YEMEN (Tier 2 Watch List)

Yemen is a country of origin and, to a much lesser extent, a transit and destination country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labor and forced prostitution. Yemeni children, mostly boys, migrate across the northern border with Saudi Arabia, to the Yemeni cities of Aden and Sana'a, or – to a lesser extent – to Oman, and are forced to work primarily as beggars, but also for domestic servitude or forced labor in small shops. Some of these children are subjected to commercial sexual exploitation in transit or once they arrive in Saudi Arabia by traffickers, border patrols, other security officials, and their employers. The government and local NGOs estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of children in forced labor in Yemen. An unconfirmed government report indicates that fewer Yemeni children may have been forced to work in Saudi Arabia in the reporting period due to a combination of awareness campaigns, collaboration between Yemeni and Saudi authorities, and the outbreak of civil war in northern Yemen. Some parents may have refrained from sending their children to Saudi Arabia for fear of their encountering violence in northern Yemen, while other Yemeni children attempting to reach Saudi Arabia were abducted by rebel groups to work as soldiers.

To a lesser extent, Yemen is also a source country for girls subjected to commercial sexual exploitation within the country and in Saudi Arabia. Girls as young as 15 years old are exploited for commercial sex in hotels and clubs in the governorates of Sana'a, Aden and Taiz. The majority of child sex tourists in Yemen originate from Saudi Arabia, with a smaller number possibly coming from other Gulf nations. Yemeni girls who marry Saudi tourists often do not realize the temporary and exploitative nature of these agreements and some are forced into prostitution or abandoned on the streets after reaching Saudi Arabia. Yemen is a transit and destination country for women and children from the Horn of Africa; Ethiopian and Somali women and children travel willingly to Yemen with the hope of working in other Gulf countries, but once they reach Yemen are forced into prostitution or domestic servitude. Others migrate willingly with false promises of comfortable employment as domestic servants in Yemen, but upon arrival are forced into prostitution or domestic servitude. Female Somali refugees are forced into prostitution in Aden and Lahj governorates and Yemeni and Saudi gangs traffic African children to Saudi Arabia. Somali pirates capitalize on the instability in the Horn of Africa to subject Africans to forced labor and prostitution in Yemen, in addition to their piracy and human smuggling crimes.

Despite a 1991 law which stipulates that recruits to the armed forces must be at least 18 years of age, and assertions by the government that the military is in compliance with these laws, credible reports exist that children have been recruited into official government armed forces – as well as government-allied tribal militias and militias of the Houthi rebels – since the sixth round of the intermittent war in Sa'ada began in August 2009. A local NGO estimated that children under the age of 18 may make up more than half of some tribes' armed forces, both those fighting with the government and those allied with the Houthi rebels.

The Government of Yemen does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these efforts, the Yemeni government did not show evidence of progress in prosecuting and punish trafficking offenders, identifying and protecting sex trafficking victims, or preventing sex trafficking over the last year; therefore, Yemen is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. The government took no steps to address commercial sexual exploitation. It continued, however, to provide protection and reunification services to child victims repatriated from Saudi Arabia and to make notable strides in raising awareness of child labor trafficking.

Recommendations for Yemen: Enforce the December 2009 Ministry of Justice decree and take judicial action against human trafficking; expand the two reception centers to also rehabilitate victims of commercial sexual exploitation; institute a formal victim identification mechanism to identify and refer victims to protection services; expand educational campaigns on trafficking to include information on the sex trafficking of children and adults; and fully implement the National Plan of Action.


The Government of Yemen made minimal law enforcement efforts against human trafficking during the reporting period. Yemen prohibits some forms of human trafficking. Article 248 of the penal code prescribes 10 years' imprisonment for anyone who "buys, sells, or gives as a present, or deals in human beings; and anyone who brings into the country or exports from it a human being with the intent of taking advantage of him." This transaction- and movement-based statute does not prohibit debt bondage or many forms of forced labor and forced prostitution. Article 248 prescribes a penalty of up to ten years imprisonment, which is commensurate with that for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 161 of the Child Rights Law specifically criminalizes the prostitution of children. Data on arrests and prosecutions for trafficking offenders were incomplete and varied widely depending on the source. Press and NGO sources indicate that between 20 and 26 trafficking offenders were arrested in their attempts to traffic children to Saudi Arabia. No further detail is known about these cases. A local NGO reported that some child trafficking offenders were prosecuted and received sentences up to 10 years; those prosecuted were often families who sold their children and not leaders of trafficking rings. There was no evidence of prosecutions of government officials for complicity in trafficking during the reporting period. Law enforcement officials are receiving training from the IOM in identifying and assisting victims of trafficking. In December 2009, the Ministry of Justice issued a decree to all judicial officials to aggressively pursue human trafficking prosecutions and finish pending cases as soon as possible.


The government made limited progress in protecting victims over the last year, and remained reluctant to acknowledge trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation. The government did not employ procedures for proactively identifying victims of sex trafficking among high-risk groups and lacked a formalized victim referral process. In partnership with UNICEF and NGOs, the government continued operation of two reception centers in Sana'a and Harath to rehabilitate child labor trafficking victims. In 2009, these centers provided 658 children with social protection, psychological and medical care, and provided 180 children with post-care upon reunification with their families, if possible. Children without families are enrolled in orphanages. A local NGO runs a rehabilitation center in Sana'a; their centers in Sayun and Aden suspended their activities in the past year due to corruption. The government discontinued its previous support for these NGO-run shelters. However, according to officials, the government-run al-Thawra Hospital continued to provide free treatment for the children who reside in the Sana'a NGO shelter. The government did not encourage victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of their traffickers. Yemen did not ensure that victims are not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The government did not provide assistance to its nationals who are repatriated as victims of trafficking, although NGOs provided limited assistance and helped reunite some victims with their families. There were no legal alternatives to the removal of foreign trafficking victims to countries in which they may face hardship or retribution.


The Yemeni government made marked progress in preventing child labor trafficking during the reporting period, particularly through informational and educational campaigns, some in partnership with NGOs and international organizations. The government, however, did not make efforts to prevent sex trafficking of children or adults. One anti-labor trafficking campaign, aired in a Ramadan TV series and in TV and radio interviews, told the stories of trafficked children. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MOSAL) continued a previous campaign and trained 1,500 community leaders – mainly teachers and imams – about trafficking. Through lectures at taxi stands, MOSAL officials also trained 1,160 taxi and small bus drivers to recognize signs of trafficking, and distributed over 30,000 brochures and stickers to bus and taxi drivers and in taxi stations across the country. The Council of Ministers ratified a national strategy for addressing trafficking in persons on March 31, 2009. MOSAL has contracted a scholar to complete a national situation report and evaluation of current government interventions. The government has not yet developed a universal birth registration system and many children, especially in rural areas, were never registered or registered only after several years, depriving them of a key identity document and therefore increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. The government did not take any significant measures during the reporting period to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, address the problem of child sex tourism, or ensure its nationals deployed to peacekeeping missions do not facilitate or engage in human trafficking. The Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Interior issued a decree in October 2009 aimed at reducing trafficking via "temporary marriages" by requiring approval by government officials; however, it is unclear whether this decree has been enforced. A bill passed in parliament in February 2009 setting the minimum age for marriage at 17 – a move that would have significantly prevented child trafficking – was rejected by the Sharia Codification Committee which said it was un-Islamic. Yemen has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


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