Trafficking in Persons Report 2008 - Saudi Arabia


Saudi Arabia is a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of involuntary servitude and, to a lesser extent, commercial sexual exploitation. Despite strict labor laws and entry visa requirements, men and women from Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ethiopia voluntarily travel to Saudi Arabia as domestic servants or other low-skilled laborers, but subsequently face conditions of involuntary servitude, including restrictions on movement, withholding of passports, threats, physical or sexual abuse, and non-payment of wages. Women from Yemen, Morocco, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tajikistan, and Thailand were also trafficked into Saudi Arabia for commercial sexual exploitation; others were reportedly kidnapped and forced into prostitution after running away from abusive employers. In addition, Saudi Arabia is a destination country for Nigerian, Yemeni, Pakistani, Afghan, Chadian, and Sudanese children trafficked for involuntary servitude as forced beggars and street vendors. Some Saudi nationals travel to destinations including Morocco, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh to engage in commercial sexual exploitation.

The Government of Saudi Arabia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. The government continues to lack adequate anti-trafficking laws, and, despite evidence of widespread trafficking abuses, did not report any criminal prosecutions, convictions, or prison sentences for trafficking crimes committed against foreign domestic workers. The government similarly did not take law enforcement action against trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation in Saudi Arabia, or take any steps to provide victims of sex trafficking with protection. The Saudi government also made no discernable effort to employ procedures to identify and refer victims to protective services.

Recommendations for Saudi Arabia: Enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that criminalizes all forms of trafficking in persons and assigns criminal penalties that are sufficiently stringent to deter the crime and adequately reflect the heinous nature of the crime; significantly increase criminal prosecutions and punishments of abusive employers and those culpable of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation; ensure that trafficking victims are not detained or punished for acts committed as a result of being trafficked; institute a formal victim identification mechanism to distinguish trafficking victims among the thousands of workers it deports each year for immigration violations and other crimes; and extend protection to victims of sex trafficking, as well as ensure that their traffickers are criminally prosecuted.


Saudi Arabia did not demonstrate efforts to criminally punish trafficking crimes over the reporting period. The government does not prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons, but penalizes forced labor through Articles 229-242 of its Labor Law. Penalties prescribed under these forced labor statutes, however, are limited to fines or bans on future hiring, and are not sufficiently stringent. These laws also do not apply to domestic servants, the primary victims of forced labor in Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia does not have a law specifically prohibiting trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. There have been some cases of assault against foreign workers resulting in physical injuries or death, reports of widespread worker abuse, and anecdotal evidence of trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. The Saudi government, however, reported no criminal investigations, prosecutions, convictions, or sentences for trafficking offenses. The government does not enforce fines or bans on hiring workers imposed upon abusive employers or recruitment agencies, and police are criticized for being unresponsive to requests for help from foreign workers.


Saudi Arabia took inadequate measures to protect victims of trafficking and sometimes punished victims. The government claims it makes available to trafficking victims services including shelter, legal aid, and medical and psychological care. However, many victims are not always provided such assistance; they must seek shelter at their embassies, negotiate settlements with their employers, and independently obtain funds to return home.

Saudi Arabia does not systematically attempt to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable people, such as foreign women detained for running away from their employers or women arrested for prostitution; as a result, victims of trafficking are often punished or automatically deported without being offered protection. Women arrested for prostitution are not interviewed for evidence of trafficking and may be subjected to stringent corporal punishment for adultery under Saudi law. Although Saudi Arabia offers temporary relief from deportation to some victims who identify themselves to authorities, those who have run away from their employers, overstayed their visas, or otherwise violated the legal terms of their visas may be jailed or detained. Saudi officials do not encourage victims to assist in investigations against their traffickers, and often discourage this by persuading victims to take monetary compensation in lieu of filing criminal charges against their employer. Of particular concern are reports that, in some cases, victims are returned to their employers by police officers after making a trafficking complaint. Legal recourse is available to victims in theory, but the lack of translation assistance and lengthy and costly delays often discourage victims. The government does not offer legal alternatives to the removal of foreign trafficking victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.


Saudi Arabia made minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons. The government provides trafficking awareness and technical training for officials with trafficking prevention responsibilities. In November 2007, media sources reported that Saudi Arabia signed agreements to offer financial assistance to Yemen – a key source country for child beggars – to establish educational, technical, vocational, health, and infrastructure projects to prevent child trafficking. The government, however, did not take any reported measures during the reporting period to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Similarly, Saudi Arabia failed to undertake any public awareness campaigns targeting citizens traveling to known child sex tourism destinations abroad.

Saudi Arabia tier ranking by year


This 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.