Last Updated: Monday, 22 September 2014, 14:17 GMT

Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Bahrain

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 16 June 2009
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2009 - Bahrain, 16 June 2009, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4a4214d03b.html [accessed 22 September 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.

BAHRAIN (Tier 2 Watch List)

Bahrain is a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Men and women from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Ethiopia, and Eritrea migrate voluntarily to Bahrain to work as formal sector laborers or domestic workers. Some, however, face conditions of involuntary servitude after arriving in Bahrain, such as unlawful withholding of passports, restrictions on movement, non-payment of wages, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. In addition, women from Thailand, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, Russia, Ukraine, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon are trafficked to Bahrain for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation.

The Government of Bahrain does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government achieved its first trafficking conviction in late 2008 – a conviction for sex trafficking – and instituted a new visa regime in July 2008 allowing migrant workers to change employers. Despite these significant overall efforts, the government did not show evidence of progress in providing protective services to victims or prosecuting offenses relating to labor trafficking – the most prevalent form of trafficking in Bahrain; therefore, Bahrain is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.

Recommendations for Bahrain: Significantly increase the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenses – particularly those involving forced labor – and conviction and punishment of trafficking offenders; institute and apply formal procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as domestic workers who have fled from abusive employers and prostituted women, and refer identified victims to protective services; and ensure that victims of trafficking are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as illegal migration or prostitution.

Prosecution

The Government of Bahrain made modest progress in conducting anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the year, prosecuting its first case under its January 2008 anti-trafficking statute. The Law to Combat Trafficking in Persons prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes penalties ranging from three to 15 years' imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. The Ministry of Interior's 10-person specialized unit investigated trafficking crimes, particularly those involving sex trafficking. It claimed to have disbanded a prostitution ring and rescued 43 Chinese women believed to be trafficking victims, but prosecutors reportedly viewed the evidence as insufficient to pursue legal action. In December 2008, the Public Prosecutor obtained the conviction of a Thai woman who was sentenced to three and a half years' imprisonment and a $13,250 fine for trafficking three other Thai women into commercial sexual exploitation in Bahrain. During the reporting period, the government reportedly closed several manpower agencies alleged to have confiscated workers' passports, switched contracts, or withheld payment of salaries. The government also ordered 12 employers to pay back and release their workers. It did not criminally prosecute any employers or labor agents for forced labor of migrant laborers, including domestic workers, under its new anti-trafficking law. The law against withholding workers' passports – a common practice that restricts the mobility of migrant workers and contributes to forced labor – was not enforced effectively, and the practice remained widespread. The Royal Police Academy provided new police recruits with specific instruction on identifying trafficking victims during the reporting period.

Protection

The Bahraini government did little to improve protective services available to trafficking victims over the last year, though it issued new policy guidance on the employment conditions of migrant workers. The government maintains one floor of its shelter for female migrant workers, but did not provide information regarding the number of foreign workers assisted or the types of care the shelter provided to trafficking victims. The majority of victims continued to seek shelter at their embassies or through the Migrant Workers Protection Society, which in April and July 2008 received a project grant of $15,900 from the Bahraini government to operate its shelter. The government did not have a referral process to transfer trafficking victims detained, arrested, or placed in protective custody to institutions that provide short- and long-term care. There are no shelter facilities or protective services for male trafficking victims in Bahrain.

In August 2008, the Ministry of Social Development established a committee to protect trafficking victims as part of its obligation under the anti-Trafficking in Persons law. One of the responsibilities of this committee, as part of the new law, is its approval for trafficking victims to remain in Bahrain pending their traffickers' prosecution; in the aforementioned case, the Thai victims were offered the option of remaining in Bahrain to work, but all three chose to repatriate to Thailand instead. To address vulnerabilities to trafficking arising from the migrant labor sponsorship system, the government launched a new migrant labor visa regime in July 2008 that allows for workers to change employers and criminalizes the use of "free visas" that often leave workers stranded in Bahrain without a job. These regulations do not, however, apply to domestic workers, which are the migrant workers most vulnerable to forced labor in Bahrain. The government continued to lack a formal procedure to identify victims among vulnerable groups, such as domestic workers who have left their employers or women arrested for prostitution. As a result, potential trafficking victims may have been charged with employment or immigration violations, detained, and deported without adequate protection. Most migrant workers who were able to flee their abusive employers were frequently charged as "runaways," sentenced to two weeks' detention, and deported. Employers also sometimes filed police reports against their runaway workers. The government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers; however, long and indefinite delays in legal cases, as well as a perceived bias against foreign workers by judges and prosecutors, discouraged workers from such involvement in criminal proceedings against their traffickers.

Prevention

The government's efforts to prevent trafficking increased during the reporting period. The Ministry of Interior's Human Trafficking Unit produced a brochure describing Bahrain's anti-trafficking law and soliciting complaints to its hotline for investigations; it distributed this brochure to at-risk groups upon arrival in the country. The Labor Market Regulatory Authority (LMRA) collaborated with IOM to produce a pamphlet explaining how to legally obtain a work visa, workers' rights, and how to report suspected violations. Throughout 2008, the CEO of LMRA and the Minister of Labor conducted press conferences to highlight illegal practices, particularly withholding of passports, relating to human trafficking. Despite the increased level of awareness fostered by these campaigns, understanding of what constitutes trafficking remained low. Many people, including courthouse clerks, continued to believe that it is legal to confiscate workers' passports, despite several instances over the course of the reporting period in which the Minister of Labor explicitly stated that withholding passports is illegal. In March 2009, the government hosted a two-day international conference on combating trafficking in persons. In April, June, and July 2008, the government provided services and support valued at more than $60,000 that enabled IOM to train 315 civil society volunteers, journalists, foreign diplomats, and government officials in the LMRA and Ministries of Interior, Social Development, Culture and Information Affairs, Foreign Affairs, Labor, and Justice. In July, the government requested and supported a training and awareness program for its anti-trafficking unit. Nonetheless, the government did not take any steps to reduce the demand for forced labor or the demand for commercial sex acts within the country.

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