Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

Trafficking in Persons Report 2008 - China

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Publication Date 4 June 2008
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2008 - China, 4 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/484f9a0cc.html [accessed 20 December 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.

CHINA (Tier 2 Watch List)

The People's Republic of China (P.R.C.) is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation and forced labor. The majority of trafficking in China occurs within the country's borders, but there is also considerable international trafficking of P.R.C. citizens to Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America, which often occurs within a larger flow of human smuggling. Chinese women are lured abroad through false promises of legitimate employment, only to be forced into commercial sexual exploitation, largely in Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan. There are also many cases involving Chinese men and women who are smuggled into destination countries throughout the world at an enormous personal financial cost and whose indebtedness to traffickers is then used as a means to coerce them into commercial sexual exploitation or forced labor. Women and children are trafficked to China from Mongolia, Burma, North Korea, Russia, and Vietnam for forced labor, marriage, and prostitution. North Korean women and children seeking to leave their country voluntarily cross the border into China, but some of these individuals, after they enter the P.R.C. in a vulnerable, undocumented status, are then sold into prostitution, marriage, or forced labor. While it is difficult to determine if the P.R.C.'s male-female birth ratio imbalance, with more males than females, is currently affecting trafficking of women for brides, some experts believe that it has already or may become a contributing factor.

Forced labor, including forced child labor, remains a significant problem in China. Children as young as 12 were reportedly subjected to forced labor under the guise of "Work and Study" programs over the past year. Conditions in this program include excessive hours with mandatory overtime, dangerous conditions, low pay, and involuntary pay deductions. In June 2007, a Guangdong factory licensed to produce products bearing the 2008 Olympics logo admitted to employing children as young as 12 years old under similar conditions. Some children, particularly Uighur youth from Xinjiang Province, have been abducted for forced begging and thievery in large cities. Overseas human rights organizations allege that government-sponsored labor programs forced Uighur girls and young women to work in factories in eastern China on false pretenses and without regular wages. Involuntary servitude of Chinese nationals abroad also persisted, although the extent of the problem is unclear. Experts believe that the number of Chinese labor and sex trafficking victims in Europe is growing in countries such as Britain, Italy, and France.

The government of the P.R.C. does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Nevertheless, China is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year for its failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat human trafficking from the previous year, particularly in terms of punishment of trafficking crimes and the protection of Chinese and foreign victims of trafficking. Victims are sometimes punished for unlawful acts that were committed as a direct result of their being trafficked – such as violations of prostitution or immigration/emigration controls. The Chinese government continued to treat North Korean victims of trafficking solely as economic migrants, routinely deporting them back to horrendous conditions in North Korea. Additional challenges facing the P.R.C. government include the enormous size of its trafficking problem and the significant level of corruption and complicity in trafficking by some local government officials. Factors impeding progress in anti-trafficking efforts include tight controls over civil society organizations, restricted access of foreign anti-trafficking organizations, and the government's systematic lack of transparency.

During the reporting period, the Chinese government established a new Office for Preventing and Combating Crimes of Trafficking in Women and Children and released its long-awaited National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in December 2007, which details anti-trafficking responsibilities implemented by 28 ministries and appoints the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) as coordinator of the Chinese government's anti-trafficking efforts. However, there are no plans for resources to be allocated to local and provincial governments for the implementation of the plan. Additionally, the action plan covers only sex trafficking of females, and does not address labor trafficking or male victims of sex trafficking. As host to the Second Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT) Summit in December 2007, China joined other ministers in signing a Joint Declaration to work together to implement the Sub-regional Plan of Action.

Recommendations for China: Provide adequate funding to local and provincial governments to implement the new National Action Plan; increase efforts to address labor trafficking, including prosecuting and punishing recruiters and employers who facilitate forced labor and debt bondage, and providing protection services to victims of forced labor; revise anti-trafficking laws to criminalize all forms of labor and sex trafficking, in a manner consistent with international standards; establish formal victim identification procedures; increase efforts to protect and rehabilitate trafficking victims; actively investigate, prosecute, and convict government officials complicit in trafficking crimes; conduct a broad public awareness campaign to inform the public of the risks and dangers of trafficking; provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution; and adhere to its obligations as party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, including by not expelling North Koreans protected under those treaties and by cooperating with UNHCR in the exercise of its functions.

Prosecution

China sustained its record of criminal law enforcement against traffickers over the reporting period, though government statistics are difficult to verify. P.R.C. law criminalizes forced prostitution, abduction, and the commercial sexual exploitation of girls under 14 through Article 244 of its Criminal Code. Article 41 of China's revised Law on the Protection of Minors, in effect since June 2007, now prohibits the trafficking, kidnapping, and sexual exploitation of minors under the age of 18. Prescribed penalties under these criminal statutes are sufficiently stringent and include life imprisonment and the death penalty. However, Chinese law does not prohibit commercial sexual exploitation involving coercion or fraud, nor does it prohibit all forms of trafficking. The law prohibits the employment of children under the age of 16, but the government had not adopted a comprehensive policy to combat child labor. While Article 244 of its Criminal Code bans forced labor by employers, the prescribed penalties of up to three years' imprisonment or a fine under this law are not sufficiently stringent. Additionally, Chinese law does not recognize forms of coercion other than abduction as constituting a means of trafficking. MPS reported investigating 2,375 cases of trafficking of women and children in 2007, which is significantly lower than the 3,371 cases it cited in 2006. These statistics are likely based on China's definition of the term "trafficking," which does not include acts of forced labor, debt bondage, coercion, or involuntary servitude, or offenses committed against male victims. In September 2007, an MPS official indicated that the number of reported cases of sexual exploitation and forced labor increased from 2006 to 2007. Chinese law enforcement authorities arrested and punished some traffickers involved in forced labor practices and commercial sexual exploitation, but did not provide data on prosecutions, convictions, or sentences.

Forced labor remains a significant problem for Chinese at home and abroad. During the reporting period, there were numerous confirmed reports of involuntary servitude of migrant workers and abductees in China. In November 2007, police in Harbin, Heilongjiang Province, discovered six migrant workers who were victims of forced labor. Police found and arrested the trafficker several months after the case was opened. In March 2008, 33 slave laborers from seven provinces, many of whom were mentally challenged, were discovered locked up in a 30-square-meter room of a residential building in Harbin. Police continued to search for the trafficker responsible in this case. In May and June 2007, several cases of forced labor in brick kilns in China's Henan and Shanxi Provinces were revealed, involving over 1,000 farmers, teenagers, and children being held in confinement, subject to physical abuse and non-payment of wages. According to news reports, brick kiln operators claim to have paid off local officials and there are unconfirmed press reports that some local authorities have resold rescued children to factories elsewhere. The Chinese government has not demonstrated concerted efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish government officials for complicity in trafficking.

Protection

China made incremental progress in victim protection during the reporting period. The government, with the assistance of UNICEF, built a new shelter to provide trafficking victims in Yunnan Province with short-term care, but there remain overall an inadequate number of shelters for victims of trafficking. There continue to be no dedicated government assistance programs for victims of trafficking. China continues to lack systematic victim identification procedures to identify victims of sex trafficking among those it arrests for prostitution and to refer them to organizations providing services. It does not have a comprehensive nationwide victim protection service, but has taken some steps to improve intra-governmental coordination and cooperation in vulnerable southern border provinces. While both the MPS and Ministry of Civil Affairs run shelters, the two ministries do not share information or coordinate their efforts.

While China has made increased efforts to better identify and protect trafficking victims through enhanced cross-border cooperation, protection services and victim identification procedures remain inadequate to address victims' needs. Women found in prostitution are, in many instances, treated as criminals for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Although the MPS has provided expanded border and police training to help border officials spot potential trafficking victims and assist in their repatriation, the quasi-governmental All-China Women's Federation reported that ongoing problems require NGO intervention to protect trafficking victims from unjust punishment. The MPS runs three Border Liaison Offices along the border with Vietnam, which has led to an increase in some cross-border cooperation in victim repatriation, and opened one new Border Liaison Office along the border with Burma during the reporting period. Local governments in southern border provinces often rely upon NGOs to identify victims and provide victim protection services due to the lack of resources. Trafficking victims are generally returned to their homes without extensive rehabilitation. All of the victims of forced labor discovered in brick kilns were repatriated to their homes without access to counseling or psychological care, and three victims suspected of being mentally disabled were lost by authorities during the repatriation process. The government does not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution. Some trafficking victims have faced punishments in the form of fines for leaving China without proper authorization. China continues to treat North Korean trafficking victims solely as illegal economic migrants and reportedly deports a few hundred of them each month to North Korea, where they may face severe punishment. China continues to bar UNHCR from access to the vulnerable North Korean population in Northeast China.

Prevention

China made efforts to prevent trafficking in persons this year. In July 2007, the ACWF co-sponsored a Children's Forum that brought together children from across the country to discuss ways to prevent the trafficking of vulnerable youth. The government did not conduct any broad public awareness program to inform the public of the dangers of trafficking. With the assistance of NGOs, the Ministry of Education undertook outreach efforts to some villages and schools, providing information on what trafficking is, how to avoid being trafficked, and providing emergency hotline numbers. The Chinese government, through the ACWF, has also conducted training for law enforcement agencies and border entry-exit officials to raise awareness of trafficking. Though it took some steps forward, China still has not taken adequate measures to prevent internal trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labor, nor did it take measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or child sex tourism. China has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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