Last Updated: Friday, 28 November 2014, 15:42 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - China

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - China, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee8a48.html [accessed 29 November 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)

China is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Women and children from neighboring countries including Burma, Vietnam, Laos, Mongolia, Russia, and North Korea, and from locations as far as Romania and Zimbabwe are reportedly trafficked to China for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. While the majority of trafficking occurs within China's borders, there are reports in recent years that Chinese men, women, and children may be subjected to conditions of sex trafficking and forced labor in numerous countries and territories worldwide. Low- and medium-skilled Chinese workers migrate voluntarily to many countries for jobs, but in some countries subsequently may face conditions indicative of forced labor, such as withholding of passports and other restrictions on movements, nonpayment of wages, and threats. High recruitment fees, sometimes amounting to as much as $70,000, compound Chinese migrants' vulnerability to debt bondage and other situations of trafficking.

Trafficking is most pronounced among China's internal migrant population, which is estimated to exceed 150 million people. Forced labor remains a notable problem, including in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories, some of which operate illegally and take advantage of lax supervision in the poorer regions of China. There were reports of forced labor, including forced begging, of children and adults during the reporting period, including in Hebei, Shanxi, and Sichuan Provinces. In Xinjiang, for example, media reports in December indicate a construction factory boss enslaved 11 mentally disabled workers who were regularly beaten and forced to work long hours. In Shanxi Province, one mentally disabled worker was lured with the promise of a job paying $10 per day, but was then forced to work in a brick kiln where he was beaten and prevented from escaping. In recent years, workers participating in a government-sponsored program to transfer rural labor to jobs in the interior of China, including children, were allegedly coerced into the program through threats or fines for noncompliance; there were no official reports of this in 2010. Authorities in parts of Xinjiang province reportedly imposed mandatory labor of children for cotton-picking in at least three cases. Forced labor was a problem in some drug detention centers, according to NGO reporting; some detainees were forced to work up to 18 hours a day without pay for private companies working in partnership with Chinese authorities. Many prisoners and detainees in "reeducation through labor" facilities were required to work, often with no remuneration. Authorities held individuals in these institutions as a result of administrative decisions. NGO reports state that forced labor is also a problem in penal institutions. Some reports show working conditions in Chinese manufacturing factories that may indicate forced labor, including forced and unpaid overtime, excessive work hours, restrictions on movement and breaks, and withholding of wages. Some children found in these conditions are particularly vulnerable to forced labor.

There continue to be reports that some Chinese children are forced into prostitution, and various forms of forced labor, including begging, stealing, and work in brick kilns and factories; in previous years, there were reports of children forced into flower selling. Some children in work-study programs supported by local governments have been reported to face conditions of forced labor in factories and farms. The children of migrants are particularly vulnerable to trafficking, although the government implemented programs to provide mentoring and support services to reduce their risk of neglect leading to trafficking. The overall extent of forced labor in China is unclear in part because the government releases only limited information on the subject.

Well-organized international criminal syndicates and local gangs play key roles in both internal and cross-border trafficking. The Ministry of Public Security reported in January 2011 that the number of Chinese women forced into prostitution overseas was rising as they fall prey to international criminal gangs. Experts and NGOs report that China's population planning policies, coupled with a cultural preference for sons, creates a skewed sex ratio in China, which may contribute to the trafficking of women and children from within China and from Mongolia, North Korea, Russia, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam for forced marriage.

The Government of the People's Republic of China does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government did not demonstrate evidence of significant efforts to address all forms of trafficking or effectively protect victims; therefore, China is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a seventh consecutive year. China was not placed on Tier 3 per Section 107 of the 2008 Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act, however, the government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. China increased its attention to trafficking of women and children nationwide; continued inter-agency coordination on anti-trafficking initiatives; established nationwide and local hotlines to report trafficking cases; increased funding for labor inspections; significantly increased prosecutions for offenses the government labeled as trafficking, which includes cases that are not trafficking offenses; updated the criminal code to expand the prohibition on forced labor and increase the prescribed penalty; worked with foreign governments and INTERPOL to improve law enforcement coordination on trafficking; and trained shelter managers on victim protection. The government began drafting the 2012 National Plan of Action for anti-trafficking efforts, which should be released in December 2011, in consultation with international organizations; at the publication of this report, the details of the draft plan were not public. The government's crackdown on prostitution and child abduction reportedly included rescuing victims of trafficking and punishing trafficking offenders. Nonetheless, China continues to conflate trafficking with child abduction for adoption, rendering the full extent of the government's anti-trafficking efforts unclear. Despite basic efforts to investigate some cases of forced labor that generated a high degree of media attention and the plans to hire thousands of labor inspectors, the impact of these measures on addressing the full extent of trafficking for forced labor throughout the country remains unclear. China continued to lack a formal, nationwide procedure to identify systematically victims of trafficking; however, the national police academies instituted anti-trafficking training for all new recruits, and a national directive instructed law enforcement officers to treat people in prostitution as victims of trafficking until proven otherwise. The government did not to provide comprehensive victim protection services to both internal and foreign victims of trafficking throughout the country, but is beginning to train shelter managers and refer victims to protection services. Victims may be punished for unlawful acts that were a direct result of their being trafficked – for instance, violations of prostitution or immigration and emigration controls. Chinese authorities continue to detain and forcibly deport North Korean trafficking victims who face punishment upon their return to North Korea for unlawful acts that were sometimes a direct result of being trafficked. The government's inadequate data collection system continued to impede progress in recording and quantifying anti-trafficking efforts.

Recommendations for China: Continue revisions to the National Action Plan to address all forms of trafficking, including forced labor and trafficking of men; continue to update the legal framework to further refine the definitions of trafficking-related crimes; provide disaggregated data on efforts to criminally investigate and prosecute sex and child trafficking; provide data on the number of criminal investigations and prosecutions of cases identified as involving forced labor, including of recruiters and employers who facilitate forced labor and debt bondage, both within China and abroad; investigate, prosecute, and impose prison sentences on government officials who facilitate or are complicit in trafficking; continue to institute proactive, formal procedures to systematically identify victims of trafficking, including labor trafficking victims and Chinese trafficked abroad, and among vulnerable groups such as migrant workers and foreign and local women and children arrested for prostitution, to ensure that they are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; expand victim protection services, including comprehensive counseling, medical, reintegration, and other rehabilitative assistance, as well as assistance to male victims and victims of forced labor; cease the practice of detaining, punishing, and forcibly repatriating North Korean trafficking victims; provide legal alternatives to foreign victims' removal to countries in which they would face hardship or retribution; expand protection services for Chinese trafficking victims abroad; expand upon existing campaigns to reduce the demand for forced labor and commercial sex acts; improve law enforcement data collection efforts for trafficking cases, consistent with the government's capacity to do so; and publish the findings of government-sponsored research on trafficking in persons in China and involving Chinese nationals.

Prosecution

The Government of the People's Republic of China reported progress on addressing sex trafficking of women; however, it reported significantly fewer prosecutions for forced labor than for other trafficking crimes. The Chinese government ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol in 2009 and continued to fill gaps which exist in its anti-trafficking legal structure; however, the legal definition of trafficking under Chinese law continued to include kidnapping for illegal adoption as a trafficking crime. Article 240 of China's Criminal Code prohibits "abducting and trafficking women or children," but does not adequately define these concepts. Article 358 prohibits forced prostitution, punishable by five to 10 years' imprisonment. Prescribed penalties under these statutes range from five years' imprisonment to death sentences, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, including rape. Article 244 of the Chinese Criminal Code prohibits "forcing workers to labor;" in February 2011, the government raised the prescribed penalty under Article 244 to three to 10 years' imprisonment and a fine, and expanded culpability to those who also recruit, transport, or assist in "forcing others to labor." This law changes the definition of forced labor to include workers in informal or illegal workplaces, who were not covered previously under the law. However, it remains unclear whether, under Chinese law, children under the age of 18 in prostitution are victims of trafficking regardless of whether force is involved. In addition, it remains unclear whether these Chinese laws prohibit the use of common non-physical forms of coercion, such as threats and debt bondage, as constituting a means of trafficking persons into prostitution or acts such as recruiting, providing, or obtaining persons for compelled prostitution. While trafficking crimes could perhaps be prosecuted under general statutes related to fraud and deprivation of liberty under Chinese law, authorities did not report using these provisions to prosecute and punish trafficking offenders.

Due to the government's expansive definition of "trafficking" and its continued conflation of human smuggling, child abduction, and fraudulent adoptions with trafficking offenses, it is unclear how many trafficking cases the government investigated and prosecuted during the reporting period. Based on the concept of ren kou fan mai (literally "the buying and selling of people") which includes non-trafficking offenses, the Supreme People's Court reported 1,990 cases prosecuted in 2010 resulting in the conviction of 3,138 offenders, an increase from 2009. Of those convicted, 2,216 received prison sentences of at least five years, an increase in the number of significant sentences reported in 2009. The Supreme People's Procuratorate reported a total of 4,422 suspects prosecuted in 2010. These statistics include cases of kidnapping for illegal adoption. Eleven suspected traffickers were arrested for trafficking North Korean women for commercial sexual exploitation and forced marriage, four of whom were sentenced to three to 11 years' imprisonment, as reported by Chinese media. However, the Chinese government did not release statistics related to forced labor of men. Local contacts in Yunnan Province report that law enforcement officers are better able to obtain information on cross-province and cross-county trafficking, but local officials were still reportedly reluctant to allow investigations by NGOs and reported facing difficulty in dealing with police agencies from other provinces in China. According to Chinese law, criminal proceedings are closed in China and only the defendant, prosecution, and victim have a right to hear verdicts to protect rights and privacy of those involved. This made it difficult for outside observers to ascertain prosecution efforts in trafficking cases. Due to the government's continued conflation of child abduction and fraudulent adoptions with trafficking offenses, it is unclear how many actual child trafficking cases the government investigated and prosecuted during the reporting period. The Ministry of Public Security (MPS) continued with the anti-trafficking campaign started in April 2009, and in December 2010 called for all suspects wanted in human trafficking cases to surrender by March 2011 or face "severe punishment."

Chinese government authorities continue to focus heavily on trafficking of women and children for sexual purposes, but relatively less on the trafficking of men. The government did not disaggregate its law enforcement statistics by the number of investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences for forced labor and sex trafficking, so it is unclear whether China improved on its efforts to pursue criminal investigations and prosecutions of cases specifically involving trafficking for forced labor. During the reporting period, there were several reports in Hebei, Shanxi, and Sichuan Provinces and in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region of Chinese men, some with disabilities, being subjected to forced labor. For example, in June 2010, police rescued 33 slave laborers and arrested 11 suspected traffickers from a brick kiln in Hebei Province where the workers were forced to work 14 to 18 hours per day in a brick kiln and beaten and given electric shocks if they attempted to escape. Throughout all of China, although police launched raids to rescue victims of forced labor, media reports show that 22 forced labor trafficking suspects were arrested. The status of their court cases is unknown.

The government undertook significant efforts to improve interagency and other internal coordination among those involved in combating trafficking throughout the country. The State Council's Inter-Ministerial Meeting Office against Human Trafficking held quarterly working-level meetings with the ministries and departments involved to gather information for research and analysis. This information was used to shape and guide next steps in the China's efforts to combat human trafficking. MPS also reported conducting an annual comprehensive assessment of anti-trafficking work in each area, using the findings to direct action carried out in the provinces, but did not publicly release this report. In April 2010, central government authorities provided guidelines to local judicial and law enforcement officers and prosecutors on strengthening sentences for convicted traffickers and arranged training seminars to sensitize them to trafficking; these guidelines, however, continued to erroneously treat child abduction and fraudulent adoptions as trafficking crimes. In July 2010, the government organized a national anti-trafficking workshop for 140 government officials, including police, judges, and prosecutors, on implementing these guidelines. In addition, in June and July 2010, MPS convened video conferences with Public Security Bureaus (PSBs) nationwide to launch a campaign against the abduction and coercion of children for forced begging. The Ministry of Commerce approved approximately $4.5 million to fund dedicated special investigators for labor inspections.

The government also increased cooperation with foreign governments on alien smuggling and trafficking, particularly with those bordering China, as well as with South Africa, the United Kingdom, France, and the DRC. French and Chinese law enforcement cooperated to dismantle a forced prostitution network which spread from Shanghai to Paris, rescuing 39 victims. China also cooperated with Thai law enforcement to address trafficking between the two countries. In August, China worked with Russian prosecutors to extradite a Russian national suspected of trafficking five women for forced prostitution into China. Some NGO sources report that cross-border police cooperation between China and Vietnam, Laos, and Burma has improved.

The amount and degree of complicity by government officials in trafficking offences remained difficult to ascertain. The government did not report efforts to combat trafficking facilitated by government authorities, but domestic media reported, and government officials confirmed, that in May a Chinese court upheld the death sentence for former director of the Chongqing Municipal Judicial Bureau for accepting bribes to allow prostitution of underage girls in Chongqing; another four police officers were sentenced to three to 15 years' imprisonment in connection with this case. In August, three police officers were sentenced to three years' imprisonment for accepting bribes to allow traffickers to prostitute trafficking victims in Beijing. In response to a forced labor case in Xinjiang, government officials responsible for workplace inspections were not criminally prosecuted, and received only administrative penalties for failure to carry out their assigned duties. The shelter manager and his son who trafficked the men were charged and were awaiting trial during the reporting period. There have been reports that some Chinese border guards worked in collusion with traffickers and North Korean border guards to procure young North Korean women for forced prostitution in Chinese brothels. However, increased security in the border area in 2010 may have caused a drop in the numbers of North Koreans able to cross illegally and make contact with would-be traffickers.

Protection

The Chinese government made efforts to improve protection during the reporting period, but overall protection for victims of trafficking remained inadequate. Authorities reported rescuing 10,385 women and 5,933 children from trafficking situations; however, these statistics included cases of kidnapping for illegal adoption. The government reported rescuing 109 victims of forced labor. The nationwide database of DNA samples could be used to reunite trafficked children and adults with their families; the government did not report, however, how many child victims of trafficking it reunited with their parents during the reporting period. The government did not institute proactive, formal procedures to systematically identify victims of all forms of trafficking, but began to provide training to law enforcement officers on identifying trafficking as part of mandatory training for new recruits. The Ministry of Public Security issued orders to police departments to treat all women arrested for prostitution as victims of trafficking. It was not clear during the reporting period to what extent local police units complied with the order. Police corruption in some cases and the lack of effective victim identification measures in China cause victims to be punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked. In response to two incidents where women caught in prostitution were publicly paraded, the Ministry of Public Security issued a circular to local Public Security Bureaus prohibiting this practice. There was no indication whether or not the women were screened to determine if they were victims of trafficking. The government established four nationwide hotlines to report suspected cases of human trafficking or access referral services for victims, including a trade union hotline for reporting labor abuses. Hotlines were also established at a provincial level to report human trafficking. The Ministry of Public Security translated and circulated anti-trafficking training materials from the IOM to train new police recruits. In June, 40 consular and immigration authorities received training on victim identification, which was reportedly replicated to additional officers. Nonetheless, under Chinese law, individuals found violating exit and entry law must be sent to a detention center pending an investigation. Procedures in place allow for persons found to be trafficked to be transferred to a transit center to await repatriation.

The quasi-governmental All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) allocated an unknown amount of funds to establish "Women's Homes" where women have access to referrals to legal aid and other support programs, can report human trafficking cases, and request assistance from trained social workers. Local police nationwide were also directed to work closely with the ACWF to refer victims of trafficking for assistance, but the government did not report how many victims were referred during the reporting period. Trafficking victims continued to only receive short-term assistance in just five dedicated shelters in the country, but also have access to basic care and referrals for a range of services at 1,400 shelters nationwide. Provincial governments in the southern border provinces, lacking resources, often relied upon NGOs to help provide services to victims. In Yunnan province, the ACWF, with the assistance of NGOs, provided some victims with medical care, counseling, and vocational training. Although shelter managers received training through IOM on victim care, independent sources were not able to visit these shelters to ascertain the quality of care they provide due to victim privacy concerns. Child trafficking victims were placed in child welfare centers run by the Ministry of Civil Affairs which are linked with hospitals and professionals to provide specialized care. Male victims of trafficking and victims of forced labor – either male or female – did not receive regular protection services, but some were sent to hospitals for treatment of their medical needs and at least two victims received legal aid to gain financial compensation. The government did not report on its efforts to support legal assistance programs that assist both foreign and Chinese trafficking victims, but media reports indicate that legal assistance programs exist. Foreign victims were generally repatriated, sometimes involuntarily, since there is no mechanism by which to avoid deportation or repatriation of an identified trafficking victim, and were provided little access to rehabilitative, financial, or legal assistance before repatriation. The government did not provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to removal to their native countries, even if they might face hardship or retribution. NGOs along the southern border reported some improvements in Chinese official rescue and rehabilitation support to trafficking victims, particularly with the establishment of cross-border anti-trafficking liaison offices. The government improved efforts to protect Chinese victims of trafficking abroad; in December, Chinese authorities reported assisting 15 victims of trafficking for commercial exploitation in the DRC with medical aid, shelter, and counseling. However, most victims reportedly did not contact Chinese authorities abroad, limiting consular officials' ability to provide support services. Chinese diplomatic staff overseas did not intervene in labor disputes, some of which may involve trafficking. Government regulations stipulate that repatriated Chinese and foreign victims of trafficking no longer face fines or other punishments upon return and government officials report that no criminal penalties were assigned to the 15 victims identified in the DRC. The Government of the People's Republic of China's unwillingness to repatriate its nationals from destination countries may result in trafficking victims not being able to return home and receive protection services.

Chinese authorities continued to repatriate North Korean refugees forcibly, including those found to be trafficked. The government continued to treat North Korean trafficking victims solely as illegal economic migrants, detaining and deporting them to North Korea, where they may face severe punishment. The Chinese government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation. Chinese authorities prosecuted citizens who assist North Korean refugees and trafficking victims, as well as those who facilitate illegal border crossings. The government continued to bar UNHCR from access to North Koreans in northeast China. The lack of access to UNHCR assistance and the constant fear of forced repatriation by Chinese authorities leaves North Koreans vulnerable to human traffickers.

All of the government's victim protection efforts need to be strengthened and standardized nationwide, and increased funding for victim care should be allocated.

Prevention

The Chinese government advanced efforts throughout China to prevent trafficking in persons, in some instances with assistance from international organizations and NGOs. China's highest-rated television channel ran 17 two-hour broadcasts raising awareness on human trafficking. The government continued to disseminate worker rights information and anti-trafficking messages in train and bus stations and through media such as cell phones, television, and the internet; these information campaigns included, among other issues, information on sexual harassment, workplace violence, and forced labor. The central government did not address the birth limitation policy, which may contribute to a gender imbalance that experts believe has led to trafficking of women into involuntary servitude through forced marriage in the Chinese population. In addition, the hukou household registration system may remain a factor contributing to the vulnerability of internal migrants to forced labor; it remains unclear, however, whether local government reforms to this system have addressed this concern. ACWF continued to work with the ILO to incorporate messages on avoiding human trafficking situations into school curricula. In February, ACWF announced a partnership with ILO to research the level of risk of trafficking of teenage girls and young women in eight provinces. The government instituted programs to address vulnerabilities within its intending migrant population. ACWF also reported working with the government to provide $2.5 billion in microcredit loans with interest paid by the government to reduce vulnerability to trafficking for those at high risk. The Ministry of Public Security convened a meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Meeting Office against Human Trafficking (IMOAT) in March 2010 to coordinate the government's anti-trafficking efforts with the 31 government ministries and agencies involved. Chinese forces participating in peacekeeping initiatives abroad did not receive training on trafficking in persons prior to deployment. However, there have been no allegations of trafficking acts committed by Chinese peacekeepers.

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