Laos is primarily a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Some Lao migrate to neighboring countries in search of better economic opportunities but are subjected to conditions of forced or bonded labor or forced prostitution after arrival in these countries. Some of these trafficking victims are deceived by recruiters or employers about the terms and conditions of their employment in the destination country. Lao women and children become victims of trafficking in Thailand, in domestic servitude, forced labor in factories, and for commercial sexual exploitation, while men more often fall victim to forced labor in factories or in the fishing industry. There is some internal sex trafficking in Laos, primarily of women and girls from rural areas to large cities or border areas. To a lesser extent, Laos is a destination country for women trafficked from Vietnam and the People's Republic of China, for sexual exploitation. Laos serves as a transit country in a small number of cases with Chinese and Burmese women and girls transiting Laos to Thailand.
The Government of Laos does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however it is making significant efforts to do so. The Government of Laos is placed on Tier 2 because of its improved efforts over the past year and its greater transparency in regard to its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The government expanded training for law enforcement and immigration authorities as well as public awareness on trafficking and the 2004 Law on Women. Laos increased its efforts to arrest and prosecute traffickers and cooperated on joint law enforcement activities with some neighboring countries. The government should pass and enact comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, eliminate the practice of fining returning trafficking victims, increase efforts to combat internal trafficking, and make greater efforts to prosecute and convict public officials who profit from or are involved in trafficking.
The Lao government demonstrated progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and willingness to collaborate with other countries as well as NGOs and international organizations. Laos prohibits most forms of trafficking for sexual and labor exploitation through the 2004 Law on Women and other provisions of its criminal code, as well as the new Law on the Protection of Children that was passed in December 2006. Penalties for trafficking are sufficiently stringent, and those prescribed for commercial sexual exploitation are commensurate with those for rape. In 2006, the government reported 27 trafficking investigations that resulted in the arrests of 15 suspected traffickers, 12 of whom were prosecuted. The remaining three suspects were not prosecuted, but were "re-educated" and released. Among the 12 prosecutions, three traffickers were convicted and sentenced to an average of six years' imprisonment, five remain incarcerated pending court action, and four are in pretrial detention pending the results of investigations. Two convictions involved investigative cooperation between Lao and Thai police. The government was not as active in investigating some internal trafficking cases. There are reports that some local government and law enforcement officials profit from trafficking, but there were no reported investigations or prosecutions of officials for complicity in trafficking.
The Lao government demonstrated progress in improving protection for victims of trafficking during the year. The government does not actively seek the participation of victims in investigations and prosecutions of traffickers. Some returnees from Thailand, including trafficking victims, have in the past been incarcerated after returning to Laos and held for periods ranging from days to weeks in immigration detention facilities, although there is no evidence of this practice occurring during the reporting period. Some returnees have been subjected to re-education to warn them of the dangers of traveling to Thailand. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW) maintains a small transit center and assisted 259 returning victims of trafficking in 2006 and 15 in the first months of 2007. The government collaborates with IOM on return and reintegration efforts and to protect and counsel victims processed through the transit center. The Lao government signed an MOU with IOM in February 2007 that will allow IOM to open an office in Laos to more closely monitor return and reintegration activities. The Lao Women's Union runs a shelter providing legal, medical, and counseling assistance; it assisted 17 victims during the year. Victims of trafficking returning to Laos may still be subject to fines or reeducation in Laos pending the complete dissemination and enforcement of the Law on Women, although there is evidence that this practice has diminished. In 2006, the government passed the Law on the Protection of Children, which includes an anti-trafficking component that should fill gaps within the legal structure.
The Lao government increased efforts to prevent trafficking in persons through the use of print, radio, and television media. The Lao Women's Union made significant efforts to disseminate the 2004 Law on Women and provided training to officials in several provinces. The MLSW, with funding from an NGO and UNICEF, produced a drama program on trafficking in the Lao, Hmong, and Khmu languages and also set up billboards near border checkpoints and larger cities. The Lao Women's Union organized meetings and training sessions to disseminate the Law on Women and raise awareness among officials and the public regarding the dangers of human trafficking and the need to combat trafficking activities. The most significant government prevention effort was the development of a draft National Plan of Action to Combat Human Trafficking in late 2006.
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