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  • Writer's pictureGenie Boynton

17 Worst Countries in Fighting Human Trafficking

The US State Department identifies countries who fail to to do the minimum to stop human trafficking. The Trafficking in Persons Report, which is released annually, places 188 counties into 4 categories. Tier 3 countries, which is the lowest ranking, are listed below.

Forced to work in carpet making, brick kilns, domestic servitude, commercial sex, begging, poppy cultivation and harvesting, salt mining, transnational drug smuggling, and truck driving - most Afghan trafficking victims are children. Some families force their children into labor with physical violence. Some even knowingly sell their children into sex trafficking, including bacha bazi (dancing boys), a term in some parts of Afghanistan and Pakistan for a custom involving child sexual abuse by older men of young adolescent males or boys. Opium-farming families sometimes sell their children to settle debts with traffickers, and some drug-addicted parents subject their children to sex trafficking or force them into labor, including begging.

Unaccompanied women and women traveling with children are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced domestic work. Refugees and asylum-seekers are also vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers use false promises of work, such as in a beauty salon or restaurant, to recruit migrants to Algeria where they ultimately exploit them in sex trafficking or forced labor.

Traffickers force men to work in fishing, manufacturing, forestry, agriculture, and construction, and they subject women and girls primarily to sex trafficking or forced labor in garment manufacturing and domestic service. There are reports of Burmese males transiting Thailand en route to Indonesia and Malaysia where traffickers subject them to forced labor, primarily in fishing and other labor-intensive industries.

Traffickers use China as a transit point to subject foreign individuals to trafficking in other countries throughout Asia and in international maritime industries. Well-organized criminal syndicates and local gangs subject Chinese women and girls to sex trafficking. Traffickers typically recruit them from rural areas and take them to urban centers, using a combination of fraudulent job offers and coercion by imposing large travel fees, confiscating passports, confining victims, or physically and financially threatening victims to compel their engagement in commercial sex. China’s national household registry system (hukou) continues to restrict rural inhabitants’ freedom to legally change their residence, placing China’s internal migrant population at high risk of forced labor in brick kilns, coal mines, and factories.

Traffickers exploit Comorian women and Malagasy women who transit Comoros in forced labor in the Middle East. Traffickers exploit Comorian adults and children in forced labor in agriculture, construction, and domestic work. Traffickers and employers subject children, some of whom were abandoned by parents who left to seek economic opportunities in other countries, to forced labor, mostly in domestic service, roadside and market vending, baking, fishing, and agriculture. Poor rural families frequently send their children to live with wealthier relatives or acquaintances in urban areas for access to schooling and other socio-economic benefits; these children are vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse and forced labor in domestic servitude.

Human trafficking concerns in Cuba fall under two broad categories: sex trafficking and forced labor, and government-sponsored labor export programs. Traffickers exploit Cuban citizens in sex trafficking and forced labor in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Latin America, and the United States. Traffickers exploit foreign nationals from Africa and Asia in sex trafficking and forced labor in Cuba to pay off travel debts. The government identified children, young women, elderly, and disabled persons as the most vulnerable to trafficking. Concerns have been raised about Cuba’s LGBTQI+ population and its vulnerability to sex trafficking. The government uses some high school students in rural areas to harvest crops and does not pay them for their work but claims this work is voluntary.

Thousands of Eritreans who flee the country are smuggled migrants seeking to be reunited with family members already overseas; are those who sought to escape human rights abuses, including arbitrary arrest and detention, lack of due process, and religious persecution; were in search of better economic opportunities; or hoped to avoid the often indefinite periods of service in the government’s mandatory National Service. All persons aged 18 to 40 years are required to perform compulsory active national service ostensibly for a period of 18 months—six months of military training followed by 12 months of duty in a variety of military, security, or public service positions. However, since the 1998-2000 Eritrean-Ethiopian border conflict, the 18-month limit has been suspended; most individuals are not demobilized from government work units after their mandatory period of service but rather are forced to serve indefinitely under threats of detention, torture, or familial reprisal. An international organization assesses that many Eritrean asylum seekers, particularly those who deserted the National Service when they fled, expressed well-founded fears of persecution in Eritrea. There are unconfirmed reports that returnees have disappeared. An international organization assessed in 2019 that traffickers exploited Eritreans in forced labor and sex trafficking primarily in Sudan, Ethiopia, and Libya.

Many Bissau-Guinean boys attend Quranic schools led by corrupt Quranic teachers. Quranic Arabic is the form of Arabic in which the Quran (the holy book of Islam) is written. Some exploitative Quranic teachers force or coerce their students, called talibés (a boy who studies the Quran), to beg and do not provide an education, including at some schools in Bissau’s Afia neighborhood. The traffickers are principally men from the Bafata and Gabu regions—often former talibés or men who claim to be working for a Quranic teacher—and are generally well-known within the communities in which they operate. Corrupt Quranic teachers increasingly force Guinean, Gambian, and Sierra Leonean boys to beg in Bissau and exploit Guinea-Bissau’s weak institutions and porous borders to transport large numbers of Bissau-Guinean boys to Senegal—and to a lesser extent Mali, Guinea, and The Gambia—for forced begging in exploitative daaras.

The ongoing worsening of the Iranian economy, as well as serious and ongoing environmental degradation in Iran, have significantly exacerbated Iran’s human trafficking problem, particularly for vulnerable and marginalized communities such as ethnic minority groups, refugee and migrant populations, and women and children. Iranian and some foreign women and girls, as well as some men, are highly vulnerable to sex trafficking in Iran. Although prostitution is illegal in Iran, a local NGO estimated in 2017 that prostitution and sex trafficking are endemic throughout the country, and reports estimate sex traffickers exploit children as young as 10 years old. The government reportedly condones and, in some cases, directly facilitates the commercial sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of adults and children throughout the country; Iranian police, IRGC, Basij, religious clerics, and parents of victims are allegedly involved in or turn a blind eye to sex trafficking crimes. Poverty and declining economic opportunities lead some Iranian women to willingly enter commercial sex; traffickers subsequently force or coerce these women to remain in commercial sex.

Refugees, asylum-seekers, and stateless individuals who lacked the ability to obtain legal employment in Malaysia are vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Employers, employment agents, and illegal sub-agents exploit some migrants in labor trafficking primarily through debt-based coercion when workers are unable to pay the fees for recruitment and associated travel. Some agents in labor source countries impose onerous fees on workers before they arrive in Malaysia, and Malaysian agents administer additional fees after arrival—in some cases leading to forced labor through debt-based coercion. Large organized crime syndicates are responsible for some instances of trafficking. Employers utilize practices indicative of forced labor, such as restrictions on movement, violating contracts, wage fraud, assault, threats of deportation, the imposition of significant debts, and passport retention—which remained widespread—to exploit some migrant workers in labor trafficking on oil palm and agricultural plantations; at construction sites; in the electronics, garment, and rubber-product industries; and in homes as domestic workers.

Groups considered at heightened risk to human trafficking in Nicaragua include women, children, and migrants. Traffickers subject Nicaraguan women and children to sex trafficking within the country and in other Central American countries, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Victims’ family members are often complicit in their exploitation. Traffickers increasingly use social media sites to recruit their victims, who are attracted by promises of high salaries outside of Nicaragua for work in restaurants, hotels, construction, and security. Traffickers also recruit their victims in rural areas or border regions with false promises of high paying jobs in urban centers and tourist locales, where they subject them to sex or labor trafficking. Nicaraguan women and children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in the two Caribbean autonomous regions, where the lack of strong law enforcement institutions, rampant poverty, a higher crime rate, and recent devastation from hurricanes Eta and Iota increase the vulnerability of the local population.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers—including government officials—exploit North Koreans in the DPRK and abroad. Within North Korea, women and children are exploited in sex trafficking. Female college students unable to pay fees charged to them by universities to meet demands set by the government were vulnerable to sex trafficking. Forced labor is part of an established system of political repression and a pillar of the economic system in North Korea. The government subjects its nationals to forced labor in North Korean prison and labor camps, through mass mobilizations, and in overseas work. The law criminalizes defection, and individuals, including children, who cross the border for the purpose of defecting or seeking asylum in a third country are subject to a minimum of five years of “labor correction.” In “serious” cases, the government subjects asylum seekers to indefinite terms of imprisonment and forced labor, confiscation of property, or death.

Although labor trafficking remains the predominant form of human trafficking in Russia, sex trafficking also occurs. Traffickers exploit workers from Russia and other countries in Europe, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, China, and DPRK in forced labor in Russia. Instances of labor trafficking have been reported in the construction, manufacturing, logging, textile, transport, and maritime industries, as well as in sawmills, agriculture, sheep farms, grocery and retail stores, restaurants, waste sorting, street sweeping, domestic service, call centers, and begging. Labor traffickers also exploit victims in criminal activities such as drug trafficking, facilitation of illegal migration, and the production of counterfeit goods. According to an NGO, foreign nationals increasingly enter the country illegally with the help of criminal groups, which subsequently increases the migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking. There are reports of widespread forced labor in brick factories in the Dagestan region. Experts estimate there were approximately 10-12 million foreign workers in Russia prior to the start of the pandemic, only 2.5 million of whom were formally registered; the government reported that nearly half of all migrants left the country as a result of the pandemic. Many of these migrant workers experience exploitative labor conditions characteristic of trafficking cases, such as withholding of identity documents, non-payment for services rendered, physical abuse, lack of safety measures, or extremely poor living conditions. According to an international organization, children of migrant workers are vulnerable to forced labor in informal sectors. According to press reports, 2.3 million Ukrainians resided in Russia, including more than one million who escaped Russian aggression in Ukraine. International organizations estimate up to 40 percent of these migrants were working unofficially and vulnerable to both forced labor and sex trafficking; most identified victims of forced begging in recent years are Ukrainian.

South Sudanese women and girls, particularly those from rural areas or who are internally displaced, are vulnerable to domestic servitude throughout the country. Male occupants of the household sexually abuse some of these women and girls while traffickers force others to engage in commercial sex acts. Prominent South Sudanese individuals in state capitals and rural areas sometimes force women and girls into domestic servitude. South Sudanese and foreign businesspeople exploit South Sudanese girls in sex trafficking in restaurants, hotels, and brothels in urban centers—at times with the involvement of corrupt law enforcement officials. South Sudanese individuals coerce some children to work in construction, market vending, shoe shining, car washing, rock breaking, brick making, delivery cart pulling, gold mining, begging, and cattle herding. South Sudanese and foreign business owners recruit men and women from neighboring countries—especially the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of the Congo, and Uganda—as well as South Sudanese women and children, with fraudulent offers of employment opportunities in hotels, restaurants, and construction, and they force them to work for little or no pay or coerce them into commercial sex.

Despite the territorial defeat of ISIS at the beginning of 2019, it continued to force local Syrian girls and women in ISIS-controlled areas into marriages with its fighters, and it routinely subjected women and girls from minority groups into forced marriages, domestic servitude, systematic rape, sexual slavery, and other forms of sexual violence. Incidents of human trafficking increased, and trafficking victims were trapped in Syria in 2014 when ISIS consolidated its control of the eastern governorates of Raqqa and Deir al-Zour. ISIS publicly released guidelines on how to capture, forcibly hold, and sexually abuse female slaves. As reported by an international organization, ISIS militants’ system of organized sexual slavery and forced marriage is a central element of the terrorist group’s ideology and systemic means of oppression. ISIS subjected girls as young as nine years old, including Yezidi girls abducted from Iraq and brought to Syria, to sexual slavery and other forms of sexual violence. Although ISIS no longer maintains territory inside Syria at the end of 2020, according to an NGO, approximately 2,800 Yezidi women and girls remain missing; reports indicate some of these women and girls remained with ISIS in eastern Syria or were held in Al-Hol camp.

State policies continue to perpetuate government-compelled forced labor; in 2016 and again in 2020, the ILO Committee of Experts noted the continued practice of forced labor in the cotton sector. To meet central government-imposed production quotas for the cotton harvest, local government officials require some soldiers, employees at private-sector institutions, and public sector workers—including teachers, doctors, nurses, and others—to pick cotton without payment, using coerced statements of voluntary participation, and under the threat of such penalties as dismissal, reduced work hours, or salary deductions. Local officials reportedly impose informal fees on public sector workers as a tactic to coerce them into picking cotton or otherwise profit from their inability or unwillingness to participate in the harvest. Some local authorities reportedly also threaten farmers with land expropriation if they attempt to register complaints about payment discrepancies or if they do not meet government-imposed quotas. Absent government measures to prevent, monitor, or address supply chain contamination, some goods containing cotton harvested through the use of forced labor may have entered international supply chains. In addition, the government compulsorily mobilizes students, teachers, doctors, and other civil servants for public works and community cleaning and beautification projects, such as the planting of trees and the cleaning of streets and public spaces in advance of presidential visits. Authorities have also forced public servants and students to serve in uncompensated support roles during government-sponsored events, such as the 2018 World Weightlifting Championship; similarly, financial hardships stemming from land expropriation, forcible evictions, and home demolition in advance of high-profile sporting events may have made some communities vulnerable to trafficking. Police reportedly conduct sweeps to remove homeless persons and subsequently place them in agricultural work or domestic servitude at the residences of law enforcement-connected families. Families living in poverty often compel children to serve as porters in local marketplaces. Workers in the construction sector and at small-scale sericulture operations are vulnerable to forced labor. Turkmenistan’s small stateless population—primarily consisting of undocumented residents with expired Soviet nationality documentation—are vulnerable to trafficking. Criminalization of consensual sexual intercourse between men makes some members of Turkmenistan’s LGBTQI+ communities vulnerable to police abuse, extortion, and coercion into informant roles; widespread social stigma and discrimination against LGBTQI+ individuals also compound their vulnerability to family-brokered forced marriages that may feature corollary sex trafficking or forced labor indicators. Residents of rural areas in Turkmenistan are at highest risk of becoming trafficking victims, both within the country and abroad.

As the economic situation continued to spiral into critical deterioration, more than 5.6 million Venezuelans have fled Venezuela to neighboring countries. Traffickers have exploited Venezuelan victims in Aruba, The Bahamas, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Curacao, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guyana, Haiti, Iceland, Macau, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Spain, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. Venezuelan women and girls were particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking in Colombia, Ecuador, and Trinidad and Tobago. In 2020, 23 percent of victims identified in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo were Venezuelan. In 2019, Spanish authorities reported that Venezuela was the number one source country for victims exploited in Spain. In 2019, NGOs noted an increase in cases of sex trafficking and forced labor in domestic service and, in 2020, an increase in cases of sex trafficking and forced labor in the mining sector within the country. Traffickers increasingly exploit Venezuelan men in forced labor in other countries, including Aruba and Curacao.

This list and data within was compiled from the us state department's 2021 human trafficking

in persons report. The report can be viewed by visiting

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