Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - Burma

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 14 June 2010
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2010 - Burma, 14 June 2010, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4c18840337.html [accessed 29 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.

BURMA (Tier 3)

Burma is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and for women and children in forced prostitution in other countries. Burmese children are subjected to forced labor as hawkers and beggars in Thailand. Many men, women, and children who migrate abroad for work in Thailand, Malaysia, China, Bangladesh, India, and South Korea are trafficked into conditions of forced or bonded labor or commercial sexual exploitation. Economic conditions within the country led to increased legal and illegal migration of Burmese regionally and to destinations as far as the Middle East. Men are subjected to forced labor in the fishing and construction industries abroad. Burmese women who migrate to Thailand, China, and Malaysia for economic opportunities are found in situations of forced labor and forced prostitution. Some trafficking victims transit Burma from Bangladesh to Malaysia and from China to Thailand and beyond. The government has yet to address the systemic political and economic problems that cause many Burmese to seek employment through both legal and illegal means in neighboring countries, where some become victims of trafficking.

Burma's internal trafficking remains the most serious concern. The military engages in the unlawful conscription of child soldiers, and continues to be the main perpetrator of forced labor inside Burma. The direct government and military use of forced or compulsory labor remains a widespread and serious problem, particularly targeting members of ethnic minority groups. Military and civilian officials systematically used men, women, and children for forced labor for the development of infrastructure and state-run agricultural and commercial ventures, as well as forced portering for the military. Those living in areas with the highest military presence, including remote border areas populated by ethnic groups, are most at risk for forced labor.

Military and civilian officials subject men, women, and children to forced labor, and men and boys as young as 11 years old are forcibly recruited to serve in the Burmese army and ethnic armed groups through intimidation, coercion, threats, and violence. Thousands of children are forced to serve in Burma's national army as desertions of men in the army continue. Children of the urban poor are at particular risk of involuntary conscription; 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. Children are threatened with jail if they do not agree to join the army, and sometimes physically abused. Children are subjected to forced labor in tea shops, home industries, and agricultural plantations. Exploiters traffic girls for the purpose of prostitution, particularly in urban areas.

In some areas, in particular international sex trafficking of women and girls, the Government of Burma is making significant efforts. Nonetheless, serious problems remain in Burma, and in some areas, most notably in the area of forced labor, the Government of Burma is not making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, warranting a ranking of Tier 3. The regime's widespread use of and lack of accountability in forced labor and recruitment of child soldiers is particularly worrying and represent the top causal factor for Burma's significant trafficking problem.

Recommendations for Burma: Cease the practice of forced labor of Burmese citizens by civilian and military entities; cease the unlawful conscription of children into the military and ethnic armed groups; increase efforts to investigate and sanction, including through criminal prosecution, perpetrators of internal trafficking offenses, including child soldier recruitment and other such crimes by government and military officials; actively identify and demobilize all children serving in the armed forces; grant full and unhindered access by UN personnel 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; end the involuntary detention of adult victims of trafficking in government shelters; release the six citizens imprisoned for their role in reporting cases of forced labor to international organizations; increase partnerships with 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 some progress in law enforcement efforts against cross-border sex trafficking during the reporting period. It also reported investigating, prosecuting, and convicting some internal trafficking offenders, though there was only one reported criminal prosecution of a member of the Burma Army for his role in child soldier cases. The government continued to incarcerate six individuals who reported forced labor cases involving the regime to the ILO or were otherwise active in working with the ILO on forced labor issues. Burma prohibits sex 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. The recruitment of children into the army is a criminal offense under Penal Code Section 374, which could result in imprisonment for up to one year, or a fine, or both. In December 2009, the Burmese military reported that it dismissed a captain from the military via court martial and sentenced him to one year imprisonment in a civilian jail for child soldier recruitment – the first ever criminal conviction of a military official involved in child soldier recruitment. In the same case, an additional two privates were sentenced to three months' and one month military imprisonment, respectively. Burmese law enforcement officials generally were not able to investigate or prosecute cases of military perpetrated forced labor or child soldier recruitment absent assent from high-ranking military officers.

While forced labor is widely considered to be the most serious trafficking problem in Burma, authorities reported that most trafficking cases investigated and prosecuted involved women and girls subjected to forced marriage or intended to be subjected to forced marriage. The Burmese regime rules arbitrarily through its unilaterally imposed laws, but rule of law is absent, as is an independent judiciary that would respect trafficking victims' rights. The Burmese regime reported investigating 155 cases of trafficking, prosecuting 410 individuals, and convicting 88 offenders in 2009, an increase from 342 reported prosecutions in 2008; however, these statistics included 12 cases of abduction for adoption, which are not considered "trafficking" by international standards. Additionally, court proceedings are not open and lack due process for defendants. While the Burmese regime has in the past been known to conflate irregular migration with trafficking, leading to the punishment of consensual emigrants and those who assist them to emigrate, the police reported some efforts to exclude smuggling cases from human trafficking figures during the reporting period, and improved their transparency in handling cases.

Nevertheless, limited capacity and training of the police coupled with a lack of transparency in the justice system make it uncertain whether all trafficking statistics provided by authorities were indeed for trafficking cases. Corruption and lack of accountability remains pervasive in Burma, affecting all aspects of society.

Police can be expected to self-limit investigations when well-connected individuals are involved in forced labor cases. Although the government reported four officials prosecuted for involvement in human trafficking in 2009, the government did not release any details of the cases. Burmese law enforcement reported continued cooperation with Chinese counterparts on cross-border trafficking cases, including joint operations, as well as general cooperation with Thai authorities.

In 2009, the ILO continued to receive and investigate forced labor complaints; 93 cases were submitted to the Burmese government for action, an increase from 64 cases in 2008; 54 cases remain open and are awaiting a response from the government. Despite a report of a child labor case involving as many as 100 children on an agricultural plantation near Rangoon, the regime did not report any efforts to investigate the allegation. Victims of forced labor cases are not protected from countersuit by regime officials. During the reporting period, 17 complainants and their associates in a series of forced labor cases involving 328 farmers in Magwe Division were prosecuted and jailed by local authorities for their role in reporting forced labor perpetrated by local government officials. Burmese courts later released 13 of the individuals, but four complainants remain in prison. The central government did not intervene with local authorities to stop the politically motivated harassment, including lengthy interrogations, of the forced labor complainants. Such unaccountable harassment and punishment discouraged additional forced labor complaints.

Protection

The regime made efforts to protect repatriated victims of cross-border sex trafficking to China and Thailand, though it exhibited no discernible efforts to protect victims of internal trafficking and transnational labor trafficking. In forced labor cases, some victims, notably 17 individuals in Magwe Division, were harassed, detained, or otherwise penalized for making accusations against officials who pressed them into forced labor. The government reported identifying 302 victims, most of whom were victims of forced marriage rather than explicitly trafficking victims, and reported assisting an additional 425 victims identified and repatriated by foreign governments in 2009, including 293 from China and 132 from Thailand. The regime did not identify any male trafficking victims. Victims were sheltered and detained in non-specialized Department of Social Welfare facilities for a mandatory minimum of two weeks, which stretched into months if authorities could not find an adult family member to accept the victim. While in government facilities, victims had access to counseling, which was often substandard, and had very limited access to social workers. There were no shelter facilities available to male victims of trafficking. NGOs were sometimes allowed access to victims in government shelters, but the regime continued to bar NGOs from operating shelters for trafficking victims. The regime did not have in place formal victim identification procedures. While the government reported that it encouraged victims to assist in investigations and prosecutions, it did not appear to provide financial support or other assistance to victims to serve as incentives to participate in the prosecution of their traffickers. The regime cooperated with the ILO on the issue of the military's conscription of children, resulting in the return of 31 children to their families. However, numerous children undoubtedly continue to serve in the Burma Army and in ethnic militias. The government has done little to help international organizations assess the scope of the problem. The regime did not permit UNICEF access to children who were released through the government's mechanisms for follow-up purposes. Additionally, some child recruits have been prosecuted and sentenced for deserting the military and remain in prison.

Prevention

Burma made limited efforts to prevent international trafficking in persons over the last year, and made few discernible efforts to prevent the more prevalent internal trafficking, particularly forced labor and child conscription by regime officials and ethnic armed groups. The government continued awareness campaigns using billboards, flyers, and videos during the reporting period and state-run television aired a documentary on human trafficking produced by the MTV Exit Campaign. The Burmese government reported forming three new anti-trafficking units in 2009, and reported a 40 percent overall increase in spending on prevention efforts. During the reporting period, the government signed Memoranda of Understanding with China and Thailand on trafficking in persons. The regime sustained partnerships with Mekong region governments and the UN in the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking, and hosted the (COMMIT) Senior Officials Meeting in January 2010. 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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