Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July 2014, 11:06 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Burma

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Burma, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30cdc3c.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

BURMA (Tier 2 Watch List)

Burma is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and for women and children subjected to sex trafficking in other countries. Many Burmese men, women, and children who migrate for work in Thailand, Malaysia, China, Bangladesh, India, and South Korea are subjected to conditions of forced labor or sex trafficking in these countries. Poor economic conditions within Burma have led to increased legal and illegal migration of Burmese men, women, and children throughout East Asia and to destinations in the Middle East, where they are subject to forced labor and sex trafficking. For example, men are subjected to forced labor in the fishing and construction industries abroad. Some Bangladeshi trafficking victims transit Burma en route to Malaysia, while Chinese victims transit Burma en route to Thailand. The government is beginning to address the systemic political and economic factors that cause many Burmese to seek employment through both legal and illegal means in neighboring countries, where some become victims of trafficking.

Trafficking within Burma both by government officials and private actors continues to be a significant problem. Military personnel and insurgent militia engage in the unlawful conscription of child soldiers and they continue to be the leading perpetrators of forced labor inside the country, particularly in conflict-prone ethnic areas. Since the dissolution of a ceasefire with the Kachin Independence Army in June 2011, fighting has displaced an estimated 60,000 Kachin residents, who are highly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. An NGO study published in 2010 found an acute problem in Chin State, where a survey of over 600 households indicated that over 92 percent experienced at least one instance of a household member subjected to forced labor; the Burmese military reportedly imposed two-thirds of these forced labor demands. Because authorities refuse to recognize members of certain ethnic minority groups (including the Rohingyas) as citizens and do not provide them with identification documentation, members of these communities are more vulnerable to trafficking. Military and civilian officials have for years systematically forced men, women, and children into working for the development of infrastructure, in state-run agricultural and commercial ventures, and as porters for the military. Government authorities use various forms of coercion, including threats of financial and physical harm, to compel households to provide forced labor. Those living in areas with the highest military presence, including remote border areas populated by minority ethnic groups, are most at risk for forced labor. The Kachin ethnic minority are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to an ongoing conflict between the Burma Army and the Kachin Independence Army. Military and civilian officials subject men, women, and children to forced labor, and men and boys as young as 11 years old are forced through intimidation, coercion, threats, and violence to serve in the Burma Army as well as the armed wings of ethnic minority groups. Some observers estimate that thousands of children are forced to serve in Burma's national army in part as a way of offsetting desertions. Children of the urban poor are at particular risk of conscription. Past UN reports indicate that the army has targeted orphans and children on the streets and in railway stations, and young novice monks from monasteries for recruitment. Anecdotal reports indicate that children are threatened with jail if they do not agree to join the army, and are sometimes physically abused. Children are also subjected to forced labor by private individuals and groups, in tea shops, home industries, agricultural plantations, and as beggars. Exploiters subject girls to sex trafficking, particularly in urban areas. Anecdotal evidence suggests that a small number of foreign pedophiles occasionally exploit Burmese children in the country, and observers expressed concern over a possible increase in this problem as tourism increases.

The Government of Burma does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The Burmese government took a number of unprecedented steps to address forced labor and the conscription of child soldiers; these steps amount to a credible commitment to undertake anti-trafficking reforms over the coming year. Authorities continued significant efforts to address the cross-border sex trafficking of women and girls, and inaugurated a national hotline to respond better to public complaints of all forms of human trafficking. The government repealed antiquated laws that sanctioned its use of forced labor; enacted new legislation that clearly prohibits forced labor imposed by any entity; and embarked on an ambitious new plan of action with the ILO to eradicate forced labor by 2015. Nevertheless, forced labor of civilians and the recruitment of child soldiers by both military officials and private entities remained serious problems. Previous government human rights abuses and economic mismanagement, coupled with the Burma military's continued widespread use of forced and child labor as well as recruitment of child soldiers, underpinned Burma's significant trafficking problem, both within the country and abroad. The climate of impunity and repression and the government's lack of accountability in forced labor and the recruitment of child soldiers represent the top casual factors for Burma's significant trafficking problem.

Recommendations for Burma: Complete and implement the terms of the ILO action plan for the elimination of forced labor offenses perpetrated by government employees, particularly military personnel; take additional measures to confront the unlawful conscription of children into the military and ethnic armed groups, including the criminal prosecution and punishment of offenders; increase efforts to investigate and sanction, including through criminal prosecution, government and military perpetrators of internal trafficking offenses, including child soldier recruitment and other such crimes; actively identify and demobilize all children serving in the armed forces; continue improving UN access to inspect recruitment centers, training centers, and military camps in order to identify and support the reintegration and rehabilitation of child soldiers; cease the arrest and imprisonment of children for desertion or attempting to leave the army and release imprisoned former child soldiers; enhance partnerships with local and international NGOs to improve victim identification and protection efforts, including victim shelters; develop and implement formal victim identification and referral procedures; and focus more attention on the internal trafficking of women and children for commercial sexual exploitation.

Prosecution

The Government of Burma reported continued law enforcement efforts against trafficking of women and girls across international borders during the year, including for forced marriages. It failed to demonstrate discernible progress in investigating, prosecuting, and convicting perpetrators of internal trafficking – particularly the military's forced conscription of soldiers, including child soldiers, and use of forced labor. The government continued to detain nine individuals arrested in prior years for labor activism and other labor activities. The ILO continued to voice its concern over the detention of these nine individuals. In February 2012, parliament repealed two antiquated colonial-era laws that had provided explicit legal sanction for government employees' use of forced labor among the citizenry – the 1907 Villages and Towns Acts. At the same time these antiquated laws were repealed, the government enacted the Wards and Village Tracts Administration Act which, after its amendment in March 2012, explicitly prohibits and punishes the use of forced labor by any entity.

Burma prohibits sex trafficking and labor trafficking through its 2005 Anti-Trafficking in Persons Law, which prescribes criminal penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for rape. Engaging in forced labor, including the recruitment of children into the army, is a criminal offense under both the new Wards and Village Tracts Administration Act and Penal Code Section 374, which could result in imprisonment for up to one year, or a fine, or both. In addition, forced labor is prohibited under Section 359 of Burma's 2008 Constitution. The power and influence of the Burmese military continued to limit the ability of civilian police and courts to address cases of forced labor and the recruitment of child soldiers by the armed forces. Without assent from high-ranking military officers, law enforcement officials generally were not able to investigate or prosecute such cases. During the year, however, the Ministry of Defense reported its own efforts to investigate and punish military personnel for their involvement in recruiting children for military service.

Through 26 Anti-Trafficking Task Forces operating in key cities and at international border crossings, the police continued to identify and investigate trafficking offenses and to arrest suspected trafficking offenders. The Government of Burma reported investigating 136 cases of trafficking, and prosecuting 231 offenders in 2011-160 of whom were female – compared to 234 convicted in 2010. Burmese court proceedings continued to lack transparency and due process for defendants. Burma's judiciary lacks sufficient independence from military authorities; international organizations and NGOs were often unable to verify court statistics provided by the government. Additionally, limited capacity and training of the police coupled with the lack of transparency in the justice system make it uncertain whether all trafficking statistics provided by authorities were indeed for trafficking crimes.

Corruption and lack of accountability remain pervasive in Burma, affecting all aspects of society; officials frequently engage in corrupt practices with impunity. Police can be expected to self-limit investigations when well-connected individuals are involved in forced labor cases. Although the Ministry of Defense reported its discipline of some personnel for trafficking offenses, the government did not report any criminal prosecutions, convictions or serious punishment of government officials for their complicity in human trafficking. During the year, a foreign donor provided some training to police officials on human trafficking.

During the year, the government showed unprecedented cooperation with the ILO and other international partners in discussing remedies for the long-standing problems of forced labor and child soldier conscription committed by members of the military or civilian administrators. The ILO continued to receive and investigate forced labor complaints; 324 were received in 2011, of which 236 involved alleged conscription of children for military service. The ILO submitted 145 cases to the Burmese government for action in 2011. The government resolved 80 cases; 65 cases are pending resolution by the government and six cases were closed with an "unsatisfactory outcome," according to the ILO. For the first time in several years, the Ministry of Defense provided data on military personnel disciplined for forced labor offenses: four officers and 37 enlisted personnel were punished for "improper recruitment," though none of these offenders were imprisoned. The four officers received official reprimands and, of the 37 enlisted personnel, 22 received reprimands, nine were suspended without pay for seven days, five were suspended without pay for 14 days, and one was reduced in rank.

Protection

The Burmese government made progress in ensuring that victims of trafficking were identified and received access to services. In September 2011, the government inaugurated a national trafficking hotline that has since led to the rescue of 57 victims of trafficking. In addition, the government launched an anti-trafficking website in February 2012. Government officials in 2011 identified 177 victims of trafficking, including 14 males. Sixty-nine percent of the victims identified were women and girls subjected to forced marriage in China(in contrast to the 82 percent of victims identified in 2010 who were subject to this form of trafficking) The remaining 31 percent of victims identified and assisted in 2011 consisted of internal labor and sex trafficking and the forced labor of Burmese nationals in other countries. During a presentation of these statistics, a senior Burmese official remarked that – though the figures depict a growing share of labor trafficking victims – the government's data still underrepresented the true magnitude of forced labor problem. The government in March 2012 established a Human Trafficking Fund to support improved assistance to victims of trafficking, and in 2011 it disbursed a total of $5,400 to 16 victims in compensation from the seized property of traffickers. As part of its joint implementation of the ILO complaints mechanism for forced labor, the government identified and released 57 children who had been recruited into military ranks. UN sources reported nearly complete success in securing the release of all children identified as having been recruited. The Burmese military, however, has not yet proactively collected evidence of child soldiering or initiated investigations on its own. In another positive development, there were no new cases in 2011 of complainants being harassed, detained, or otherwise penalized for making accusations against officials who had forced them into labor. Furthermore, most complainants who had been imprisoned during the previous year were released during the reporting period.

Authorities reported assisting 229 Burmese victims identified and repatriated by foreign governments in 2011, including 147 from China and 72 from Thailand. This represented a decrease from 348 victims repatriated to Burma by foreign authorities in 2010. In previous years, repatriated Burmese victims were involuntarily placed in Department of Social Welfare (DSW) rehabilitation centers for a mandatory minimum of two weeks, which stretched into months if authorities could not find an adult family member to accept responsibility for the victim. The government ceased this practice in late 2011, in line with international norms on trafficking victim protections. Victims repatriated since September 2011 have been given the option of going to a government rehabilitation center or returning to their communities immediately. In late 2011, the government also produced and disseminated, with IOM assistance, a set of government guidelines for social service providers on the appropriate handling and care of trafficking victims. Nevertheless, the government's provision of resources to longer-term support for trafficking victims remained meager. While in government facilities, victims received basic medical care and had access to counseling, which was often substandard. Victims had very limited access to psychosocial counselors. There remained no shelter facilities available to male victims of trafficking. NGOs were sometimes allowed access to victims in government shelters, but the government continued to bar NGOs from operating shelters for trafficking victims. The government has employed formal victim identification procedures in place since 2006. While the government reported that it encouraged victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions, there was no evidence that officials provided financial support or other assistance to victims as incentives to participate in the prosecution of their traffickers. Although victims have the right to file civil suits against their traffickers, the government did not provide access to legal assistance to enable victims to do so.

Prevention

The Government of Burma increased its efforts to prevent all forms of human trafficking over the last year. The government's Central Body for the Suppression of Trafficking in Persons (CB-TIP), comprising representatives from 26 agencies and some NGOs, increased its activity in coordinating the government's anti-trafficking programs and policies. In 2011, two organizations considered government-affiliated were dropped from the CB-TIP's membership – the Women's Affairs Federation and the Union Solidarity Development Association. The CB-TIP met regularly throughout the year and in March 2012 released a new five-year (2012-2016) national plan of action on human trafficking at a gathering of government, NGOs and foreign diplomats. In late 2011, the CB-TIP oversaw the establishment of 16,589 community-based anti-trafficking watch groups, although the vast majority of these groups have not yet received any training.

During the reporting period, the Ministry of Labor took a number of unprecedented steps to improve the prevention of forced labor of Burmese citizens at home and abroad. In late 2011, the deputy minister of labor negotiated with the Thai government for the placement of a labor attaché at the Burmese embassy in Thailand and the opening of five labor assistance centers in Thailand, to be staffed by Burmese labor ministry personnel. The centers, which the Thai government has not yet approved for opening, will help expatriate Burmese workers with obtaining Burmese identity documents and other assistance. The Burmese labor ministry also collaborated with the Thai government in attempting to increase the number of Burmese workers sent to Thailand through the framework of the 2003 Burma-Thailand MOU on migrant labor.

The government continued awareness campaigns through billboards, flyers, and public talks during the reporting period. The CB-TIP held coordination meetings among domestic and international organizations throughout the year. As part of its partnership with the ILO, the government disseminated throughout the country a brochure on forced labor printed in a number of indigenous languages. Additionally, informational billboards and booths were posted at bus and railway stations and at airports to increase public awareness. UN sources report they were allowed increased access to military recruitment centers, where they conducted training courses for military and civilian officials throughout the year. During the year, Burmese authorities reported they had convicted one foreigner of conspiring to procure children for sexual exploitation, and sentenced him to 10 years' imprisonment. The government did not make any discernible efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor inside Burma during the reporting period.

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