Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

BRUNEI: Tier 2

Brunei is a destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Men and women from Indonesia, Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia migrate to Brunei primarily for domestic work, or on social visit passes or tourist visas. Upon arrival, some are subjected to involuntary servitude, debt bondage, non-payment of wages, passport confiscation, physical abuse, or confinement. Some migrants who transit Brunei become victims of sex or labor trafficking upon arrival in Malaysia or Indonesia. Some women and girls are reportedly subjected to sex trafficking in Brunei. Although it is illegal for employers in Brunei to withhold wages of domestic workers for more than 10 days, some employers withhold wages to recoup labor broker or recruitment fees or to compel the continued service of workers. Retention of migrant workers’ travel documents by employers or agencies remains a widespread practice, although the law prohibits it. Government officials have been investigated for complicity in trafficking offenses, including domestic servitude, in previous years, although no such investigations took place during the reporting period.

The Government of Brunei does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, authorities charged three foreign nationals for child sex trafficking and one individual for forced labor under the anti-trafficking law, compared to the previous two years in which it did not initiate any prosecutions. Victim protection efforts remained inadequate. Although the government used standardized mechanisms for proactive victim identification, it continued to detain and punish some individuals in prostitution and for labor and immigration violations who may have been victims of trafficking. The government did not offer foreign victims any long-term alternatives other than removal from the country, and shelters used to house victims restricted freedom of movement. The government informed the public on the illegality of withholding workers’ passports but did not prosecute any employers or agencies for passport retention even though the practice remained widespread. The government continued national campaigns to raise trafficking awareness among businesses, migrant workers, and the general public; however, it did not formally approve its national action plan to combat trafficking for the second consecutive year.


Increase protective services to provide incentives for victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions, including by allowing adult victims in government shelters to move freely and by issuing work permits to all victims; cease arrest, deportation, and punishment of trafficking victims for crimes committed as a direct result of their being subjected to trafficking; train officials on implementation of proactive procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, with a focus on psychological coercion as a technique used by traffickers; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish both sex and labor traffickers, including complicit government officials; train judges on how to accurately and effectively implement Brunei’s anti-trafficking laws; allocate government resources to the fund established by the 2004 law, and allow this to be paid directly to victims as restitution; enforce laws prohibiting acts that facilitate trafficking, such as retention or confiscation of migrant workers’ identity documents; offer foreign victims long-term alternatives to removal from the country; expand comprehensive and visible anti-trafficking awareness campaigns directed at employers of foreign workers and clients of the sex trade; provide anti-trafficking training to diplomatic personnel; approve and implement the national action plan; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


The government demonstrated increased law enforcement efforts. The Trafficking and Smuggling Persons Order of 2004 prohibits both sex and labor trafficking and prescribes punishments of up to 30 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. The penal code prohibits travel outside the country for commercial sex with children, prescribing a punishment of up to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government screened for suspected trafficking offenses among 66 cases involving labor complaints or prostitution, a slight decrease from 81 cases the previous year. After three years without initiating any trafficking prosecutions, the government charged three foreign nationals for child sex trafficking under the 2004 anti-trafficking law; it also charged one individual—a case pending trial since 2012—under the anti-trafficking law for allegedly recruiting and subjecting a domestic worker to forced labor. One alleged sex trafficking case from 2014 and the four cases charged during the reporting period remained pending. As in the previous reporting period, the government did not achieve any convictions. Officials continued to refer cases involving prostitution, unpaid wages, workers fleeing their place of employment, or physical abuse of workers to the Human Trafficking Unit (HTU) of the Royal Brunei Police Force (RBPF) for investigation. Some of these cases resulted in prosecutions for other offenses.

The HTU facilitated anti-trafficking training for an unknown number of labor, immigration, and marine police authorities during the year; however, many officials continued to conflate trafficking and human smuggling. Some judicial officials interpreted the law to require deception at the recruitment stage, resulting in fewer prosecutions or convictions under anti-trafficking laws when victims migrated willingly or were not deceived into trafficking immediately upon arrival in Brunei. Officials cited the lack of incentives for victims to remain in Brunei and participate in investigations as an impediment to effective law enforcement. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses during the reporting period.


The government sustained limited efforts to protect victims. The HTU continued to employ standardized interview questionnaires to screen and identify potential trafficking victims when apprehending persons in prostitution or when accompanying immigration and labor officials on operations in which there was suspected trafficking involvement. The government screened for potential trafficking victims in 66 cases and identified one child sex trafficking victim during the reporting period, although it initially detained and charged the child victim with prostitution. Once the government identified the victim as underage, it dropped prostitution charges and placed the victim in protective care. Some officials considered physical abuse or confinement as necessary factors for trafficking, and general misconceptions may have resulted in the government not identifying some victims and subjecting them to punishment. Officials apprehended foreign women and children during brothel raids and detained and deported many for labor or immigration violations; while some victims voluntarily requested deportation to avoid charges, this practice may perpetuate victims’ fear of communicating with law enforcement officers. The government maintained a general-purpose shelter for female trafficking victims, but it required victims to apply to leave the shelter and to be accompanied by a chaperone. One victim and eight potential victims received assistance in the shelter, and three chose to reside at their respective embassies. No facilities were available for adult male trafficking victims.

The 2004 law established a fund to compensate victims and cover repatriation costs; however, the paucity of court judgments from which such funds are derived and the election of convicted traffickers to serve jail time instead of paying fines resulted in the fund’s continued lack of resources. The Ministry of Home Affairs negotiated with finance ministers to secure financial allocation from the government’s budget toward the fund; however, it did not allocate funding, as such discussions remained ongoing at the close of the reporting period. The lack of incentives to remain in Brunei encouraged foreign victims to elect immediate repatriation and decline participation in investigations. The government reported granting temporary stays in Brunei to some potential victims while working with respective embassies to obtain new travel documents or repatriation assistance; it also allowed victims of labor violations to receive temporary work passes on an ad hoc basis while assisting in investigations, although it did not issued such passes for a fourth consecutive year and many victims were ineligible as a result of not being legally employed at the time of the violation. The government offered no long-term alternatives to removal for victims who may face hardship or retribution upon return to their home countries.


The government made uneven efforts to prevent trafficking. The government reported transforming its ad hoc anti-trafficking working group to a permanent interagency committee to coordinate implementation of its national action plan to combat trafficking; however, it did not formally approve this plan for the second consecutive year. Brunei’s first anti-trafficking NGO was formed during the year and held a series of awareness-raising workshops, film screenings, and art exhibitions, despite lacking official recognition from the government. Police authorities and labor and immigration officials conducted 10 nationwide roadshows to raise awareness of human trafficking, which specifically targeted employers, human resource managers, students, migrant workers, and the general public, and reached over 1,200 companies and employees across the country. In 2015, the government placed informational posters in strategic public places, including immigration checkpoints, and government-influenced media continued to regularly publish articles related to trafficking. The government disseminated information to the public that employers should not withhold workers’ passports, but it did not prosecute any employers or agencies for passport retention and the practice remained widespread. Officials prosecuted one individual who operated an employment agency without a license. It made limited progress in decreasing the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Brunei is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.