Human trafficking in China

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China is a main source and also a significant transit and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced labour and forced prostitution. Women and children from China are trafficked to Africa, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America, predominantly Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, and Japan for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour. Women and children from Myanmar, Vietnam, Mongolia, former USSR (except for Baltic States), North Korea, Romania, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan and Ghana are trafficked to China for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labour.[1][2]

U.S. State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons placed the country in "Tier 3" in 2017.[3]


According to the United Nations Palermo Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons of 2000, as part of the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, human trafficking involves "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons" by "the use of force or other means of coercion" with the "purpose of exploitation".[4]

The Protocol further explains "exploitation" as, at a minimum, "the sex work of others" and "other forms of sexual exploitation". A person is considered a "trafficked victim if he or she is involved in the above-mentioned situations, regardless of whether the person consents to it or not."[4]


A global map of human trafficking.

The United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking reports that around 600,000 migrant workers leave China annually to work overseas. This number accounts for those tracked by the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and does not include those who leave without documents. Perhaps up to 90% of the migrant workers are migrating through unregulated and uninformed channels.[4]

The number of female migrants is also rising rapidly, most of whom are young girls aged 17–25. It has been suggested that cross-border trafficking of women is increasing in China. Undocumented migrants who are trafficked into China mainly come from Vietnam, Russia, North Korea and Myanmar. The UNIAP states that many individuals have been trafficked from southwest China though Myanmar and eventually into countries like Thailand and Malaysia.[4]

The trafficking of individuals across countries has a wide array of purposes, ranging from commercial sexual exploitation and forced marriage to illegal adoption, forced labour, and begging.[4] For example, of the 8,000 Vietnamese women married to Chinese men in Guangxi province between 1989 and 1999, some were introduced by friends and relatives, and most were found to have been trafficked.[5]

Reports on Human Trafficking[edit]

According to a UNIAP study on the reports of human trafficking in China, there were 800 reported human trafficking cases reported in the print media between 2006 and 2007. The study found correlations between factors like age and gender with different types of human trafficking. For example, trafficking of young boys for adoption, and girls and young women for sexual exploitation were different instances of human trafficking that had a positive correlation with another factor.[5]

The main means of trafficking involved: fraud and deception, 37%; kidnapping, 26%; abuse of power or a position of vulnerability, 17%; and physical violence, 5%. 58% of the articles reported into which sector victims were trafficked: forced prostitution 19%; the entertainment industry, hairdressing or massage parlours 9%; brick kilns 9%; manufacturing 4%; domestic labour 3%; forced begging 3%; and others 11%.[5]

Geographic Distribution of Forced Laborers[edit]

According to the UNIAP report on human trafficking in China, 301 trafficking cases reported by the media from 2007 to mid-2008 were analysed to determine that Yunnan and Guizhou were the main source provinces of human trafficking.[5] Fujian, Guangdong, and Shandong were the primary destination provinces.[5] Henan province is both a source and destination for human trafficking.[5]

A correlation has also been found between sources and the destinations for trafficked victims. In provinces with the lowest GDP per capita in China like Yunnan and Guizhou, trafficked victims come from these areas. Provinces with the highest GDP per capita like Fujian, Guangdong, and Shangong, are the prime destinations for trafficked victims because there is a great demand and resources available to utilise forced labourers.[5]

China remains a significant source of girls and women subjected to forced prostitution throughout the world. During the year, Chinese sex trafficking victims were reported on all of the inhabited continents. Traffickers recruited girls and young women, often from rural areas of China, using a combination of fraudulent job offers, imposition of large travel fees, and threats of physical or financial harm, to obtain and maintain their service in prostitution.[6] Locations of sex trafficking of Chinese women and girls abroad vary widely, and sometimes are collocated with concentrations of Chinese migrant workers in factories, and mining and logging camps.[2]

Major Chinese Hubs for Human Trafficking[edit]

Internal trafficking is most pronounced among China's migrant population, which is estimated to exceed 150 million people.[2] Forced labour remains a serious problem, including in brick kilns, coal mines, factories, and on construction sites throughout China. There were numerous confirmed reports of involuntary servitude of children, adults, and migrant workers during the reporting period. As an example, in May 2009, media reports exposed a forced labour case at brick kilns in Anhui province, where mentally handicapped workers were subjected to slave-like conditions.[2]

In addition to internal trafficking of the migrant population in China, rampant trafficking is often also attributed to a decade-long one-child policy that resulted in gender imbalance, and a universal expectation to marry. Men in communities experiencing severe shortage of women are under strong pressure to find a bride. When they cannot afford to pay the high bride price for local women, they readily resort to purchasing brides kidnapped from other areas.[6]

Popular areas of origin for domestically trafficked brides are the poorer areas of Yunnan, Sichuan, and Guizhou where poverty renders women more vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers generally sell these women in distant areas, such as Shaanxi, Ningxia, Guangxi, Hainan, and Guangdong provinces with large gender imbalances.[6]

Types of Human Trafficking[edit]

Child Labour[edit]

One demographic particularly susceptible to forced labour is children. The U.S. Department of State has issued a report stating that "Chinese children are forced into prostitution, and various forms of forced labour, including begging, stealing, selling flowers, and work in brick kilns and factories; the children of migrants are particularly vulnerable to trafficking." [2] For example, there were reports that child labourers were found working in brick kilns, low-skill service sectors and in small workshops and factories. These reports found that the underage labourers are in their teens, typically ranging from 13 to 15 years old, but some are as young as 10 years old.[5]

In another instance, children in Xinjiang were forced to pick cotton as part of a "work-study" program, according to foreign media reports. They worked long hours and were exploited under this simple guise. Students do not have a voice in raising concerns about how they are employed and have no protection against any abusive work practice or dangerous conditions of being on the job.[2]

The overall extent of forced labour and child labour in China is also unclear in part because the government releases only limited information on the subject according to the report on trafficking issued by the U.S. Department of State.[5] In 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor issued a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor where China was attributed 12 goods ranging from bricks, coal and cotton to electronics, fireworks and Christmas decorations.[7]

Sex Trafficking[edit]

China's legal definition of trafficking does not automatically regard children over the age of 14 who are subjected to the commercial sex trade as trafficking victims.[2] Chinese laws only recognise forms of coercion other than abduction, such as threats of physical harm or non-physical harm, as constituting a means of trafficking. In the United States Department of State report, "Article 244 of the Chinese Criminal Law criminalises forced labour, but prescribes punishments of a fine or no more than three years imprisonment, and only if the circumstances are found to be 'serious' - penalties which are not sufficiently stringent." In addition, the definition of trafficking does not pertain to male victims of trafficking or adult victims of labour trafficking.[2]

The number of women suffering from sexual exploitation is exponentially increasing. Traffickers usually attract victims through false promises of high salaries and stable job incomes. Many women are deceived because of their poor education and they are often also marginalized minority groups who believe the false promises of traffickers who offer the hope of living an urban life.[8]

The problem of sex trafficking stems from the gender imbalance present in China. Women are most likely sold into provinces like Henan in which the gender imbalance is particularly stark and where there is a high demand for women. Often, men kidnap the women after enticing them with promises of employment and money, but later sell them to villages and other provinces. Trafficked women are often then forced into marriage and therefore suffer from prolonged sexual exploitation. Particularly, according to the article on "Human Trafficking and Smuggling in China" by Cindy Chu, trafficked women were usually aged between 20 and 50 in the past, but "recently most of them were under 20 and some were girls as young as 12 years old."[9]

Extraction of Organs[edit]

Six-year-old Guo Bin, who had his eyeballs removed due to organ trafficking [10]

The buying and selling of organs is prevalent in the black market of China. The organ trade is the trade of organs for organ transplantation. There is a shortage of organs available for transplantation which fuels a thriving black market for organs. Traditionally, Chinese culture dictates that organs should be buried and cremated in order for the individual to be reincarnated as a whole which has led to a dearth of bodies being donated. Therefore, China has resorted to harvesting organs from the bodies of prisoners for the use of organ transplants. According to an organ trafficking paper written by Budiani-Saberi and Delmonico, 11,000 transplants were performed in china using the organs of executed prisoners in 2006.[11]

Of the transplants performed, 8,000 were kidney transplants, 3,000 were liver transplants, and 200 were heart transplants. In 2006, the 8,000 kidney transplants alone in China would have accounted for at least 10% of the total number of annual organ transplants done in programs of organ trafficking. However, since China has recently adopted the Human Transplantation Act that bans commercial use of prisoner organs, China has reduced the number of transplants to foreign patients by 50% in 2007.[11]

According to a New Yorker Article written by Jiayang Fan, even though China performs more transplants annually than any country except the United States, less than one per cent of the population in need of life-saving transplants receives them (as compared to about twenty per cent in the United States). According to China's Ministry of Health, some 1.5 million people continue to wait for transplants.[10]


Although surrogacy in China is illegal, it is still a common practice among the wealthy Chinese population. In fact, in the past thirty years, over 25,000 children have been born to surrogate mothers in China.[12] Most of these surrogate mothers are recruited from the countryside and are paid around 140,000 yuan. The couples looking for a surrogate mother go through an unlicensed agency which acts like a middleman that establishes communication with women willing to rent their wombs. The growing demand for surrogate mothers is based upon the fact that many urban Chinese are marrying later and postponing child birth as work demands and the high costs of city living weigh couples down. In addition, vanity may also be involved as women continue to maintain their figures.[12]

In particular, couples look for surrogate mothers the year before the dragon so that their children can be born on an auspicious year. Many wealthy couples often hire more than one surrogate mother to ensure that eight babies are born because eight is a lucky number in Chinese culture. In-vitro fertilization also produces a higher chance of having twins or triplets, leading to circumvention of China's one-child policy. This exploitation of women's bodies has called for stricter laws against surrogacy. The Chinese Health Ministry has cracked down on many of these practices and even forced the abortion of the fetuses by the surrogate mothers when discovered.[12]

Anti-Trafficking Laws and Policies[edit]

Law Enforcement against Trafficking[edit]

As human trafficking is a prevalent problem within China, regulations and laws have been implemented in order to prohibit forms of trafficking. The Chinese government ratified the UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol in December 2009, which obligates China to prohibit all forms of trafficking and bring its domestic laws into conformity with international standards within 24 months. The U.S. Department of State reported that China had "arrested 19 of the country’s 20 most wanted traffickers and pursuit of criminal networks and organized crime syndicates involved in trafficking." [2]

The Chinese government passed a number of laws against trafficking and smuggling. The penalties for traffickers and buyers of the 'human goods' are high and severe. In fact, the laws against trafficking in women in China are as severe as the law prohibiting rape according to the U.S. Department of State in 2001.[2] However, the amount of corruption and weak enforcement by officials have impeded the successful implementation of such laws and programs. In addition, police complicity with smugglers has further exacerbated the problem, leaving women vulnerable to trafficking and forced marriage.[8]

Central Government Action[edit]

In a report by the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice, details have been provided into combating human trafficking in China. For example, the report states that "since combating trafficking in women and children started nationally in 1991, a large number of cases of trafficking in women and children has been solved and handled and offenders severely punished according to law."[13]

In 2008, courts nationwide convened to decide 1353 cases of trafficking in women and children which was a 9.91% increase of cases from 2007. In total, from the 1353 cases, 2161 offenders were sentenced, representing an 11.05% increase from 2007. Of those who were sentenced, 1319 were sentenced to more than 5 years of fixed-term imprisonment, life imprisonment, death, representing a 10.1% increase from 2007.[13]

In 2009, courts nationwide decided 1636 cases of trafficking in women and children, representing a 20.9% increase from 2008. In total, 2413 offenders were sentenced, representing an 11.7% increase from 2008. Of those who were sentenced, 1475 were sentenced to more than 5 years of imprisonment, life imprisonment, or death, representing an 11.83% increase from 2008."[13]

Organisations against Trafficking[edit]

Several organisations within China have dedicated efforts into ameliorating the human trafficking situation. For example, Save the Children is a program that has helped fund research to gain a clearer understanding into issues like migration, trafficking and street children to help promote safer migration. By educating children and young people about the dangers of trafficking, especially in communities of ethnic minorities, they will be better equipped to stay on their guard against trafficker organisations.[14]

According to a pamphlet created by Save the Children debriefing the current situation in China, the organisation is "helping to build networks that migrants can turn to when they arrive in their destinations." They created a safe migration textbook for children that has been instituted into the education system in the Ping Xiang, Guanzi province. There is also child protection work at children's activity centres in cities like Nanning, Kunming, Shenzhen, and Shanghai with huge migrant communities.[14]

Another organization called the All-China Women's Federation which is an anti-trafficking education campaign aimed at educating vulnerable women and children to protect themselves against prevailing social and cultural perspectives that propagate human trafficking. The All-China Women's Federation is also involved in a collaboration project with Vietnam to combat trafficking on the borders.[5]

Also, in 2016, a collaborative mutual help model (also referred to sometimes as P2P Insurance) launched a Child Safety scheme intended to mobilise the resources of all member to fund professional rapid investigation support (supporting the family and police efforts) in case a child from the community should go missing.[15]

Pressure from Human Rights/Activist Groups[edit]

Countries in ASEAN

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) signed their first human rights convention in November 2012 and committed itself to a trafficking agreement in 2014.[16][17] Original ASEAN member countries formed in 1967 included Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand. It has expanded to include Bruenei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam since then along with adding the ASEAN Plus Three of China, Japan, and Korea. These countries are dedicated to the fight against trafficking of people.[18]

This includes commitments to work together to prevent trafficking, to identify and protect the victims, and to ensure that offenders are punished. According to Helen Stacy, director of the CDDRL Program on Human Rights and a FSI senior fellow, human rights issues are becoming integrated into regional discussions on trade and economic development.[19] ASEAN, being a free trade organisation, has taken interest in human trafficking because countries have begun to recognise that if they want to claim national governance credibility, they have to at least acknowledge the problem, sign human rights agreements, and start cooperating with their neighbours in combating human trafficking.[19] One of the primary purposes of ASEAN is to prevent trafficking, protect victims and prosecute traffickers.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Patt, Martin. "Human Trafficking & Modern-day Slavery - China". Archived from the original on April 13, 2017. Retrieved May 22, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Country Narratives: Countries A Through F: Trafficking in Persons Report 2010: China (Tier 2 Watch List)". U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. June 2010. Archived from the original on November 27, 2019. Retrieved May 22, 2017.
  3. ^ "Trafficking in Persons Report 2017: Tier Placements". Archived from the original on June 28, 2017. Retrieved December 1, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c d e Zheng, Tiantian (August 19, 2013). "China: Sex Work and Human Trafficking (Part 1)". Fair Observer. Archived from the original on April 6, 2017. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "The Trafficking Situation in China". UNIAP. Archived from the original on March 5, 2011. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  6. ^ a b c Lee, June JH (2005). "Human Trafficking in East Asia: Current Trends, Data Collection, and Knowledge Gaps" (PDF). International Migration. 43 (1–2): 165–201. doi:10.1111/j.0020-7985.2005.00317.x. ISSN 0020-7985. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 18, 2014. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  7. ^ "List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor". United States Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs. September 30, 2016. Archived from the original on March 19, 2018. Retrieved December 20, 2016.
  8. ^ a b Chu, Cindy Yik-Yi (2010). "Human Trafficking and Smuggling in China". Journal of Contemporary China. 20 (68): 39–52. doi:10.1080/10670564.2011.520842. ISSN 1067-0564.
  9. ^ Davis, Kathleen (2006). "Brides, Bruises and the Border: The Trafficking of North Korean Women into China". SAIS Review. 26 (1): 131–141. doi:10.1353/sais.2006.0004. ISSN 1088-3142.
  10. ^ a b Fan, Jia Yang (January 10, 2014). "Can China Stop Organ Trafficking?". The New Yorker. Archived from the original on February 26, 2017. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  11. ^ a b Budiani-Saberi, D. A. (2008). "Organ Trafficking and Transplant Tourism: A Commentary on the Global Realities". American Journal of Transplantation. 8 (5): 925–9. doi:10.1111/j.1600-6143.2008.02200.x. PMID 18416734.
  12. ^ a b c Hays, Jeffrey (2008). "Birth Control, Surrogate Mothers and Abortions in China". Facts and Details. Archived from the original on April 21, 2017. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  13. ^ a b c "Laws and Regulations: Opinions on Severely Punishing Trafficking in Women and Children according to Law" (PDF). (Press release). Supreme People's Court, Supreme People's Procuraterate, Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Justice. March 15, 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 19, 2014. Retrieved October 10, 2014.
  14. ^ a b "China: Country Brief 2006" (PDF). 2007. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved October 11, 2014 – via
  15. ^ "Child Safety Community Help You Save Your Child". 2015. Archived from the original on December 10, 2017. Retrieved December 20, 2016: Digital Insurer
  16. ^ a b David, Fiona, ed. (2007). "ASEAN and Trafficking in Persons: Using Data as a Tool to Combat Trafficking in Persons" (PDF). International Organization for Migration. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved November 2, 2014 – via
  17. ^ "Overview: Association of Southeast Asian Nations". Archived from the original on January 25, 2018. Retrieved April 6, 2017.
  18. ^ "ASEAN Primer: Structure". 1999. Archived from the original on September 28, 2007.
  19. ^ a b Beges-Thysen, Sarah (January 11, 2013). "Combating human trafficking requires a regional approach, says Stanford scholar". Stanford University: Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law: Program on Human Rights. Archived from the original on March 12, 2017. Retrieved April 6, 2017.