Human Trafficking in Lebanon
Human trafficking in Lebanon is rampant and requires reform. Someone once asked Paul, a volunteer for the Catholic Church in Beirut, Lebanon, how he knows that most female prostitutes are trafficking victims? Paul answered that when he attempted to help a trafficking victim contact an NGO, her captors assaulted him.

The Situation

Paul is just one of the many workers on the frontlines fighting against human trafficking in Lebanon. Lebanon’s government is improving its work to stop human trafficking, but Lebanon remains on Tier 2 according to the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons report. The Tier 2 standing means that Lebanon has not met the minimum standards to eliminate human trafficking.

Human traffickers target certain groups such as Syrian refugees, illegal migrants, domestic workers and women with artiste visas. Employers lure in workers and artistes under the guise of employment and then withhold their wages or passports to control them. Meanwhile, migrants and refugees come into the country with nothing leaving them open to capture. Poverty affects these targeted groups making it easier for employers and traffickers to control them. Lebanon has struggled with human trafficking because of various problems, including its past legislation and misguided judicial system.

Human Trafficking Issues in Need of Reform

  1. Lebanon’s human trafficking network is immense. The International Security Forces (ISF) and General Directorate of General Security (GDS) commented that even traffickers further down the chain of command contact more extensive organized networks. Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, and the town of Jounieh are where most human trafficking victims end up. Even though the ISF was able to identify 29 trafficking victims in 2017, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) believes the number of victims is in the thousands.
  2. The country’s laws place a significant strain on the victims because women can work as licensed prostitutes, but Lebanon’s government has not supplied licenses since the 1970s. However, after 1990, the country made secret prostitution, or prostitution without a license, illegal. Foreign women come to Lebanon to work as dancers in nightclubs under an artiste visa. The visa’s terms restrict the women to the hotels they live in and give nightclub owners power over the women allowing them to withhold their wages and passports. Traffickers also exploit these women through physical or sexual abuse.
  3. Ashraf Rifi, who served as minister of justice between 2014 and 2016, and ISF director-general from 2005 to 2013, commented that Lebanon needs to change how it combats human trafficking. Rifi went on to mention how there is corruption at high levels and even corruption within the ISF. In 2018, authorities arrested Johnny Haddad, the head of an ISF department, on charges of corruption involving prostitution networks. The organization’s ethics committee placed him under investigation. If anti-trafficking organizations’ leaders experience compromise, fighting traffickers becomes even more difficult than it was before.
  4. For trafficking victims in Lebanon, the courts frequently show no remorse. After studying 34 different trafficking cases, lawyer Ghida Frangieh concluded a double standard in the judge’s treatment concerning prostitution and begging. Forced begging cases nearly always received the label of being a trafficking case, while in the case of prostitution, the judge would frequently find there was some level of consent. The problem here is that the U.N. Convention on Human Trafficking stated that consent is irrelevant in trafficking cases because traffickers could beat or kill victims if they do not consent.

Even though Lebanon struggles with human trafficking, it is making progress in combatting these human traffickers. Lebanon has focused on improving its identification of trafficking victims and bringing shadowy trafficking networks into the light.

How Lebanon is Fighting Against Human Trafficking

  1. In 2016, Lebanon shut down Chez Maurice, the largest human trafficking network in the country. Chez Maurice held more than 75 Syrian women in a house with blacked-out windows, only allowed to leave to have abortions or receive treatment for venereal disease. The organization lured the Syrian refugees by offering them jobs, such as restaurant work, and then imprisoned them. While there, the captors sexually and psychologically abused the women. After discovering the human trafficking network, authorities took those responsible into custody, and they are currently awaiting trial.
  2. Lebanon’s government has yet to completely satisfy the minimum requirements for human trafficking’s eradication, but it is making significant strides to change that. The government increased investigations into trafficking cases and improved its ability to identify trafficking victims. For example, in 2016, the ISF only investigated 20 human trafficking cases, while in 2018, it investigated 45 cases. This change may show an improvement in identifying trafficking victims. Lebanon’s government has improved its relationships with NGOs such as Legal Agenda or Kafa, leading to more effective cooperation with screening possible victims in government-controlled migrant detention facilities.
  3. The government has done great work investigating potential human trafficking cases, but it still has room for improvement. The GDS reported 124 of 167 cases, which ended with a referral to authorities for investigation, giving back pay to workers and repatriation for migrant workers. The MOJ reported prosecutor referred about 38 cases to judges for further analysis leading to 69 alleged traffickers’ prosecutions involving different types of human trafficking. Since numerous cases have overloaded Lebanon’s judicial system, it took time to resolve these cases, but the system settled them, nonetheless.

Lebanon is steadily improving in its fight against human trafficking. Human trafficking in Lebanon is still happening, but its people continue to work towards eradicating it.

– Solomon Simpson
Photo: Flickr

Human Trafficking in the Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands, located in the northwestern Pacific Ocean, has had its fair share of organized crime. Many in this country are in danger of human trafficking. Fortunately, the government is stepping in to address human trafficking in the Marshall Islands.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. Victims are often swindled for labor and sexual abuse. The International Labor Organization estimates that 12.3 million people globally have been forced into involuntary labor, involuntary child labor, bonded labor and sexual subjugation.

In order to combat this, the U.S. Congress created the Trafficking Victims Protection Act to end worldwide human trafficking. A specific tool utilized is the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which evaluates the government response in countries with reputations of human trafficking. The governmental endeavors to end trafficking are the foundations for the annual country report of three tiers.

The Marshall Islands rank in Tier 3, which means they do not entirely act in accordance with the minimum guidelines for the abolishment of trafficking and there are no major efforts to accomplish this. Sex trafficking in the Marshall Islands is of particular concern, with many women of Marshallese and East Asian descent being targeted.

Recent Example

In late 2019, Paul Petersen, a public official in Arizona, was arrested for the trafficking of Marshallese women. The multi-million dollar scheme involved smuggling pregnant women into the U.S. and then profiting from their newborns.

As the owner of an adoption law firm, Petersen falsified documentation on the mothers’ residency and then charged parents in the U.S. tens of thousands of dollars for the newborns. According to Duane Kees, the U.S. attorney for the western district of Arkansas, “Many of these mothers described their ordeal as being treated like property.”

While this case is being addressed in the U.S., efforts to prevent women from being taken from the Marshall Islands are also needed. One of the difficulties of human trafficking, however, is that it often occurs internationally, making it hard to find traffickers and their victims.

Government Efforts

The Republic of the Marshall Islands’ government is taking action to eliminate human trafficking. These actions include starting their first trafficking prosecution in just under a decade while also initiating an investigation on an immigration officer for reputed trafficking collaboration. Due to increased efforts, the Marshall Islands have recently risen to Tier 2.

Efforts to address human trafficking in the Marshall Islands can be categorized as prevention, protection or prosecution. To help prevent human trafficking, the government banned unregistered visitors on foreign fishing boats in Majuro. It also required crewmen to bring their ships in by nightfall.

To protect victims of human trafficking, the government created a network of safe houses for women aged 14 to 18. Other protection services provided by the government include legal assistance, counseling and examinations for sexually transmitted diseases.

In terms of improving prosecution, the government has been establishing more specific punishments for human trafficking. The Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act criminalized labor and sex trafficking and authorized punishments of up to 15 years in prison as well as a fine of $10,000.

Moving Forward

Human trafficking in the Marshall Islands has decreased, but more work needs to be done to eliminate it completely. Moving forward, the government and other humanitarian organizations must prioritize addressing the root causes of trafficking, protecting victims and finding and prosecuting traffickers. Hopefully, human trafficking will continue to be on the decline in the coming years.

Shalman Ahmed
Photo: Flickr

Sex Work in Myanmar 
Ten months since the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, discussions of the numerous economic harms that the lockdown proposed are practically rote. Still, this familiarity does not detract from the importance of addressing these harms, particularly the more vicious and damaging among them. These descriptors apply to the lives of predominantly female former garment workers in Myanmar. Unemployed and facing poverty, many of these workers feel that they have had to enter sex work due to their new circumstances, despite sex work in Myanmar now being riskier and less profitable than it was before the pandemic.

The Situation

At the start of 2020, many considered Myanmar a growing hotspot for apparel manufacturing. The country’s cheap labor, numerous seaports and zero duty benefit on goods exported to the European Union have allowed its industry to follow in the footsteps of garment exporters like China, Vietnam and Bangladesh – garment exports have grown by almost $1 billion annually since 2015, totaling $4.37 billion in the first 11 months of FY 2018-19.

In the following months of lockdown, however, hundreds of thousands of garment workers experienced layoffs as 223 factories closed down. Reports from September 2020 claimed that the year’s garment orders fell by 75%-80% compared to those received in 2019, in line with widespread cancellations filed early on in the pandemic. The result has been a sharp spike in the number of jobless women in Myanmar.

Amid this precarity, many have turned to sex work as a way of sustaining themselves. One interviewee reported to the Guardian that “Especially the girls who worked for factories that have closed during the pandemic… They have to pay their rent and debts and feed their families. They have no option.”

About Sex Work in Myanmar

Besides being illegal, sex work in Myanmar has become more dangerous during the pandemic. Public spaces where workers previously found clients or conducted their business, like bars, massage parlors and hotels, are now largely closed under Myanmar’s social distancing protocols. As a result, workers must place themselves in more compromising scenarios to find clients.

One sex worker, which the Myanmar Times interviewed in June 2020, reportedly “found herself with alcoholics and drug addicts,” lacking the protection of her former “boss.” “At times she thought she’d be abused… assaulted or even killed.” Further, sex work brings workers into direct contact with people who may have COVID-19.

Sex work is also less profitable now. Where typical rates in Yangon rested between K15,000 and K30,000 before the pandemic, “many sex workers have reduced their prices to K5,000 during the COVID-19 outbreak.” This is because of the large influx of workers, but also because of a drop in clients.

Shamed in mainstream society, sex workers in Myanmar lack access to local support networks that are typically present in other countries. Many commonly view prostitution as a form of punishment inflicted for wrongs committed in past lives. International NGOs and medical organizations are providing the brunt of public resources out there.


In spite of these hardships, many of Myanmar’s new sex workers feel that the precariousness of their former jobs forced them into their situation. Garment factory strikes in April and May 2020 met with government arrests and anti-union labor laws. Leaders of these protests spent months in prison, missing out on earning time that their families needed to make it through the lockdown.

As an issue with upstream causes, many former garment workers who are now carrying out sex work are facing domestic violence, police stings and jail time, social stigma, STIs and COVID-19. Food Not Bombs (Myanmar), a local branch of the global NGO which has operated since 2013, has made public commitments toward aiding sex workers. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Food Not Bombs (Myanmar) has distributed foods, such as rice, oil and eggs, to people whose livelihoods have been interrupted due to lockdowns, targeting sex workers, trishaw drivers, food vendors and the elderly in particular. It donates food every other Sunday at community events that occur at the Mandalay Community Center in Mandalay, Myanmar.

Food Not Bombs (Myanmar) has also partnered with Yangon urban redevelopment NGO Doh Eain to provide cash transfers for street workers who can no longer earn a living under lockdown. The hope with these initiatives is that consistent donations of food and money will help out-of-work women sustain themselves through the lockdown. Stable, alternative means of sustenance will help reduce sex work in Myanmar by offering women a third option besides going hungry and putting themselves in danger.

– Skye Jacobs
Photo: Flickr