Turkmenistan is a source, and to a much lesser extent, destination, country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Men and women from Turkmenistan are subjected to forced labor after migrating abroad in search of employment, including in textile sweatshops, construction sites, and domestic service. Some women and girls from Turkmenistan are subjected to sex trafficking abroad. Turkey remains the most frequent destination for identified Turkmen victims, followed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and, to a lesser extent, the United Kingdom, Kazakhstan, and Cyprus. An international organization estimates that between 10 and 25 trafficking victims return to Turkmenistan each month. Those who work in the domestic construction industry are vulnerable to forced labor and some regional governors forced public sector employees to pick cotton during the annual cotton harvest. In recent years, trafficking victims were identified in Turkmenistan from Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Azerbaijan.
The Government of Turkmenistan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued to convict trafficking offenders under its anti-trafficking statute and trained police, judges, and migration officials. The government, however, did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts to identify and protect victims, and its officials penalized some trafficking victims for acts committed as a result of being trafficked. The government also did not raise awareness of human trafficking or develop a national action plan. Therefore, Turkmenistan is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.
Recommendations for Turkmenistan: Develop systematic procedures to identify victims and refer them to protection services; train border guards, police, and other relevant government officials to use these victim referral procedures; establish safeguards and training procedures to ensure victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as migration violations and prostitution; continue to use Article 129 to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking offenses, respecting due process, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; continue to provide training for relevant government authorities on the proper application of Article 129; improve implementation of the protection provisions in the 2007 Law on Combating Trafficking in Persons; provide financial or in-kind assistance to anti-trafficking organizations providing assistance to victims; develop a national action plan for countering trafficking in persons; provide free medical services in state clinics for trafficking victims; conduct a trafficking awareness campaign to inform the general public about the dangers of trafficking; and develop formal relationships with civil society groups to coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts.
The Government of Turkmenistan demonstrated some progress in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. The government prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons through Article 129 of its criminal code, which was adopted in May 2010 and came into effect in July 2010. It prescribes penalties ranging from four to 25 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, this law releases the trafficking offender from criminal penalty if he or she voluntarily frees the victim, unless certain aggravating circumstances are present. Turkmenistan’s 2007 anti-trafficking law describes anti-trafficking responsibilities of government agencies, measures to protect trafficking victims, as well as prevention strategies. The government did not provide anti-trafficking law enforcement data for inclusion in this report; however, an international organization reported the government investigated and prosecuted seven trafficking cases in 2012 under Article 129, all of which resulted in convictions. At least five of these cases involved the forced prostitution of Turkmen women in Turkey. In 2011, Turkmen courts convicted an unknown number of trafficking offenders in three confirmed and one unconfirmed cases, all involving sex trafficking. The Turkmen government certified 50 law enforcement officers as anti-trafficking trainers upon their successful completion of trainings in July and August 2012, which were organized by an international organization and funded by a foreign government. The certified judges and migration officers subsequently conducted three training seminars for 100 police officers, judges, and migration officers. The Government of Turkmenistan did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period.
The Government of Turkmenistan demonstrated limited efforts to protect or assist victims during the reporting period. The government did not provide services to victims of trafficking, nor did it fund international organizations or NGOs to provide such services. In 2012, 232 victims were assisted by organizations that did not receive government funding, compared with at least 50 victims assisted by such organizations in 2011. Approximately 180 of these 232 victims were subjected to labor trafficking.
While the government employed no formal victim identification procedures and did not provide victim identification, referral, or sensitivity training to border guards or police, officials at the Ashgabat international airport informally referred some returning Turkmen victims to an international organization. Authorities punished trafficking victims for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked; reports continued that the State Migration Service fined trafficking victims upon return to Turkmenistan for visa violations. As a policy, Turkmen citizens deported from other countries—potentially including trafficking victims—are prohibited from leaving Turkmenistan for a period of up to five years. The government made no attempts to identify sex trafficking victims among women arrested for engaging in prostitution, and consequently sex trafficking victims may have been penalized for prostitution offenses. The government did not routinely encourage victims to assist in investigating and prosecuting potential trafficking cases. According to an international organization, two trafficking victims provided information to the police, who in turn provided protection for the victims during court proceedings.
The Government of Turkmenistan demonstrated limited efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. State Border Service and Ministry of Interior officers reported conducting outreach activities to raise awareness of human trafficking in schools. There continued to be no governmental coordinating body for anti-trafficking efforts or a national anti-trafficking plan. Transparency in anti-trafficking efforts was poor, as the government did not report publicly on its anti-trafficking policies or activities. The stateless population in Turkmenistan, comprised of former Soviet citizens, is vulnerable to trafficking. The State Migration Service, jointly with UNHCR, continued to register people over the age of 18 who are considered at risk of statelessness. The government’s efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, such as prosecuting clients of prostitution, were mitigated by the government’s punishing of women in prostitution without ensuring that they were not victims of trafficking.