee; develop a national plan of action for prosecuting and preventing trafficking crimes and ensuring protective services to victims; accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; and continue to support comprehensive and visible anti-trafficking awareness campaigns directed at employers of foreign workers and clients of the sex trade.
The government demonstrated increased progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the past year. The Government of Brunei prohibits both sex and labor trafficking through its Trafficking and Smuggling Persons Order of 2004, which prescribes punishments of up to 30 years’ imprisonment. These punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. Amendments to the penal code in the previous reporting period included a prohibition on traveling outside the country for commercial sex with children, prescribing a punishment of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government obtained its first conviction of a trafficking offender, sentencing a Thai national to four years’ imprisonment for subjecting three Thai women to forced prostitution. Over the course of the reporting period, 57 cases were investigated and three prosecutions were initiated, but because the law includes the separate crime of human smuggling, it is unclear if any of these were trafficking cases. In a positive step, the government investigated and prosecuted a police officer and his wife for subjecting a household worker to domestic servitude; this case remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period. Criminal penalties do not yet appear to have been imposed in any cases of labor trafficking. The government reported developing standard operating procedures for trafficking investigations, and provided some specialized training to officers in the Heads of Specialist Trafficking Unit within the Royal Brunei Police Force.
The Government of Brunei continued modest efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government made preliminary efforts to implement proactive procedures for the systematic identification of victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as foreign workers and individuals in prostitution, developing a checklist of questions to be used by officials to identify indicators of trafficking and distributing it to front-line officials. However, these efforts did not yield any victims identified during the year. The government maintained three general-purpose shelters that could be used to assist female trafficking victims, though no similar facilities for male victims or specialized services for child victims were available. Victims residing in the shelters were generally not permitted to leave except under special circumstances, and as granted by the police. Four victims identified during the previous reporting period were sheltered and had access to services until their voluntary repatriation in May 2012. There continued to be no safeguards in place to reduce the risk of hardship, retribution, or re-trafficking of those repatriated or deported.
Brunei’s 2004 law established a fund that is theoretically available to pay the cost of victims’ repatriation and to award individuals helping to prevent or suppress trafficking, but as it is funded primarily by court settlements—of which there have been none—its funding level remained low. Police began implementing a new standardized procedure of asking screening questions when apprehending persons in prostitution; however, no sex trafficking victims were identified by this or other methods. Foreign women identified during brothel raids were detained and deported; unlike last year, there were no reports that women found in prostitution were allowed to stay at a government-run shelter without being fined or convicted. Similarly, immigration authorities continued to actively identify and charge violators of immigration laws without reporting identification of or assistance to any trafficking victims among this population during the reporting period. The government reported that certain labor trafficking victims would be eligible on a case-by-case basis to receive employment passes to temporarily work in Brunei while assisting in investigations, though none received this benefit during the year.
The Bruneian government continued its modest efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. The Labor Department continued efforts to enforce licensing requirements for all labor recruitment agencies, prosecuting two agencies for related violations. The government expanded its Heads of Specialist Trafficking Unit within the Royal Brunei Police Force, forming an ad hoc interagency committee to oversee its anti-trafficking policies and responses; this new committee met six times during the year and began drafting a national plan of action to combat trafficking. The government-influenced press disseminated stories with details of all trafficking cases brought to court, and the government prepared posters and cards in English and Malay for distribution and posting at transit points to educate the traveling Brunei public and incoming foreign workers. The government reported developing performance indicators for its awareness campaigns but did not provide additional information about what these indicators were or how they were applied to measure effectiveness. The government did not make notable efforts to prevent child sex tourism, and it did not take discernible measures to decrease the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts during the year. Brunei is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.