Jordan is a destination and transit country for adults and children subjected to forced labor and, to a lesser extent, sex trafficking. Women from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, and the Philippines voluntarily migrate to Jordan for employment as domestic workers. Some are subjected to conditions of forced labor after arrival, including through unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, threats of imprisonment, and physical or sexual abuse. Although the government has instituted many policies to facilitate the repatriation of domestic workers, many are unable to return to their home countries due to pending criminal charges against them, as well as their inability to pay government overstay penalties, other fees, or the cost of a return plane ticket. Migrant workers from Egypt—the largest source of foreign labor in Jordan—experience forced labor in the construction, building maintenance, and agricultural sectors; Syrian workers, including Syrian refugee children, also face forced labor in the agricultural sector. Sri Lankan, Indian, Chinese, Malagasy, Bangladeshi, Burmese, Nepali, Pakistani, and Vietnamese men and women, as well as nationals of Taiwan, migrate for work in factories in Jordan’s garment industry; approximately 3,000 Burmese workers were recruited to work in the garment industry in 2012. Women account for 63 percent of the total labor force in the garment industry. Some of these workers encounter forced labor through unlawful withholding of passports, delayed payment of wages, long working hours, forced overtime, unsanitary living conditions, indebtedness to recruitment agencies in the workers’ home countries, and verbal and physical abuse; female factory workers are also vulnerable to sexual harassment. Workers in the garment sector continue to protest forced labor conditions. Jordan’s sponsorship system binds foreign workers to their designated employers without the ability to switch employers and without adequate access to legal recourse when they face abuse, thereby placing a significant amount of power in the hands of employers and recruitment agencies. Migrant workers are further vulnerable to forced labor due to indebtedness to recruiters, negative societal attitudes toward foreign workers, high illiteracy rates, and legal requirements that foreign workers rely on employers to renew their work and residency permits.
Syrians continue to flee ongoing violence in Syria to neighboring countries including Jordan, and they are highly vulnerable to exploitation and trafficking. NGOs and government officials report that an increasing number of undocumented Syrian refugees—particularly women and children—are working illegally in the Jordanian economy, making them vulnerable to trafficking. The Jordanian Ministry of Labor estimates that 30,000 Syrian refugee children are working in Jordan.
Reporting suggests that Syrian refugee children peddle goods in Za’atri refugee camp and in Jordanian communities, and that there are increasing numbers of Syrian refugee children begging in Jordanian cities. Uncorroborated media reports suggest that Syrian refugee women are sold into “temporary marriages”—primarily for the purpose of sexual exploitation or prostitution; however, there were no known cases of such crimes. According to media reports, some Syrian refugee women and girls are reportedly forced into prostitution. An international organization reported a case of a Syrian woman whose Syrian husband forced her to work in prostitution in a nightclub in Jordan. Moroccan, Tunisian, Lebanese, Syrian, and Eastern European women are forced into prostitution after migrating to Jordan to work in restaurants and night clubs. Some out-of-status Indonesian, Filipina, Bangladeshi, and Sri Lankan domestic workers are reportedly forced into prostitution after running away from their employers. NGO reporting suggests that some Egyptian women receive marriage offers from Jordanian men as second wives, but are then subjected to forced labor, forced begging, or forced prostitution. Small numbers of Jordanian adults are subjected to forced labor as low-skilled workers in Qatar and Kuwait, while Jordanian children employed within the country as mechanics, agricultural laborers, and beggars may be exploited in situations of forced labor. There are reports of organized child begging rings involving Jordanian, Syrian, and Egyptian children. Some Jordanian girls are forced to drop out of school to perform domestic service in contravention of their constitutionally-protected right to complete their education; these “homebound girls” are confined to the home and vulnerable to domestic servitude.
The Government of Jordan does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government prosecuted and convicted an increased number of trafficking offenders, and continued to identify and refer an increased number of trafficking victims to NGO-run shelter services. The government also improved prevention efforts by implementing public awareness campaigns. While the government officially designated a shelter to provide services to trafficking victims in February 2014, the government did not fund or provide adequate shelter services for victims of trafficking during the majority of the reporting period. Victims continued to face arrest, imprisonment, and punishment—particularly workers who ran away from abusive employers.
Recommendations for Jordan:
Increase efforts to prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenses with jail time using the anti-trafficking statute; amend the forced labor statute to increase prescribed penalties for forced labor offenses; strengthen efforts to proactively identify victims of forced labor and forced prostitution, particularly among vulnerable populations such as detained foreign migrants and domestic workers; implement standardized referral procedures for law enforcement, social services, and labor officials to promptly refer identified victims to protection services, including the newly designated trafficking shelter; amend the shelter’s victim referral procedures so that victims can receive assistance at the shelter regardless of whether their case has been filed with the public prosecutor; adequately train shelter staff to provide care for trafficking victims, as distinct from gender-based violence victims; ensure identified victims are not punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as immigration or prostitution violations; issue regulations governing work in the agricultural sector; and continue to implement awareness campaigns to educate the general public and foreign migrant workers in all sectors on human trafficking, particularly forced labor and the proper treatment of domestic workers under Jordanian law.
The government increased law enforcement efforts. The 2009 anti-human trafficking law prohibits all forms of both sex and labor trafficking and prescribes penalties of six months’ to 10 years’ imprisonment for forced prostitution, child trafficking, and trafficking of women and girls; these penalties are sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Penalties prescribed for labor trafficking offenses are not sufficiently stringent and do not reflect the heinous nature of this serious crime; cases against men that do not involve aggravating circumstances are limited to a minimum of six months’ imprisonment and a fine. Jordan’s labor law assigns administrative penalties for labor violations committed against Jordanian or foreign workers, yet these penalties also are not sufficiently stringent to deter the crime of human trafficking. The withholding of passports is a crime under Jordan’s passport law and holds a penalty of six months’ to three years’ imprisonment; a September 2013 amendment increased the financial penalties for the withholding of a passport.
The government acknowledged that it had difficulty tracking human trafficking cases as they passed from the police and the labor inspectorate to the court system and social services; however, the Public Security Directorate (PSD) and Ministry of Labor (MOL) joint anti-trafficking unit, which was established in December 2012, continued to investigate potential cases of trafficking. In 2013, the PSD anti-trafficking unit reported investigating three cases of sexual exploitation, four forced labor cases, and 17 cases involving the exploitation of domestic workers; these investigations involved a total of 90 potential victims of trafficking. In 2012, authorities investigated two cases of sex trafficking and 19 forced labor cases. The government referred 17 trafficking cases for prosecution in 2013 under the anti-trafficking law, an increase from the eight prosecutions referred in the previous reporting period; however, it was unclear whether these cases involved sex or labor trafficking. Two of these prosecutions resulted in convictions, an increase from no convictions in the previous reporting period, while one resulted in an acquittal. The PSD anti-trafficking unit also reported investigating 154 cases that involved the withholding of passports, restricted freedom, and labor violations. In September 2013, the Supreme Criminal Court investigated allegations that a company contracted to build the PSD headquarters was subjecting Egyptian and Indian workers to forced labor, including by withholding passports and salaries and threats of arrest if the workers left the workplace; at the end of the reporting period, the case was still under investigation. In addition, 34 individuals were prosecuted for withholding passports, but some employers who were convicted were reportedly not required to return the passports back to their employees as a part of their sentence. There was no evidence that any employers in the garment sector were investigated or prosecuted, despite reports that employers in at least five factories withheld passports. Factory owners sought to insulate themselves from liability by having workers sign over their passports; authorities seemed to be swayed by this defense rather than examine whether power imbalances undercut the workers’ ability not to do as asked by their employers. Foreign embassy officials reported that the government preferred to settle potential trafficking cases out of court rather than refer them for prosecution; for example, one foreign embassy referred 30 potential cases of trafficking to the PSD anti-trafficking unit, half of which were settled out of court and the others remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government employees for complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period. The six-person committee of judges, which the Higher Judicial Council created in December 2012, continued to oversee judicial activities related to human trafficking. The PSD anti-trafficking unit conducted multiple anti-trafficking trainings for police, judicial, and labor officials—some of which were conducted in coordination with international organizations and NGOs—throughout the reporting period.
The government made some progress protecting victims of trafficking during the reporting period. While it continued to identify and refer trafficking victims to donor-funded shelter services and officially designated a shelter facility to assist trafficking victims, it did not provide or directly fund any specialized services for victims during the majority of the reporting period. It also did not adequately ensure that identified victims were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. In February 2014, the government officially designated a shelter for gender-based violence victims to also shelter and assist female trafficking victims. This shelter can house up to 50 female victims of violence and offered medical, psychosocial, educational, and legal assistance. Though the shelter’s bylaws require a criminal case to be filed with the public prosecutor before trafficking victims can receive shelter services, authorities continued to informally refer trafficking victims to protection services. The government identified 90 potential victims of trafficking who were involved in trafficking prosecutions. Prior to the designation of the government-run shelter, the government informally referred victims to a local NGO-operated shelter, to which it referred 46 potential female trafficking victims, an increase from 30 in the previous reporting period. The government also identified and paid for six male trafficking victims to reside at a hotel. The inter-ministerial National Screening Team, which is responsible for identifying trafficking victims, reportedly identified 27 trafficking cases in 2013 and established a formal checklist for officials to proactively identify victims of trafficking. During the reporting period, the anti-trafficking unit began cooperating with the Ministry of Health to identify potential victims of trafficking and find evidence of sexual assault and sexually transmitted diseases. The PSD anti-trafficking unit’s six female officers provided limited assistance to victims and only three of the officers were tasked with conducting interviews for the purpose of an investigation.
In the absence of government-provided protection services, foreign domestic workers continued to seek refuge at their respective embassies, which provided shelters for hundreds of female domestic workers who fled abusive employers and who, in the event that their employer did not keep their legal status current, could not leave Jordan without an exit permit and the payment of overstay fees. Many women who sought assistance at their embassies remained in the shelters waiting for the return of their passports, back pay for unpaid salaries, or resolution of labor disputes or criminal charges. To be able to address this issue more effectively, the PSD anti-trafficking unit established liaison officers to work with foreign embassies to identify victims of trafficking, refer cases to prosecution, and facilitate the repatriation of workers. In July 2013, the Ministry of Interior instructed the PSD to facilitate and coordinate with foreign embassies to repatriate foreign domestic workers who had been prevented from leaving Jordan because they did not have legal documents or could not pay fines accrued for overstaying their residency permits. As a result of this new directive, more than 1,200 domestic workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka, as well as 17 children born to these women, were repatriated during the reporting period. NGOs reported that at least 345 of these workers were possible victims of forced labor. The anti-trafficking unit continued to assist NGOs to repatriate some trafficking victims, including those from Morocco, Egypt, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, the Philippines, India, and Ethiopia.
Victims continued to be vulnerable to arrest and detention—sometimes for extended periods of time—if found without valid residency documents, and some foreign domestic workers fleeing abusive employers were incarcerated after their employers or recruitment agencies filed false claims of theft against them. The government made some efforts, alone and in cooperation with international organizations and foreign embassies, to identify trafficking victims among detained foreign domestic workers and out-of-status migrant workers; however, these efforts were not sufficient to address the problem. For example, NGOs reported that potential trafficking victims, particularly victims of forced labor, were jailed on charges such as theft, non-reimbursement of deployment fees to their employers, and working illegally. Some migrant workers reportedly opted to be jailed because there was no shelter in which they could receive services; the government did not take measures to refer these workers to NGO-run protection services, though the government repatriated some of them. The fining of foreign workers without valid residency documents—including identified trafficking victims—served as a strong disincentive for trafficking victims to remain in Jordan and pursue legal action against traffickers. The government did not actively encourage victims to participate in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking offenses committed against them. The government did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they might face hardship or retribution; however, there have been no reported cases where the victim might have faced hardship or retribution. Labor regulations prevented the three-person labor inspectorate dedicated to addressing abuses against domestic workers from investigating abuses in private homes, which continued to isolate domestic workers and “homebound girls.” Additionally, the government lacked specific regulations to govern the agriculture sector, which left labor abuses and trafficking victims in this sector largely undetected.
The government’s efforts to prevent trafficking improved during the reporting period. The government distributed anti-trafficking brochures to foreign migrants at border crossings, airports, and health clinics. The government also sponsored and participated in, but did not fund, two public awareness anti-trafficking campaigns. The anti-trafficking committee met three times, while its working-level technical committee separately met four times. The committee drafted a report documenting Jordan’s anti-trafficking efforts during the year, but did not release it to the public. The government made minimal efforts to rectify weaknesses in the regulations that provide standards for employing domestic workers. However, the labor inspectorate enforced a directive that requires employers of domestic workers to deposit their salaries into bank accounts, and in November 2013, the government signed an agreement with the Recruiting Agencies Association requiring all sponsors of domestic workers to establish bank accounts for their employees so that the MOL would be able to closely monitor the payment of salaries to workers. The MOL Inspection Department continued to have only 120 labor inspectors for the entire country, which government officials and NGOs agreed was insufficient to fulfill its mandate. Nonetheless, in this reporting period, MOL conducted 70,364 labor inspections and found 19,809 labor violations. The MOL Inspection Department also investigated 66 recruitment agencies, recommended closing nine agencies, and ultimately closed 10; one recruiter was convicted of fraud and operating an unlicensed recruitment agency. The government established a trafficking hotline, which was linked to the MOL-operated hotline that received labor complaints and included interpretation services available in some source-country languages; the trafficking hotline identified two potential cases of sexual exploitation and four potential forced labor cases involving domestic workers. The government did not report taking measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor during the reporting period. The government provided an optional anti-trafficking training for its nationals being deployed abroad for peacekeeping operations.