LAOS: Tier 2 Watch List
Laos is a source, and to a lesser extent, a transit and destination country for women, children, and men subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Lao trafficking victims often are migrants seeking work outside the country—sometimes with the assistance of brokers who charge high fees—who encounter conditions of labor or sexual exploitation after arriving in destination countries, most often Thailand. Many victims, particularly women and girls, some reportedly as young as 11 years old, are exploited in Thailand’s commercial sex trade and in forced labor in domestic service, factories, or agricultural industries. Lao men and boys are victims of forced labor in Thailand in the fishing, construction, and agricultural industries. Lao victims of forced labor in the Thai fishing industry have been identified in Indonesian waters. NGOs report individuals offering transportation services near the Thai border facilitate the placement of economic migrants into forced labor or sex trafficking in Thailand. The government reports foreign traffickers increasingly collaborate with local Lao middlemen to facilitate trafficking. Many trafficking victims may be among the more than 17,000 migrants deported or “pushed back” annually from Thailand without official notification, often sent back to Laos in boats across the Mekong River. Vehicle drivers sometimes intercept these migrants when they arrive back in Laos and facilitate their re-trafficking. A small, though possibly increasing, number of women and girls from Laos are sold as brides in China and South Korea and subsequently subjected to sex trafficking. Lao women have been subjected to sex trafficking in Malaysia and possibly Indonesia. A small number of Lao have been subjected to trafficking in Vietnam. Some local officials may contribute to trafficking by accepting payments to facilitate the immigration or transportation of girls to Thailand.
Laos is reportedly a transit country for some Vietnamese and Chinese women and girls who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in neighboring countries, particularly Thailand. Local organizations reported concerns that some of the Vietnamese men and women working in or near (often illegal) logging and construction areas along the Lao-Vietnam border may be victims of trafficking. They reported similar concerns over Burmese nationals working as manual laborers or involved in the sex trade near the “golden triangle” tri-border area with Burma and Thailand.
There is little data on the scope of trafficking within Laos. Some Vietnamese and Chinese women and girls, as well as girls and boys from Laos, are subjected to sex trafficking in the country, usually in the larger cities or in close proximity to borders, casinos, or special economic zones, reportedly to meet the demand of Asian tourists and migrant workers. Some Lao adults and children are subjected to forced labor within Laos in the agricultural sector. There were reports that child sex tourists from the United Kingdom, Australia, and the United States have traveled to Laos intending to exploit children in the sex trade.
The Government of Laos 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 prosecute trafficking offenses and convict traffickers, and to provide short-term assistance to some victims with a heavy reliance on support from foreign donors. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Laos is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. The government did not provide sufficient case details to establish that all reported cases involved trafficking. The government relied almost entirely on local and international organizations to implement anti-trafficking programs in Laos. It did not make progress in proactively identifying trafficking victims, enhancing the quality of services available to victims, or increasing access to services for male victims.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LAOS:
Implement formal victim identification procedures and train police and border officials to systematically identify trafficking victims, and refer them to care, particularly among migrants “pushed back” from Thailand and domestic victims; increase efforts to address internal trafficking—including children subjected to sex trafficking and adults and children subjected to forced labor in the commercial agricultural sector—by identifying and assisting Lao citizens subjected to trafficking within the country and prosecuting their traffickers; finalize new anti-trafficking legislation that conforms with international law requirements, including organizations with relevant expertise in all stages of the drafting process; improve transparency by collecting information on government anti-trafficking activities, including case details, and share this information with stakeholders; provide incentives for victims to participate in formal legal proceedings, including through restitution awards from the courts; reduce the demand for sex tourism by continuing to increase awareness in targeted locations and enforcing criminal penalties; in partnership with local and international organizations, increase resources and vocational trainings to support victims, including male victims, to reintegrate into their home communities; increase government expenditures on service provision to victims and awareness campaigns to warn of the dangers of human trafficking; and investigate and prosecute public officials alleged to be complicit in trafficking crimes.
The government continued moderate law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking. As of a 2006 revision to its penal code Article 134, Lao law prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties ranging from five years’ to life imprisonment, fines ranging from 10 to 100 million kip ($1,250 to $12,500), and confiscation of assets; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government continued drafting the framework for trafficking-specific legislation, and during the reporting period, it conducted limited consultations with international organizations capable of providing necessary legal expertise. In 2014, authorities reported investigating 38 individuals for suspected trafficking offenses, prosecuting 31, and convicting 21 trafficking offenders. Officials reported convicted traffickers received punishments from five to 15 years’ imprisonment and fines ranging from 10 to 100 million kip ($1,250 to $12,500). The government used various criminal statutes to prosecute cases and did not specify the nature of cases; it is not possible to confirm all reported cases constituted trafficking offenses. Court proceedings lacked adequately detailed record-keeping, and despite initiating broad legal system reform, the Lao judicial sector remained weak and inefficient. The government added anti-trafficking provisions into basic training courses for police, and led donor-funded trainings that reached more than 300 officials. The government reported conducting cooperative investigations with the governments of China and Vietnam, resulting in one extradition. The general public’s continued reluctance to work with law enforcement and reliance on out-of-court mediation hampered the government’s ability to effectively investigate internal and cross-border trafficking cases. Corruption remained an endemic problem in Laos. Anti-trafficking organizations have reported some local officials may have contributed to trafficking by accepting payments to facilitate the immigration or transportation of girls to Thailand. The government reported investigating an unknown number of cases of officials for producing falsified travel documents—which could have facilitated trafficking—but did not report any prosecutions or convictions of officials for complicity in human trafficking or trafficking-related activities during the year.
The government did not make progress in proactively identifying victims exploited within the country or among those deported from other countries, and its overall victim protection efforts remained inadequate. It continued to provide modest support to victims identified by the Thai government and repatriated to Laos. The government reported assisting 253 victims in 2014; such assistance could have included temporary accommodation, legal advice, health services, education, or job training. Lao authorities did not follow systematic procedures for the identification of victims, and the government did not complete revisions to a previously developed checklist for the identification of victims among vulnerable groups. Deportees from Thailand were not systematically screened, and front-line officers’ lack of awareness often led to conflation between trafficking and involuntary migration, leaving some victims unidentified.
The government reported allocating 150 million kip ($18,800) to victim services in 2014, though it did not specify whether this funding was disbursed or how it was used. It continued to rely almost entirely on NGOs and international organizations to provide and fund victim services. The government cooperated with an NGO to run a transit center in Vientiane, where victims could stay for approximately one week, and the quasi-governmental Lao Women’s Union operated a short-term shelter for victims of a number of forms of abuse; an unknown number of victims received services from these facilities. In addition, the government referred an unknown number of victims to non-governmental shelters or other providers of medical care, counseling services, and vocational training. In September 2014, the government signed an agreement with the Government of China to cooperate on protecting and repatriating victims of trafficking. A lack of adequate long-term support available in Laos made victims vulnerable to re-trafficking. Although Lao men and boys were subjected to trafficking, the vast majority of services in the country were only available to women.
There were no reports of identified victims being subjected to penalties for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking, and central government officials instructed provincial authorities that they could not fine repatriated victims for immigration violations. However, a lack of proactive victim identification may have led to some unidentified victims being treated as law violators. Lawyers did not always have formal training and victims were not always made sufficiently aware of their legal rights. The government reported encouraging victims to cooperate with prosecutions, and the Lao Women’s Union made efforts to familiarize individual victims with the court process, but an overall lack of incentives for participation in formal legal proceedings, which can be lengthy and costly, led some victims to choose traditional out-of-court mediation for redress. Unlike last year, there were no reported cases of victims being awarded restitution by the courts. The government did not establish formal legal alternatives to the removal of foreign trafficking victims to countries where they may face retribution or hardship, but reported it would consider such options on a case-by-case basis.
The government continued modest prevention efforts. On a day the government designated to combat trafficking in December 2014, the prime minister gave a speech to raise awareness of trafficking that reached more than 1,000 individuals. Government-controlled print, television, and radio media carried a variety of pieces to promote anti-trafficking awareness. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to distribute materials about safe migration and the risks of human trafficking to Lao citizens applying for passports. Although the government continued implementation of its national action plan, it reported no notable outcomes from these activities. Officials reported investigating leads from an international law enforcement agency that seven child sex tourists had entered the country, but this did not result in any arrests and no additional action to enforce criminal penalties for child sex tourism were reported. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government took no discernible measures to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts.