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

Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - China

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 16 June 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - China, 16 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a4214c6c.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 (PRC) is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Although the majority of trafficking in the PRC occurs within the country's borders, there is also considerable trafficking of PRC citizens to Africa, other parts of Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America. Women are lured through false promises of legitimate employment and forced into commercial sexual exploitation largely in Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan. Chinese women and men are smuggled throughout the world at great personal financial cost and then forced into commercial sexual exploitation or exploitative labor to repay debts to traffickers. Women and children are trafficked to China from such countries as Mongolia, Burma, North Korea, Russia, Vietnam, Romania, and Ghana for purposes of forced labor, marriage, and sexual slavery. There were new reports that Vietnamese men are trafficked to China for forced labor and ethnic Hmong girls and women from Vietnam trafficked for forced marriages in China. Some women from Tibet were trafficked to Indonesia for forced prostitution. Some North Koreans seeking to leave their country enter northeastern China and are subsequently subjected to sexual servitude or forced labor. North Korean women are often sold into forced marriages with Chinese nationals, or forced to work in internet sex businesses. Some experts and NGOs suggested trafficking in persons has been fueled by economic disparity and the effects of population planning policies, and that a shortage of marriageable women fuels the demand for abducted women, especially in rural areas. While it is difficult to determine if the PRC'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 remained a serious problem in penal institutions. This was mainly the product of administrative decisions, rather than the result of due process and conviction. Many prisoners and detainees in reeducation through labor facilities were required to work, often with no remuneration. Some children are abducted for forced begging and thievery in large cities. There were numerous confirmed reports of involuntary servitude of children, migrant workers, and abductees in China. In April 2008, a Chinese newspaper uncovered an extensive child forced labor network in Guangdong province that reportedly took thousands of children as young as seven years old from poor rural areas of Sichuan province, populated largely by the Yi minority, to work in factories in southeastern China. According to the report, the children were sold in labor markets to factory owners and forced to work 10 hours a day, seven days a week, for as little as 30 cents per hour. These children were found near Dongguan, where in total over 500 children from Sichuan were discovered working in a factory in June 2007. In October 2008, a Chinese blogger exposed publicly several cases of child labor in Wuhan factories, and reported that the factories had evaded detection by receiving advance warning of pending labor inspections. Under the government-sanctioned work-study programs, elementary schools supplied factories and farms with forced child labor under the pretext of vocational training. Students had no say in the terms and conditions of their employment, and little to no protection from abusive work practices. Conditions in this program included excessive hours with mandatory overtime, dangerous conditions, low pay, and involuntary pay deductions. The Xinjiang provincial government forced thousands of local students to labor through "work-study" programs in order to meet yearly harvesting quotas. Overseas human rights organizations alleged 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. During the year, international media reported over 300 children, many of them from Xinjiang, were laboring in a shoe factory in eastern China as a part of a government labor transfer program. The group included many Uighur girls, whose families were reportedly coerced and in some cases threatened by government officials to participate in the program using fake or swapped identification cards provided by the government. Additionally, authorities in Xinjiang reportedly continued to impose forced labor on area farmers in predominantly ethnic minority regions. In recent years, organized criminal networks have become more sophisticated at cheating and abducting migrant workers, including abduction by anesthetizing the often unsupervised children of migrant worker parents.

Experts believe that the number of Chinese trafficking victims in Europe is growing dramatically, where large informal economies create a "pull" for exploitable labor. While some Chinese enter Europe legally and overstay their visas, others are smuggled in and work as domestic servants and in underground sweatshops. Some trafficking victims are exploited in the sex trade. Teenage girls from China are trafficked into the UK for prostitution, and Chinese children are reportedly trafficked into Sweden by organized criminal networks for forced begging elsewhere in Europe. In February 2009, seven Chinese sex trafficking victims were rescued in Ghana, having been forced into prostitution by Chinese traffickers who had promised them jobs as waitresses.

The Chinese government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these efforts, the Chinese government did not demonstrate progress in combating human trafficking from the previous year, particularly in terms of punishment of trafficking crimes and the protection of Chinese and foreign victims of trafficking; therefore, China is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. Forced labor, especially forced child labor, remains a serious problem in the country. Despite substantial resources, during the reporting period, the government did not make efforts to improve victim assistance programs. Protection of domestic and foreign victims of trafficking remains insufficient. Victims are sometimes punished for unlawful acts that were a direct result of their being trafficked – such as violations of prostitution or immigration/emigration controls. The Chinese government continued to treat North Korean trafficking victims as unlawful economic migrants, and routinely deported them back to horrendous conditions in North Korea. Additional challenges facing the Chinese government include the enormous size of its trafficking problem and corruption and complicity in trafficking by some local government officials. Factors that continue to impede progress in anti-trafficking efforts include tight controls over civil society organizations, restricted access of foreign anti-trafficking organizations and the government's systemic lack of transparency.

Recommendations for China: Revise anti-trafficking laws and the National Plan of Action to criminalize and address all forms of labor and sex trafficking in a manner consistent with international standards; significantly improve efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish trafficking offenders, including public officials complicit in trafficking; increase efforts to address labor trafficking, including prosecuting and punishing recruiters and employers who facilitate forced labor and debt bondage, and provide protection services to victims of forced labor; continue to increase cooperation with foreign governments on cross-border trafficking cases; adopt proactive procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers and foreign women and children arrested for prostitution; increase efforts to protect and rehabilitate both sex and labor trafficking victims; provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to removal to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution; conduct a campaign to reduce the demand for forced labor and commercial sex acts; 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's domestic laws do not conform to international standards on trafficking; China's definition of trafficking does not prohibit non-physical forms of coercion, fraud, debt bondage, involuntary servitude, forced labor, or offenses committed against male victims, although some aspects of these crimes are addressed in other articles of China's criminal law. China's legal definition of trafficking also does not automatically regard minors over the age of 14 who are subjected to the commercial sex trade as victims. While Article 244 of China's 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. Based on China's limited definition of "trafficking," and the government's conflation of human smuggling and trafficking offenses, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) reported investigating 2,566 potential trafficking cases in 2008. Law enforcement authorities arrested and punished some traffickers, but a lack of transparency and due process, as well as a paucity of trafficking-specific law enforcement data inhibits an accurate assessment of these efforts. Several foreign governments reported a lack of cooperation by Chinese authorities in transnational trafficking cases involving foreign trafficking victims in China. During the year, the government did not provide the United Nations with data on prosecutions, convictions, or sentences of traffickers. Consequently, China was not among the 155 countries covered by the UN's Global Report on Human Trafficking released in February 2009. Government efforts described as addressing human trafficking were aimed at sex trafficking during the reporting period. In November 2008, police in Fujian province reportedly discovered a trafficking case involving 18 Vietnamese women who had been trafficked to Yunnan, Guangxi and other provinces in China for marriage. Also in Fujian, in December, police arrested 10 members of a criminal gang accused of having trafficked 10 female sex workers to men in isolated villages for approximately USD 800 to USD 1,200 each. In Guizhou Province, official media reported that 29 defendants were convicted for trafficking more than 80 female victims for forced marriage, and the main defendant was sentenced to death. According to official media, police in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region rescued 746 children from trafficking gangs which had kidnapped and forced them into pick-pocketing. The Xinjiang Public Security Bureau reported that 177 suspects were arrested. Reported incidents in 2008 involving forced and child labor reflect continuing legal and administrative weaknesses in China's anti-trafficking enforcement. Subsequent to the April 2008 discovery of a massive child labor market in Southeast China, the Dongguan local government claimed that it found no evidence of large-scale child labor during its raids on over 3,600 work sites in two days. Nonetheless, raids led to the rescue of at least 167 children, according to local police sources. Despite the discovery of child laborers and reports that some minors were raped by factory operators, the government did not criminally or administratively prosecute or convict any employers for any labor offenses. The Guangdong provincial government subsequently denied earlier reports and retracted police statements, claiming that police had found only six underage workers, none of whom had been raped or abducted. In a child labor case in Wuhan, authorities announced a crackdown on child labor in small-scale workshops in Wuhan, but there was no further reporting on the story. There were continued reports of local officials' complicity in trafficking, including by providing advance warning of pending labor inspections and brothel raids. The Chinese government has not demonstrated concerted efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish government officials for complicity in human trafficking.

Protection

China continued to lack adequate victim protection services throughout most the country. There continued to be no dedicated government assistance programs for victims of trafficking. China has an inadequate number of shelters to assist trafficking victims, and regularly returns trafficking victims to their homes without access to counseling or psychological care. Most of the existing shelters are temporary, not exclusive to trafficking victims, and provide little or no care to repatriated victims. Provincial women's federation offices provide counseling on legal rights, rehabilitation, and other assistance to trafficking victims. Local governments continue to rely on NGOs and international organizations for technical and material support to identify victims and provide victim protection services. The government continues to obstruct the independent operation of NGOs and international organizations that provide assistance on trafficking issues. Trafficking victims were generally repatriated involuntarily without any rehabilitation assistance. There was no reported protection or rehabilitation provided to the 167 children rescued from factories near Dongguan. The government has not provided any assistance to the Chinese sex trafficking victims identified in Ghana, who face threats and retaliation from their traffickers if they return to China. The Chinese government continues to lack systematic procedures to identify trafficking victims, including victims of sex trafficking, among those it arrests for prostitution, in order to refer them to organizations providing services and to ensure that they are not inappropriately penalized for unlawful acts committed as a result of being trafficked. The All-China Women's Federation (ACWF), a quasi-government entity, reported that ongoing problems required intervention to protect trafficking victims from unjust punishment. MPS officials stated that repatriated victims of trafficking no longer faced fines or other punishment upon their return, but authorities acknowledged that Chinese and foreign victims sometimes are sentenced or fined because of police corruption, the lack of capacity to identify trafficking victims, or provisions allowing for the imposition of fines on persons traveling without proper documentation. Some border officials are trained by MPS to identify potential victims of trafficking. In October 2008, 200 Burmese women were arrested and jailed in China for immigration violations; they had allegedly been smuggled into the country under the pretext of finding work and were reportedly sold and forced to marry Chinese men. Reports suggest that many of the women were deported to Burma, while others were expected to serve three-month prison sentences for violating Chinese immigration laws. The Ministry of Civil Affairs began working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) on an IOM-funded training module for the identification, protection, and reintegration of trafficking victims. 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.

In the year leading up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, Chinese authorities stepped up efforts to locate and forcibly repatriate North Korean refugees in China – including trafficking victims – in violation of their commitments on the humane treatment of refugees under international law. 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. Chinese authorities continue to limit the UN High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) access to North Korean refugees in China. The lack of access to UNHCR assistance and constant fear of forced repatriation by Chinese authorities leaves North Korean refugees more vulnerable to human traffickers.

Prevention

China made some effort to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. In light of the size of China's trafficking problem, however, more needs to be done. Targeted public awareness campaigns, run by the All-China Women's Federation (ACWF), continued to disseminate information on trafficking prevention and focused on reaching young female migrant workers. ACWF also continued to identify model communities that protected women's rights, offered legal and psychological assistance for victims of domestic violence and trafficking, and made available shelters for vulnerable women. Government agencies, associations, and youth organizations continued to run hotlines for victims of trafficking-related crimes, including forced child labor. Hotlines for migrant workers whose rights had been violated were also continued in 15 provinces. Provincial governments in Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guangxi continued their own prevention campaigns, including radio broadcasts, brochures, performances, poster shows, and targeted campaigns to spread the word among Chinese women of the dangers of trafficking and how to avoid becoming a victim. In Beijing, the government held an anti-trafficking publicity campaign on International Women's Day to raise public awareness of human trafficking and to publicize prevention measures. The national government has not addressed two policies that may create vulnerabilities to trafficking: the birth limitation policy that contributes to a gender imbalance that some believe has led to bride trafficking in the Chinese population, and the unevenly implemented hukou (household registration) system that controls the movements of internal migrants. During the reporting period, China issued implementation guidelines for its 2008 National Plan of Action to define roles and responsibilities of relevant agencies, and provincial action plans were developed in four provinces. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) held training courses for approximately 2,000 police officers in 10 provinces on anti-trafficking measures, as well as training on combating cross-border trafficking Police officers responsible for anti-trafficking measures participated in anti-trafficking and victim protection training courses overseas, and the MPS co-hosted training sessions with counterparts in Vietnam and Burma. The government did not take any noticeable measures during the reporting period to reduce the demand for forced labor, commercial sex acts, or child sex tourism. Chinese forces participating in peacekeeping initiatives abroad have not been implicated in trafficking while overseas, but did not receive specific training on trafficking in persons prior to deployment. China has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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