Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2018, 17:46 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - China

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - China, 19 June 2012, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
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 distant as Europe and Africa are reportedly trafficked to China for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. While the majority of trafficking occurs within China's borders, there are numerous reports that Chinese men, women, and children may be subjected to conditions of forced prostitution and forced labor around the world. Human trafficking of Chinese nationals has been reported in over 70 countries, including every populated continent. Low- and medium-skilled Chinese workers migrate voluntarily to other countries for jobs, but some subsequently face conditions indicative of forced labor, such as withholding of passports and other restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, physical or sexual abuse, and threats. High recruitment fees, sometimes 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 221 million people. Forced labor remains a problem, including in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories, some of which operate illegally and take advantage of the lax labor supervision. Forced labor, including forced begging by adults and children, took place throughout China in 2011. In one case of forced labor, 2,000 workers protesting labor conditions were forced to return to work under police surveillance. During the reporting period some children in "work-study programs" were forced to work in farms and factories. There were reports that authorities in Xinjiang required school-age students to pick cotton and engage in other forms of organized labor as part of a work-study program. The forced labor of the mentally disabled continued in the reporting period and was noted in the press in a number of disturbing examples. For example, a reporter disguised himself as a mentally disabled individual and roamed a city's railway station, soon after which he was thrown into a car and sold by human traffickers for $78 to brick kiln owners to work in their kiln. Also during the reporting period, police rescued 30 mentally disabled men, some of whom had been held for over seven years in appalling conditions in a brick factory, where the men were beaten with belts, and in some cases blinded as a result of their injuries. According to an NGO in China, forced labor cases involving the mentally disabled are prolific, police rarely follow up, and little action is taken against the perpetrators.

Forced, state-sponsored labor is part of a systematic form of repression known as "re-education through labor." The government reportedly profits from this forced labor. 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. Forced labor was a problem in some of the government's drug detention centers as well, 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. During the reporting period, over 216,000 former drug users were detained in 165 "re-education through labor" centers, where prisoners are subject to forced labor, often in the form of hard labor, and receive no compensation for their work. Also during the reporting period, media sources widely reported on state-sponsored moneymaking schemes within prisons, including the phenomenon of "virtual gold mining." The prisoners received no compensation for their labor, and in fact were beaten for failing to complete work quotas.

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. Some children in work-study programs supported by local governments have been reported to face conditions of forced labor in factories and farms. China has millions of child laborers in the country. Well-organized international criminal syndicates and local gangs play key roles in both internal and cross-border trafficking. China's birth limitation policy, coupled with a cultural preference for sons, creates a skewed sex ratio in China, which served as a key cause of trafficking of foreign women as brides for Chinese men and for forced prostitution.

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 increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous year; therefore, China is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for an eighth consecutive year. China was granted a waiver of an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute a significant effort to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan.

During the reporting period the Chinese government made public some statistics relating to the sex trafficking of women and children, but these statistics were not disaggregated and included a number of other crimes not related to trafficking, such as kidnapping and smuggling. The government did not release any statistics relating to the trafficking of forced labor victims or the trafficking of men. The government did not provide comprehensive victim protection services to both internal and foreign victims of trafficking throughout the country, but continued to train managers of multipurpose shelters.

The government continued drafting the 2012 National Plan of Action for anti-trafficking efforts, which should be released in December 2012, in consultation with international organizations; at the time of publication of this report, the details of the draft plan were not yet public. In March 2012, the government released data about a variety of crimes, some of them purportedly human trafficking, reflecting an expanded definition of trafficking that included illegal adoption and crimes of abduction. Thus, it is impossible to discern what efforts the Chinese government has undertaken to combat trafficking. 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 non-trafficking crimes such as fraudulent child 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. The government took no discernible steps to address the role that its birth limitation policy plays in fueling human trafficking in China, with gaping gender disparities resulting in a shortage of female marriage partners. The government failed to take any steps to change the policy; and in fact, according to the Chinese government, the number of foreign female trafficking victims in China rose substantially in the reporting period. The Director of the Ministry of Public Security's Anti-Trafficking Task Force stated in the reporting period that "[t]he number of foreign women trafficked to China is definitely rising" and that "great demand from buyers as well as traditional preferences for boys in Chinese families are the main culprits fueling trafficking in China." China continued to lack a formal, nationwide procedure to systematically identify victims of trafficking; however, in the past the government issued a national directive instructing law enforcement officers to treat people in prostitution as victims of trafficking until proven otherwise and prohibited police from closing any trafficking-related cases until the victims were located. 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, and these North Koreans face severe punishment, which may include death, upon being forcibly repatriated to North Korea by China.

Recommendations for China: Draft and enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation in line with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; cease pre-trial detention of forced labor and sex trafficking victim advocates and activists; seek the assistance of the international community to close "re-education through labor" camps; provide disaggregated data on efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking; vigorously investigate and prosecute government corruption and complicity cases, and ensure officials are held to the highest standards of the law; seek the assistance of the international community to bring China's trafficking definition in line with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, including separating out non-trafficking crimes such as illegal adoption, abduction, and smuggling; publish the national plan of action to address all forms of trafficking, including forced labor and the trafficking of men; provide data on funds spent on trafficking and law enforcement efforts, including separating out non-trafficking crimes such as abduction, illegal adoption, and smuggling; prohibit punishment clauses in employment contracts of workers, both those working domestically and those working abroad; increase transparency of government efforts to combat trafficking; institute effective victim identification procedures among vulnerable groups, such as migrant workers, the mentally disabled, women arrested for prostitution, and children, and ensure these populations are not prosecuted for crimes committed as a result of trafficking; expand available trafficking shelters and resources, including counseling, medical, reintegration, and rehabilitative assistance to all trafficking victims, including male and forced labor victims; assist Chinese citizen victims of trafficking found abroad; cease 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; educate the public to reduce demand for, and vigorously investigate and prosecute, child sex tourism cases.


The government's anti-trafficking efforts continued to focus on transnational trafficking of foreign women and girls to China and the forced prostitution of Chinese girls and women within the country. 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.

Article 240 of China's criminal code prohibits "abducting and trafficking of women or children," but does not adequately define these concepts. Article 358 prohibits forced prostitution, which is 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," punishable by three to 10 years' imprisonment and a fine, and expands culpability to those who also recruit, transport, or assist in "forcing others to labor." 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 a form of "forcing workers to labor" or "forced prostitution" and whether acts such as recruiting, providing, or obtaining persons for compelled prostitution are covered. While trafficking crimes could perhaps be prosecuted under general statutes related to fraud and deprivation of liberty, authorities did not report using these provisions to prosecute and punish trafficking offenders.

Due to the government's 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. Due to this conflation, it was not possible to accurately assess Chinese law enforcement efforts, including statistics on trafficking such as investigations, prosecutions, and convictions.

In April 2011, the government reported rescuing a number of Uighur children from forced begging and pick-pocketing rings, many of whom were likely victims of trafficking. In November 2011, the Ministry of Public Security collaborated with Angolan police to rescue 19 Chinese women found in forced prostitution in Angola. Five suspects were arrested in China in response to the case, although it is unknown what charges were brought against the suspects, or what care was provided to the victims. There were also instances of forced labor of Chinese workers in Angola. Some companies owned by the Chinese government reportedly subjected both Chinese and locally-employed staff to conditions of forced labor. In Zambia, local employees were forced to work in copper mines under dangerous conditions by Chinese managers. Chinese and Vietnamese police collaborated on a trafficking case, leading to the rescue of 22 Vietnamese victims and the arrest of 17 suspects in China. In August 2011, Chinese officials worked with Philippine counterparts to secure the extradition of a trafficker back to China. The trafficker allegedly organized and led a criminal gang which forced more than 2,000 women into prostitution in Chongqing. In previous reporting periods, the Ministry of Public Security reported conducting an annual comprehensive assessment of anti-trafficking work in each category of trafficking, but the government never reported producing this report in 2011. The government did not report funding any training for law enforcement during the reporting period.


It is unclear what efforts the Chinese government made to protect trafficking victims in the reporting period. The government did not provide data on how many trafficking victims the government rescued or identified, and did not disaggregate data on trafficking from other statistics. The Chinese government did not release information on what funds were dedicated to provide protective services for trafficking victims. During the reporting period, the Chinese government claimed that, out of the 1,400 government-run and funded shelters, five were dedicated to care for victims of human trafficking, although victims also had access to basic services at China's general shelter network. It is unclear what guidelines, if any, the government used to identify trafficking victims formally, but the government did begin to provide training to law enforcement officers on identifying such victims. The lack of effective victim identification measures in China causes victims to be punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Law enforcement and judicial officials continued to punish forced prostitution victims rather than their traffickers.

The government continued to instruct local women's federation organizations to refer victims of trafficking to one of two phone numbers to report cases of suspected human trafficking. The quasi-governmental All-China Women's Federation (ACWF) continued to allocate an unknown amount of funds to operate "women's homes" where female victims have access to a variety of protective services. It is unclear how many trafficking victims, if any, reported their cases or if there were any instances in which the government provided assistance based on calls to the hotlines. In some instances, child trafficking victims were placed in child welfare centers run by the Ministry of Civil Affairs; those centers were linked with hospitals and professionals that provide specialized care. Chinese diplomatic staff overseas did not typically intervene in labor disputes, some of which may have involved trafficking. While there were some instances in which the Chinese government assisted their citizens found in trafficking abroad, there were a number of instances in which it did not. During the reporting period, China worked with an international organization to develop appropriate investigation protocols to prevent potential trauma to juvenile crime victims. 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.

Chinese authorities continued to repatriate North Korean refugees forcibly, including those found to be trafficked. The government continued to treat North Koreans found in China solely as illegal economic migrants despite credible independent reporting that approximately 90 percent of North Korean female refugees in China are trafficking victims. The government detained and deported these refugees to North Korea, where they faced severe punishment and death, including in North Korean forced labor camps. The Chinese government did not provide North Korean trafficking victims with legal alternatives to repatriation. Chinese authorities prosecuted citizens who assisted North Korean refugees and trafficking victims, as well as those who facilitated illegal border crossings. During the reporting period, the government deployed hundreds of officers to conduct "manhunts" to track down North Korean refugees in China. The government continued to bar UNHCR from access to North Koreans in northeast China. The lack of access to UNHCR assistance and the issue of forced repatriation by Chinese authorities leave North Koreans vulnerable to human traffickers.


The Chinese government made minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. 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 China's efforts to combat human trafficking. The Labor Contract Law Enforcement Inspection Team of the National People's Congress Standing Committee met for the first time in July 2011 and issued instructions on conducting inspections of non state-owned enterprises to ensure enforcement of the Labor Contract Law. Despite these efforts, however, Chinese labor contracts often contain "punishment clauses" which are enforceable in Chinese courts but often illegal in countries to which Chinese workers are sent. These clauses render workers vulnerable to forced labor, often by allowing Chinese companies to impose steep fines or require substantial deposits from Chinese workers that could expose them to conditions of forced labor, including debt bondage. The government did not address the effects its birth limitation policy has in creating a gender imbalance and fueling trafficking, particularly through forced marriage. In August 2011, the Director of the Ministry of Public Security's Anti-Trafficking Office publicly acknowledged that the great demand from marriage buyers, which results from the traditional preference for boys in Chinese families, was the main factor fueling trafficking in China. China's highest-rated television channel ran broadcasts raising awareness on human trafficking. The government continued to disseminate some anti-trafficking messages in train and bus stations and through media such as cell phones, television, and the internet. ACWF continued to work with an international organization to incorporate messages on avoiding human trafficking situations into school curricula. The Ministry of Public Security convened a meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Meeting Office against Human Trafficking in April 2011 to coordinate the government's anti-trafficking efforts with the 31 government ministries and agencies involved.

Another important contributing factor to the problem of human trafficking is the government hukou household registration system, which contributes to the vulnerability to trafficking of internal migrants. Chinese forces participating in peacekeeping initiatives abroad receive no trafficking-in-persons training from the Chinese government independent of the training provided by the UN prior to deployment. The government did not take any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the reporting period. The government made no efforts to prevent Chinese citizens from engaging in child sex tourism while abroad during the reporting period, despite the fact that Chinese citizens were found engaging in child sex tourism in both Indonesia and the Philippines during the reporting period.

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