Mongolia (Tier 2)
The Government of Mongolia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Mongolia remained on Tier 2. These efforts included convicting significantly more traffickers and identifying more victims than the previous reporting period. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities did not identify any foreign or male victims, nor did they dedicate sufficient resources toward establishing standard identification or referral procedures. With the exception of forced child begging cases prosecuted under laws carrying insufficient penalties, officials did not detect or initiate any investigations or prosecutions of forced labor.
Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses using Articles 12.3 and 13.1 of the criminal code, rather than under alternative criminal provisions that prescribe significantly lower penalties. • Increase efforts to detect, investigate, prosecute, and secure convictions for forced labor crimes. • Impose adequate sentences on convicted traffickers to include time in prison. • Amend relevant laws to ensure victims’ access to protection services regardless of whether officials initiate formal criminal proceedings against their alleged traffickers. • Systematize and fully implement formal procedures to guide government officials, including police, immigration, and labor authorities, in victim identification and referral to protective services, especially among foreign workers, domestic and foreign nationals transiting major border crossing areas, women and children living in mining communities, and LGBTI persons. • Strengthen interagency coordination to combat trafficking and protect victims. • Amend Articles 16.1 and 16.4 of the criminal code to increase prescribed penalties such that they are in line with penalties for other child trafficking crimes. • Allocate additional resources for, and increase efforts to train officials on, implementation of anti-trafficking provisions of the criminal code, especially among rural prosecutors’ offices. • Allocate increased funding to support and expand both government and NGO-run shelters and other forms of tailored victim assistance and protection, including for male victims and children. • Expand the availability of assistance funds to all Mongolian victims identified abroad, regardless of what form of trafficking they experience. • Strengthen efforts to monitor the working conditions of foreign laborers employed in Mongolia, and screen them for labor trafficking indicators, including by increasing funding and resources for labor inspectors and allowing them to conduct unannounced inspections.
The government maintained enforcement efforts. Article 13.1 of the criminal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking; it prescribed penalties of two to eight years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and five to 12 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. Article 12.3 of the criminal code criminalized sexual exploitation offenses, including some forms of sex trafficking; penalties ranged from two to eight years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving individuals older than the age of 14, and 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment for those involving children younger than the age of 14. As in prior years, authorities sometimes prosecuted trafficking crimes under statutes carrying lesser penalties. Articles 16.1 and 16.4 criminalized “inducing a child to the committing of a crime” and “forcing a child into begging,” respectively; they both prescribed penalties of a travel ban for one to five years or one to five years’ imprisonment. Some prosecutors reportedly charged child forced begging cases as misdemeanors, rather than as criminal offenses. Observers noted complex case initiation and referral procedures, coupled with restrictions on contact between anti-trafficking police and prosecutors, at times hindered investigations and prosecutions.
During the reporting period, the government initiated 10 investigations involving 24 alleged perpetrators (compared to 17 investigations involving 62 alleged perpetrators in 2018). The National Police Agency (NPA) maintained an anti-trafficking unit, which conducted all 10 of these investigations (11 in 2018 and none in 2017). Six investigations of alleged sex trafficking crimes initiated in the previous reporting period were ongoing. Authorities did not initiate any new investigations or prosecutions of alleged forced labor crimes during the reporting period, but they concluded three forced labor prosecutions cases initiated in a prior year. They newly prosecuted three defendants under Article 12.3 and six under Article 13.1 (compared to six and 15, respectively, in 2018). Of the prosecutions initiated in 2018, 12 cases under Article 12.3 and 13 cases under Article 13.1 remained in process at the end of the reporting period; authorities referred two of the former and four of the latter for full trial in 2019. Courts convicted 12 individuals under anti-trafficking articles in 2019—three for forced labor and nine for sex trafficking—compared to six total in 2018 and none in 2017. Courts also convicted 10 individuals under Article 16.1 and two under Article 16.4 (unreported in 2018). Authorities did not report full sentencing data, but Judicial General Council officials reported courts sentenced nine traffickers to prison terms ranging from five to eight years’ imprisonment and restitution payments to at least one victim amounting to 798,400 Mongolian tugriks ($290).
Upon enactment of the new criminal code in 2017, prosecutors dismissed as many as 26 trafficking cases filed under a defunct criminal code article, rather than assessing each case to determine whether the relevant allegations fell under Articles 13.1 and 12.3. The Prosecutor General’s Office then established a working group to reassess and consider formally reinstating these cases in 2018; authorities did not provide information on its findings during the reporting period, nor did they reopen any of the cases. In previous reporting periods, international observers expressed concern that the government’s provision of early release to some incarcerated traffickers was excessively lenient and possibly contributed to continued incidence of the crime.
Due to the misconception among many government officials that traffickers only exploit women and girls, authorities rarely used Articles 13.1 or 12.3 to prosecute cases in which traffickers targeted male victims and instead used provisions with less stringent penalties. The government continued organizing, facilitating, and providing funding and in-kind support for specialized training courses for law enforcement officers and social workers on trafficking. However, law enforcement authorities noted judiciary officials’ general unfamiliarity with trafficking-specific provisions of the criminal code continued to lead to lesser charges in some cases. Contacts described an acute need for additional training, resources, and dedicated personnel to properly handle trafficking cases. Mongolia maintained mutual legal assistance agreements with China, Thailand, and Malaysia. As in prior years, authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.
The government increased some efforts to protect victims. The government provided little victim protection; NGOs continued to provide the vast majority of victim services, which remained limited. Two NGO-operated shelters were the main victim service providers in the country; only one could accommodate male victims, and neither was accessible to persons with disabilities. The government ran at least two shelters that housed trafficking victims alongside victims of domestic violence and other forms of abuse; contacts reported child sex trafficking victims experienced further sexual abuse within two of these shelters due to poor oversight and lack of specialized care. NPA investigators reported using a trafficking risk assessment checklist containing 11 questions to identify victims; however, contrary to prior reporting, this process did not include screening of vulnerable groups. In practice, NGOs indicated victim identification and referral procedures were vague, not sufficiently systematic, and often depended largely on the awareness and initiative of individual officers.
Neither the government nor the primary service provider NGO identified any foreign or male victims during the reporting period, despite the prevalence of trafficking observed among both groups. Authorities did not maintain complete statistical records on victim identification or service provision. According to available data, police identified 68 female trafficking victims, including 20 girls, an increase from 20 total victims identified in 2018. Authorities referred five Mongolian victims to NGO shelter services during the reporting period (eight to psycho-social and medical care in 2018) and 11 to NGO-provided legal assistance (unreported in 2018). One NGO assisted 34 Mongolian victims of sex trafficking (one victim of forced labor and 38 victims of sex trafficking in 2018). These included one victim returned from the Philippines, one returned from China, and 32 whom traffickers had exploited within Mongolia. The same NGO, in turn, formally supplied information on 12 cases involving 20 of the victims to the NPA for criminal investigations into the relevant suspects. The NPA’s Victim and Witness Protection Department reportedly staffed psychologists who were equipped to handle domestic violence cases, but they did not provide services to any trafficking victims in 2019. Among victims identified in 2019, 25 received protection services under the auspices of a South Korea-funded project focused primarily on preventing violence against women and providing assistance to victims of sexual exploitation; this included direct assistance for 12 individuals, referral to social programs for 10, and vocational training for three. Another NGO conducted screenings for at-risk women and girls at a key border crossing with China, at times advising some of them not to travel and providing them with information on available assistance options. However, border authorities and law enforcement officials did not report using this information in proactive identification or referrals.
Mongolia maintained a National Anti-Trafficking Program (2017-2021) and work plan aimed at improving prevention and protection efforts; the government allocated 509 million tugriks ($186,210) to implement this program (709 million tugriks ($259,370) in 2018 and no funding in 2017). This budget allocation allowed border authorities to continue using immigration software to screen for trafficking indicators among hundreds of Mongolian children traveling internationally with and without their parents or legal guardians; although they did not identify any victims among these children, border authorities prevented 105 of them from traveling as a result of detected vulnerabilities (none in 2018).
Article 8.1 of the criminal procedural code included language that reportedly denied trafficking victims’ access to protective services until prosecutors had initiated cases against their alleged traffickers, thereby obstructing access to protective services for some victims. In an effort to address this issue in 2018, the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs (MOJHA) created a working group and instituted an intra-governmental comment period to consider amendments to the Law on Victim and Witness Protection. However, authorities did not report on the outcome, status, or projected timeframe of that review process, and some officials claimed victims were able to access protection services regardless of whether relevant prosecutions had begun. Article 15 of the anti-trafficking law stipulated victims were entitled to compensation for damages wrought by their traffickers, but officials and non-government observers agreed inconsistencies between the criminal code and the civil code made this provision impossible to fully implement. Mongolia’s Immigration Agency, the General Authority for Border Protection (GABP), and the Consular Department within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) shared responsibility for handling cases involving Mongolian trafficking victims abroad. The latter maintained a fund to assist Mongolian victims, but it was only available in cases involving organized crime syndicates or “grave harm.” In 2019, authorities repatriated three Mongolian victims—one each from China, Kyrgyz Republic, and the Philippines—a significant decrease from a total of 20 in 2018. Authorities did not report providing psycho-social or other rehabilitative services to any of these victims.
Unlike in 2018, authorities reportedly did not arrest any minors as part of anti-prostitution raids during the reporting period. However, Mongolia’s Law on Petty Offenses, which allowed authorities to detain anyone apprehended on suspicion of prostitution for seven to 30 days, reportedly continued to place some victims at risk of penalization for crimes committed as a direct result of unlawful acts their traffickers compelled them to commit. Contacts also noted some victims were hesitant to self-report or testify due to fear they may face prosecution for such crimes. Mongolian law did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries in which they could face retribution or hardship. The Immigration Agency deported more than 1,500 foreign nationals to 26 countries during the reporting period; as screening procedures were neither universally implemented nor sufficient to detect all cases of trafficking, it is possible this figure included undetected trafficking victims.
The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. It decreased funding to the National Anti-Trafficking Program (2017-2021) and corresponding work plan. Under the management of a National Sub-Council, the program aimed to provide technical guidance on trafficking prevention and coordinate interagency efforts to implement relevant legislation; however, some contacts continued to express concern over insufficient interagency coordination. With funding from the Government of South Korea, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection (MLSP) partnered with an NGO to conduct a survey on “vulnerability to prostitution and sexual exploitation” that included trafficking elements. The General Authority for Specialized Investigation (GASI) also conducted three large-scale surveys on child labor and protection issues during the reporting period. The Family, Child, and Youth Development Agency began assembling a large database containing information on at-risk populations, and it collaborated with an international organization to establish multidisciplinary committees focusing on at-risk children’s rights and protections at the district and provincial capital levels; some of this work included anti-trafficking equities. The government also provided 20 million tugriks ($7,320) to an NGO for maintenance of a hotline system, through which one sex trafficking investigation was initiated.
Officials continued to disseminate a daily trafficking-themed public service announcement (PSA) on social media and television, and they expanded the PSAs to key rail lines connecting Mongolia to Russia and China. Authorities also continued to distribute PSAs to police stations in all provinces. Border officials provided approximately 50,000 Mongolian nationals with passport inserts explaining trafficking vulnerabilities and listing information on victim assistance options; recipients included nearly 1,000 Mongolian children traveling abroad for sporting competitions and cultural events known to feature trafficking vulnerabilities, including horse racing, acrobatics, and contortionism. In the south, authorities also continued conducting anti-trafficking awareness-raising activities for hundreds of students and local medical professionals specializing in adolescent care in an effort to address trafficking vulnerabilities among youth crossing into China for employment opportunities.
The MLSP’s General Agency for Labor and Social Welfare had the authority to monitor labor agreements for foreign nationals working in Mongolia, as well as those for Mongolians working in countries that had bilateral work agreements with Mongolia. The government maintained such agreements with South Korea, Czech Republic, and Japan; observers noted these agreements were not always sufficiently implemented to prevent labor abuses, including trafficking. GASI had the authority to inspect labor contracts, monitor compliance with the law for all workers in Mongolia, and conduct inspections of working conditions in Mongolian formal sector establishments. Officials and NGOs noted funding and resources for the inspectors were too low to provide comprehensive oversight, and the government did not report statistics on, or the outcomes of, these inspections. Moreover, GASI was required to give employers five days’ advance notification before conducting an inspection in most cases, raising concerns that employers may have been able to conceal violations in the interim. Authorities reportedly began a formal process to consider amendments outlining unannounced inspections, but it had not concluded the process at the end of the reporting period. Unlike last year, the government did not take measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. In 2018, the government worked with an international organization to jointly launch a campaign to raise awareness on, investigate, and intervene in fraudulent online recruitment leading to sex trafficking and forced labor; authorities did not continue this campaign during the reporting period.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mongolia, and they exploit victims from Mongolia abroad. Traffickers may also use Mongolia as a transit point to subject foreign individuals to trafficking in Russia and China. Traffickers subject Mongolian men, women, and children to forced labor in China, Kazakhstan, Norway, Sweden, and Turkey, and to sex trafficking in Belgium, Cambodia, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea, Sweden, Turkey, and the United States, as well as in Mongolia. Traffickers sometimes use drugs, fraudulent social networking, online job opportunities, or English language programs to lure Mongolian victims into sex trafficking. Most sex trafficking of Mongolian victims from rural and poor economic areas occurs in Ulaanbaatar, provincial centers, and border areas. One recent civil society survey found domestic violence drove the vast majority of Mongolian trafficking victims to seek and accept unsafe employment opportunities that left them vulnerable to traffickers. Traffickers exploit women and girls in sex trafficking in Mongolian massage parlors, illegal brothels, hotels, bars, and karaoke clubs, sometimes through the permissive facilitation of local police. Transgender women are reportedly at higher risk of sex trafficking due to pervasive social stigma barring them from employment in the formal sector. Tourists from Japan and South Korea have reportedly engaged in child sex tourism in Mongolia in prior years; some civil society groups believe this practice persists.
The ongoing development of the mining industry in southern Mongolia continues to drive growing internal and international migration, intensifying trafficking vulnerabilities—especially along the China-Mongolia border. Truck drivers transporting coal across the Chinese border in Omnogovi Province are often more vulnerable to labor traffickers due to an arrangement under which employers confiscate their passports as collateral for their vehicles. These drivers often wait in truck lines with minimal sleep for weeks or months at a time until they receive permission to cross and make deliveries in China, where customers impose wage deductions for the delays; this loss of income reportedly makes them further vulnerable to labor exploitation. Traffickers are increasingly exploiting women and girls in sex trafficking in these border crossing truck lines, along the coal transport roads connecting mining sites to the Chinese border, at nightlife establishments in mining towns, and at entertainment sites across the border in Inner Mongolia. Mining workers sometimes leave their children at home alone while on extended shift rotations, during which time the children are at elevated risk of sex trafficking. Child forced labor also occurs in connection with artisanal mining.
Traffickers force some children to beg, steal, or work in other informal sectors of the economy, such as horseracing, herding and animal husbandry, scavenging in garbage dumpsites, and construction. Some families are complicit in exploiting children in sex trafficking and forced labor. In previous years, traffickers have forced Mongolian girls to work as contortionists—often under contractual agreements signed by their parents—primarily in Mongolia and Turkey, and to a lesser extent in Hong Kong and Singapore. Mongolian boys are at high risk of forced labor and sex trafficking under visa regimes that enable them to work indefinitely as horse jockeys and circus performers across the Chinese border, provided they return with a chaperone once a month; this frequent facilitated transit also makes them more vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers compel women and girls to work in domestic service and engage in commercial sex acts after entering into commercially brokered marriages with men from China and, to a lesser extent, South Korea.
Chinese companies increasingly are hiring Mongolian men and boys to work at agricultural operations for compensation far below minimum wage and under ambiguous immigration status, placing them at high risk of trafficking. Some Chinese micro-lending institutions reportedly retain Mongolians’ passports as a form of collateral, leaving them vulnerable to immigration status-related coercion.
Chinese workers employed in Mongolia are vulnerable to trafficking as contract laborers in construction, manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fishing, hunting, wholesale and retail trade, automobile maintenance, and mining. Some of them experience contract switching when they enter the country, making them especially vulnerable to coercion due to resultant immigration violations. In previous years, North Koreans also experienced forced labor in these industries; they reportedly did not have freedom of movement or choice of employment, and companies allowed them to retain only a small portion of their wages while subjecting them to harsh working and living conditions. Pursuant to a 2017 UN Security Council resolution requiring the repatriation of all North Korean nationals earning income overseas by the end of 2019, subject to limited exceptions, the government reportedly repatriated all North Korean labor migrants covered under the relevant provision. Some Russian and Ukrainian women entering Mongolia through Chinese border crossings for short visits under visa-free regimes may be sex trafficking victims. Observers report corruption among some Mongolian officials facilitates sex trafficking in illicit establishments and impedes the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.