The US State Department’s annual report on human trafficking, issued on June 4, 2008, gave the lowest ranking to some US allies, including Saudi Arabia. But several countries were credited with an improved performance on the issue including Venezuela, Malaysia and Madagascar.
The report classifies countries into 3 groups: Tier 1 groups countries that fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; Tier 2 consists of countries that do not fully comply with minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance; countries on Tier 2 that require special scrutiny because of high or significantly increasing number of victims are placed on Tier 2 Watch List; and Tier 3 includes countries that neither satisfy the minimum standards nor demonstrate a significant effort to come into compliance.
Laos is classified in Tier 2 this year. The report says Laos is primarily a source country for women and girls trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation and labor exploitation as domestic or factory workers in Thailand. Some Lao men, women, and children 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. Some Lao men who migrate willingly to Thailand are subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude in the Thai fishing and construction industries.
The report says to a lesser extent, Laos is a country of transit for Vietnamese, Chinese and Burmese women destined for Thailand. Laos’ potential as a transit country is on the rise with the construction of new highways linking the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia through Laos. Internal trafficking is also a problem that affects young women and girls who are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation in urban areas.
According to the report, 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 report recommends that Laos increases its efforts to combat internal trafficking, and improve its collaboration with international organizations to build capacity to combat trafficking in persons.
The report also says the Lao government has demonstrated progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and its willingness to collaborate with other countries as well as NGOs and international organizations. Laos prohibits all forms of trafficking through Penal Code Article 134, which prescribes penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for rape.
The report adds that the Lao government demonstrated progress in improving protection for victims of trafficking during the year. The Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (MLSW) and the Immigration Department cooperated with IOM, UNIAP, and a local NGO to provide victim assistance. The MLSW continued operating a small transit center in Vientiane. Victims not wanting to return home are referred to a long-term shelter run by the Lao Women’s Union or to a local NGO.
Regarding prevention, the report says Laos has increased its efforts to prevent trafficking in persons with assistance from international organizations and civil societies. For example, the MLSW worked with UNICEF to set up awareness-raising billboards near border checkpoints and larger cities.
In reaction to the State Department report, Mr.
Yong Chanthalangsy, spokesperson for the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said
the US used a one-sided approach by just informing the Lao government of its
conclusion, one day before releasing the report.
The US State Department report estimated that around 800 thousand people are trafficked across national borders each year. Millions more are trafficked within their own borders. The majority of transnat-ional victims are female trafficked into commercial sex trade; many of them are minors.
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