Yemen is a country of origin and, to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor, and women and children subjected to sex trafficking. Some Yemeni children, mostly boys, migrate to the Yemeni cities of Aden and Sana’a, or travel across the northern border to Saudi Arabia and, to a lesser extent, to Oman, where they are subjected to forced labor in domestic service, small shops, or as beggars. Some of these children are forced into prostitution by traffickers, border patrols, other security officials, and their employers once they arrive in Saudi Arabia; some children are forced to smuggle drugs into Saudi Arabia. Some Yemeni children are recruited as combatants by armed groups, including Houthi militias and tribal forces. A 2011 Saudi study reported that most beggars in Saudi Arabia were Yemenis between the ages of 16 and 25. From June to December 2013, an international organization reported a total of 235,016 Yemeni migrant workers were deported from Saudi Arabia and returned to Yemen through the al-Tuwal border crossing. Many of those who were deported remain displaced in Yemen without access to food, shelter, and medical services. These individuals are highly vulnerable to exploitation, including human trafficking, in Yemen. The Yemeni government and international NGOs estimate that there are approximately 1.7 million child laborers under the age of 14 in Yemen, some of whom are subjected to forced labor. Yemeni girls are subjected to sex trafficking within the country and in Saudi Arabia. Girls as young as 15-years-old are exploited for commercial sex in hotels and clubs in the governorates of Sana’a, Aden, and Taiz. The majority of child sex tourists in Yemen are from Saudi Arabia, with a smaller number possibly originating from other Gulf nations. Some Saudi men used legally-contracted “temporary marriages” for the purpose of sexually exploiting Yemeni girls—some reportedly as young as 10-years-old; some are subjected to sex trafficking or abandoned on the streets of Saudi Arabia. Civil society organizations report that as a result of the dire economic situation in Yemen, particularly in the north, sex trafficking of Yemeni children increased during 2012 and 2013. In addition, some sources report that the practice of chattel slavery continues in Yemen. While no official statistics exist detailing this practice, sources report that there could be 300 to 500 men, women, and children sold or inherited as slaves in Yemen, including in the Al-Zohrah district of Al-Hudaydah Governorate, west of Sana’a, and the Kuaidinah and Khairan Al-Muharraq districts of the Hajjah Governorate, north of the capital. While there is no clear evidence of the use of force for this recruitment, poverty, lack of education, and cultural mores increase vulnerability for trafficking.
Despite a 1991 law requiring that members of the armed forces be at least 18 years of age, credible reports indicated that children under 18 joined the official government armed forces—as well as militias—during the country-wide civil unrest in 2011. The number of child soldiers reportedly increased in 2013 as armed groups continued to recruit minors into their ranks. Some families supportive of Houthi rebels, including those residing in locations outside Houthi control, send their children to Sa’ada to be trained by the Houthis in the use of arms to serve in their militias. During the reporting period, there were reports of underage recruits in military uniforms manning military checkpoints and carrying weapons. The Popular Committees in the Abyan Governorate used boys between the ages of 13 and 17 to guard checkpoints, while in the north, NGOs reported that children were being recruited in the Sa’ada Governorate by both Houthi and Salafi factions. Al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) recruited boys for combat operations against military and security forces.
Yemen is also a transit and destination country for women and children primarily from the Horn of Africa for sex trafficking and forced labor. Ethiopian and Somali women and children travel voluntarily to Yemen with the hope of working in other Gulf countries, but some are subjected to sex trafficking or domestic servitude in Yemen. Others migrate based on fraudulent offers of employment as domestic servants in Yemen, but upon arrival are subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor. Some female Somali refugees are forced into prostitution in Aden and Lahj governorates, and Yemeni and Saudi gangs traffic African children to Saudi Arabia. Smugglers capitalize on the instability in the Horn of Africa to subject Africans to forced labor and prostitution in Yemen. Some refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa who voluntarily transit Yemen en route to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries are abandoned in Yemen and abused by traffickers. There are an increasing number of Syrian refugees in Yemen. An international organization estimates there are approximately 14,000 refugees in 2013. Syrian refugee women begging in the streets in Yemen are highly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking.
The Government of Yemen does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government did not provide law enforcement data on its anti-trafficking efforts, nor did it investigate or prosecute government officials complicit in trafficking-related crimes. The government did not institute formal procedures to identify victims of trafficking, nor did it provide protection services, such as shelter, to victims. However, the government worked with an international organization and NGOs to facilitate the repatriation of thousands of Ethiopian migrants, some of whom were trafficking victims, in 2013. The government also took some steps to prevent the forcible recruitment of children into the armed forces. Yemen continued to face serious challenges that severely impeded the government’s efforts to combat trafficking, including weak government institutions, systemic corruption, economic problems, substantial internal security threats, limited control of much of the countryside, and poor law enforcement capabilities.
Recommendations for Yemen:
Enact and implement anti-trafficking legislation that prohibits all forms of trafficking; significantly increase law enforcement efforts against sex and labor trafficking of women, men, and children; make greater efforts to stop the forcible recruitment of child soldiers and provide protection and rehabilitation services to demobilized children; take measures to investigate and eradicate the practice of chattel slavery in Yemen; institute a formal victim identification mechanism to identify and refer trafficking victims to protection services; provide adequate protection, including shelter, to all victims of trafficking; investigate and prosecute government employees complicit in trafficking-related offenses; continue to work with international organizations and NGOs to identify and provide protection to trafficking victims; ensure the victims of trafficking are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, such as immigration or prostitution violations; implement educational and public awareness campaigns on trafficking, and continue to implement awareness campaigns against the recruitment of child soldiers; adopt and dedicate resources to the national plan of action to combat trafficking; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government made no discernible law enforcement efforts against human trafficking. The absence of a law criminalizing all forms of human trafficking, as well as the government’s continued conflation of trafficking and smuggling, impeded efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders. The government’s inter-ministerial National Technical Committee to Combat Human Trafficking drafted anti-trafficking legislation with the assistance of an international organization; this draft legislation was approved by the cabinet but awaited parliamentary endorsement at the end of the reporting period. Article 248 of Yemen’s penal code prescribes up to 10 years’ imprisonment for any person who “buys, sells, or gives as a present, or deals in human beings; and anyone who brings into the country or exports from it a human being with the intent of taking advantage of him.” This statute’s prescribed penalty is commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape; however, its narrow focus on transactions and movement means that many forms of forced prostitution and forced labor are not criminalized. Article 161 of the Child Rights Law criminalizes the prostitution of children. The government did not report efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, or punish trafficking offenses during the year. However, approximately 100 individuals were reportedly referred to prosecution for sex trafficking crimes in Aden, some of which involved victims under the age of 18; however, the details of these cases were unclear. The government made no known efforts to investigate or punish the practice of chattel slavery. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking, despite allegations that local government and security officials willfully ignored trafficking crimes taking place in their areas of responsibility. In addition, officials continued to use children in the government armed forces. In October and December 2013, the Ministry of Human Rights, in coordination with an international organization, conducted two anti-trafficking training seminars for police officers and other government officials.
The government made few discernible efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government failed to proactively identify and provide adequate protection services to victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as women in prostitution and foreign migrants. As a result, the government did not ensure that victims of trafficking were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as prostitution or immigration violations. The Ministry of Interior’s Women and Children Unit produced formal standard operating procedures to guide officials in proactive identification of victims of trafficking among high-risk persons with whom they come in contact; it is unclear, however, if authorities implemented and received training on these procedures. The government did not identify or provide adequate protection services to trafficking victims, but it coordinated with NGOs, an international organization, and the Ethiopian government to repatriate a reported 7,970 Ethiopian nationals, an unspecified number of whom were trafficking victims, in 2013 ; the government also waived exit visa fees for those repatriated to Ethiopia. Although these victims were housed in the Ministry of Interior’s detention center in Sana’a while awaiting repatriation, they were allowed to enter and exit the center at will. The government did not encourage victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of their traffickers. The government did not provide assistance to its nationals who were repatriated from foreign countries as victims of trafficking. While the government acknowledged the use of child soldiers and agreed to a UN action plan to end the practice, the government did not make efforts to remove child soldiers from the military and provide them with protective or rehabilitation services.
The government made limited efforts to prevent trafficking. The Ministry of Human Rights, in coordination with an international organization, drafted but did not finalize, a national strategy for combating human trafficking, which includes raising awareness, increasing cooperation between Yemen and neighboring countries, training officials in victim identification, and instituting procedures to protect and provide assistance to victims. The government conducted awareness campaigns in major cities and near military camps against the recruitment of child soldiers. In September 2013, the government also approved an action plan that called for the immediate release of children serving in governmental forces and their reintegration into society; however, the Ministry of Defense did not provide data on the number of children who were released and reintegrated. Moreover, an NGO reported that there was no significant progress on the reintegration of child soldiers into society. The government did not take any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, forced labor, nor address the problem of child sex tourism. Yemen is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.