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, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Mongolia remained on Tier 2. These efforts included prosecuting and convicting more traffickers and identifying more victims. The government also improved information sharing and coordination among ministries and with international partners and revised the law to provide legal assistance to adult and child trafficking victims. Courts increased court-ordered restitution to trafficking victims. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities investigated fewer trafficking cases and did not prosecute any alleged labor traffickers; courts did not convict a labor trafficker for the third consecutive year. For at least the 11th consecutive year, the government did not formally identify any male victims. Overlapping and at times conflicting criminal code articles complicated anti-trafficking judicial processes and continued to incentivize prosecutions and convictions under lesser charges.
- Increase efforts to implement and train officials on Articles 12.3 and 13.1 of the criminal code to investigate and prosecute sex trafficking and forced labor crimes – including those detected through child labor inspections and hotlines and handled in partnership with law enforcement counterparts in common destination countries – rather than under alternative administrative or criminal provisions that prescribe lower penalties.
- Review and amend anti-trafficking laws to eliminate conflicting or overlapping penalty provisions.
- Fully implement SOPs for victim identification and referral to protective services and train government officials, including police, immigration officers, child rights officers, and labor authorities, on their use to protect men and boys, foreign workers, domestic and foreign nationals transiting major border crossing areas, domestic coal transport workers, women and children living in mining communities, and LGBTQI+ persons.
- Improve coordination and information-sharing among anti-trafficking agencies, including police, prosecutors, and social services.
- Amend relevant laws to ensure victims have access to protection services regardless of whether officials initiate formal criminal proceedings against the alleged traffickers.
- Enact policies to fully institutionalize, make permanent, and allocate resources for the anti-trafficking Multidisciplinary Task Force (MDTF) by codifying it in the Law on Child Protection or formalizing it through regulations.
- 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.
- Amend Article 8 of the Labor Law to align its definitions with preexisting anti-trafficking laws, including by eliminating exemptions for compulsory labor in basic landscaping and cleaning.
- Allocate increased funding to support and expand both government and NGO-run shelters and other forms of victim assistance, including for male and LGBTQI+ victims.
- Strengthen efforts to monitor the working conditions of foreign workers in Mongolia and screen them for labor trafficking indicators, including by increasing funding, resources, and training for labor inspectors and allowing them to conduct unannounced inspections.
The government slightly increased law 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. Other provisions of the criminal code additionally criminalized some forms of labor and sex trafficking. Article 13.13 separately criminalized forced labor and prescribed fines, community service, probation, and/or one to five years’ imprisonment. 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. In previous years, some prosecutors reportedly charged child forced begging cases as misdemeanors, rather than as more serious offenses. Observers noted complex case initiation and referral procedures, restrictions on contact between anti-trafficking police and prosecutors, judicial officials’ general unfamiliarity with anti-trafficking laws, rapid turnover of investigators, and criminal code articles with overlapping and often conflicting definitions and penalty provisions at times hindered investigations and prosecutions.
The government initiated 12 sex trafficking and child sex trafficking investigations involving at least 20 alleged perpetrators (compared with 45 investigations involving 51 alleged perpetrators in 2021. The government did not report if any investigations resulted from police raids on saunas, massage parlors, hotels, karaoke bars, and other venues suspected of facilitating commercial sex (seven investigations resulting from raids in 2021). The government reported police monitoring of sex solicitation on social media led to 52 investigations; however, these cases were grouped with other pornography cases and it was unclear how many occurred on social media (23 investigations in 2021). Authorities initiated a new investigation into a case of alleged forced child labor in hazardous work, which may have amounted to labor trafficking; the case involved at least one alleged perpetrator and one child victim (compared with two forced labor investigations in 2021). Authorities investigated an additional 52 cases of unspecified forms of exploitation, some of which may have amounted to trafficking, involving 37 alleged perpetrators (compared with 41 cases and 51 perpetrators in 2021). Authorities initiated prosecution of 50 defendants for alleged sex trafficking crimes, including 10 defendants under Article 12.3, 19 defendants under 12.6, and 21 under Article 13.1 (compared with 22 in 2021, including four under Article 12.3, eight under Article 12.6, and 10 under Article 13.1). In addition, the Prosecutor General’s Office reported prosecuting 24 defendants under Articles 16.8 and 16.9 (“Advertising and dissemination of pornography or prostitution, inducement to a child” and “Advertising and dissemination of pornography or prostitution involving a child”), which carried lesser penalties; authorities did not provide sufficient detail to ascertain whether these cases featured trafficking elements according to international definitional standards. The government did not report how many proceedings initiated in previous reporting periods remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period (compared with 19 ongoing proceedings reported in the previous year). There were no prosecutions of an alleged forced labor crime under Article 13.13 (compared with one prosecution in 2021). Courts convicted 35 individuals for trafficking-related crimes in 2022 – an increase from 27 in 2021. Courts convicted 22 individuals under anti-trafficking articles, including 13 under Article 12.3 and 9 under Article 13.1, compared to three and 10, respectively, in 2021; they did not convict any labor traffickers for the third consecutive year (three in 2019). Courts also convicted 13 individuals under Articles 16.8 and 16.9; authorities did not provide sufficient detail to ascertain whether these cases featured trafficking elements according to international definitional standards. Courts reportedly sentenced 13 traffickers to terms ranging from three to five years’ imprisonment under Article 12.3; 16 traffickers were released on bail and one trafficker sentenced to up to three years’ imprisonment under Article 12.6; nine traffickers to terms ranging from one to eight years’ imprisonment under Article 13.1; and five traffickers to terms ranging from six months to three years’ imprisonment, four traffickers to fines, and four traffickers to community service under Articles 16.8 and 16.9 (compared with sentencing three traffickers to terms ranging from three to eight years’ imprisonment under Article 12.3; 10 traffickers to terms ranging from six months to 20 years’ imprisonment under Article 13.1; and four traffickers to terms ranging from six months to five years’ imprisonment under Articles 16.8 and 16.9 in 2021). Courts ordered a total of 22.46 million Mongolian tugrik (MNT) ($6,520) as restitution payments to 34 victims as part of sentencing under Articles 12.3, 13.1, and 16.8 (compared with 3.6 million MNT, or $1,050, under unspecified articles to three victims in 2021). In 2022, courts changed at least three cases initially investigated and prosecuted under Article 13.1 to prosecutions under Article 12.3, which imposed lower sentences for perpetrators once convicted under these lesser charges and frequently resulted in imprisonment in lower security prisons; in these three cases, courts sentenced four traffickers to three to five years‘ imprisonment and six traffickers to one to three years‘ imprisonment in low security prisons, and three traffickers to three to five years’ imprisonment in high security prisons. There were unverified allegations of police complicity in trafficking crimes leading to an investigation that remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. In prior years, officials who facilitated or abetted forced labor crimes received administrative sanctions in lieu of criminal penalties.
Authorities continued to categorize certain crimes as trafficking based on Mongolia’s more expansive legal definitions, culminating in law enforcement data that at times included cases involving child pornography, sexual extortion, and “organizing prostitution”; some of these cases also included trafficking elements in line with international definitional standards. In recent years, due to the misconception among many government officials that traffickers only exploit women and girls crossing borders, authorities rarely used Articles 12.3 or 13.1 to prosecute cases in which traffickers targeted male victims and instead used provisions with less stringent penalties. Civil society representatives reported various judicial entities often maintained conflicting or incomplete data on anti-trafficking case registration and history.
The National Police Agency (NPA) had an anti-trafficking police unit that investigated trafficking crimes under Criminal Code Articles 12.3, 13.1, and 15.3; a separate NPA cyber-crime division was assigned to investigate crimes under Articles 16.8 and 16.9. The Prosecutor General’s Office was primarily responsible for prosecuting traffickers and had a division assigned to specialize in supervising investigations of trafficking crimes and prosecuting trafficking cases. The police and prosecutors met to discuss complex trafficking cases in order to overcome legal barriers that delayed prosecutions.
The government continued organizing, facilitating, and providing funding and in-kind support for specialized training courses for law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and immigration officials on trafficking. Observers continued to describe an acute need for additional training, resources, and dedicated personnel to properly handle trafficking cases. Mongolia maintained mutual legal assistance agreements with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan, Russia, Thailand, the Republic of Korea (ROK), and Malaysia but did not provide data on their implementation.
The government increased efforts to protect victims. According to available data, police identified 56 female victims, 49 women exploited in sex trafficking and seven girls exploited in child sex trafficking. This compared with identifying 45 female victims of unspecified forms of trafficking in 2021. The seven identified girl trafficking victims younger than the age of 18 marked a decrease in the identification of child victims for the second consecutive year (14 girls younger than the age of 18 identified in 2021 and 24 in 2020). Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities likely detained and arrested some unidentified trafficking victims, particularly girl sex trafficking victims. NGOs indicated victim identification and referral procedures were vague, not sufficiently systematic, and often depended largely on the awareness and initiative of individual officers. In April 2022, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection (MLSP) adopted new guidelines and procedures for victim identification and referral to services; social workers and child protection workers began using the procedures. NPA investigators continued to use a victim identification checklist; however, use of this checklist was sporadic, and the process did not include screening of vulnerable groups. Additionally, district and provincial police lacked training on the checklist and local police may not have identified and referred victims to NPA investigators. Police, social workers, and labor inspectors reportedly identified 317 cases of child labor in hazardous work during joint inspections (a significant increase from one case identified in 2021), some of which may have amounted to trafficking. The government reported directly providing or referring all the children to protection services. Neither the government nor the primary service provider NGO identified any male victims for the 11th consecutive year, despite continued NGO reports of trafficking of men and boys. Authorities did not report identifying any foreign victims.
Government officials lacked training on how to identify and refer to care child victims of forced labor. Authorities at times collected discrepant data based on conflicting definitions of trafficking according to overlapping criminal code provisions, which in turn created bureaucratic challenges to supporting survivors. Redirection of human and financial resources to the pandemic response and public unrest at times negatively affected the capacity of front-line officers to identify victims of trafficking, particularly among child victims of forced labor.
The government allocated 30 million MNT ($8,710) to fund NGOs to provide shelter, psycho-social and medical care, and legal assistance. Authorities reported referring 19 child trafficking victims to government and NGO-run shelter services (compared with three children referred to government shelter services in 2021). NGOs continued to provide the vast majority of Mongolia’s limited victim services, in some cases with government assistance. NGOs reported assisting 45 sex trafficking and child sex trafficking victims, including 28 women and 17 girls. Civil society contacts expressed concern Mongolia’s complex referral system could have re-traumatized some victims due to the requirement they repeatedly recount their abuses at various stages. There were two NGO-run trafficking-specific shelters. The government operated 34 low-capacity temporary shelters and one-stop service centers for women and child victims of domestic and sexual abuse, including one NPA-operated shelter for victims of sexual violence and one temporary shelter operated by the Family, Child, and Youth Development Agency (FCYDA) for children, both of which could provide temporary shelter for trafficking victims. Authorities referred some victims from government-run shelters to NGO shelters for longer-term services. NGOs also operated two shelters for women and children escaping prostitution or sex trafficking; one of these shelters closed during the reporting period due to a security breach. There were no shelters for persons with disabilities, men, or the LGBTQI+ community. In practice, LGBTQI+ victims could receive shelter if they were minors, women, able to pass as cisgender women, and did not explicitly reveal their sexuality.
The Criminal Procedure and Law on Victim and Witness Protection provided protections for the physical security and privacy of victims and witnesses. The NPA anti-trafficking unit reported referring some trafficking victims to witness and victim protection services in 2022. 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 alleged traffickers, thereby potentially obstructing access to protective services for some victims. In prior years, some officials claimed victims could still access protection services regardless of whether relevant prosecutions had begun. Authorities did not provide victims with alternatives to speaking with law enforcement during investigations. Victims could provide testimony via video or written statements and could obtain employment and move freely within Mongolia, or leave the country pending trial proceedings; the government did not report any victims receiving these services during the reporting period. The government revised the Law on Legal Assistance to provide legal assistance to indigent and child trafficking victims. Article 15 of the anti-trafficking law entitled victims to compensation from traffickers, but officials and NGOs stated 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, and the Consular Department within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs 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” – a distinction that was unclear in application. In 2022, authorities partnered with NGOs to repatriate 12 Mongolian victims from Burma, compared with two Mongolian victims repatriated from Malaysia in 2021. Authorities did not repatriate any foreign victims in 2022 (at least one victim each to Fiji, the Philippines, and Burma in 2021).
Authorities charged sex trafficking victims with commercial sex offences committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Observers noted some victims did not self-report or testify due to fear they could face prosecution. Mongolian law did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries in which they could face retribution or hardship.
The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The government did not have a NAP; the government’s most recent NAP ended in 2021. The National Sub-Council, which had directed the previous NAP, met once during 2022. The MDTF, comprising 18 government and NGO representatives, adopted a Strategic Action Plan for 2022 to combat child trafficking. The MDTF met quarterly. In September, the MDTF assessed its progress on the Strategic Action Plan; the MDTF did not make the results available to the public. In 2022, the MDTF opened three child friendly spaces in police stations and provided guidelines for their use; conducted human trafficking monitoring at Mongolia’s international airport; and, in collaboration with NGOs and the Ministry of Education, trained teachers to prevent trafficking. Civil society observers continued to call on the government to issue policy guidance or enact legislation to make the MDTF a permanent entity. The government budgeted 227.8 million MNT ($66,170) to the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs (MOJHA) for anti-trafficking efforts for 2022; the National Sub-Council reported providing 30 million MNT ($8,710) to NGOs, 20 million MNT ($5,810) for awareness-raising activities, and 145.5 million MNT ($42,260) for purchasing equipment for the forensic institute (the government had previously budgeted 432 million MNT [$125,460] for implementation of the former National Anti-Trafficking Program’s activities, however, 96.4 million MNT [$28,000] of this was redirected to pandemic response expenses). In conjunction with international organizations and foreign donors, the government supported and participated in three research programs to inform its anti-trafficking coordination and assess prior efforts (compared with four studies in 2021); the final results of the assessments were not finalized at the end of the reporting period. The Prosecutor General’s Office also initiated two analytic studies on trafficking case prosecutions. Officials continued to disseminate a daily trafficking-themed public service announcement on social media and television, which included a Coordination Council for Crime Prevention-directed public awareness campaign on social media.
The government funded an NGO to maintain a hotline system; the NGO identified two victims through the hotline and referred them to services. FCYDA ran another 24-hour hotline that coordinated referrals to special welfare and protection, emergency response, and shelter services for child victims. The FCYDA hotline received 9,294 calls, including six calls on possible cases of child sex trafficking and 251 calls on cases of hazardous child labor, and the FCYDA reported referring 57 percent to child protection joint teams for services; some of these cases could have featured forced labor indicators. The government did not report if any of these calls led to police investigations.
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 the ROK and Japan; observers noted authorities did not always sufficiently implement these agreements to prevent labor abuses, including trafficking. In October, the government dissolved the General Authority for Specialized Investigation (GASI) – which 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 – and amended the Law on State Inspection to reallocate all state inspectors from GASI to their respective sectoral ministries, similar to the system in place prior to 2004. Private sector and NGO inspectors, supervised by a new Internal Monitoring Agency, conducted inspections that did not fall under specific ministries. Observers stated the new inspection process might make oversight of the smaller units more difficult and assessed this change led to fewer formal labor inspections during 2022. NGOs noted funding and resources for the inspectors were too low to provide comprehensive oversight. The government reported conducting 39 formal child labor inspections and 1,835 preventative assessments during 2022 but did not report formally referring any child victims of forced labor cases for investigation. Labor laws gave inspectors “unrestricted access to legal entities, organizations, and workplaces which are subject to inspection without prior notice,” however, the law still required inspectors to give employers two days’ advance notification before conducting an inspection in some cases, raising concerns employers could conceal violations in the interim. The labor law contained a provision outlining inspections without prior notification, but the government did not report implementing it in 2022. Labor laws explicitly prohibited labor agents from charging workers recruitment fees, confiscating workers’ identity or travel documentation, switching their contracts without consent, or garnishing or withholding their wages as collateral; authorities did not report information on implementation of these provisions.
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 exploit foreign individuals in sex trafficking and forced labor in Russia and the PRC prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. From January 2020 to January 2023, the Mongolia-PRC border closed to passenger and pedestrian traffic due to pandemic-related mitigation polices; during this time, observers reported transnational trafficking decreased and domestic trafficking reportedly increased. As of March 2023, most restrictions on border travel have been lifted but volume remains limited. Most sex trafficking of Mongolian victims from rural and poor economic areas occurs in Ulaanbaatar, provincial centers, and border areas. A 2018 civil society survey found domestic violence drives the vast majority of Mongolian trafficking victims to seek and accept unsafe employment opportunities on which traffickers prey; this vulnerability reportedly increased as a result of state-ordered residential quarantines during the pandemic. During periods of pandemic-related business closures, clandestine sex trafficking in private residences reportedly increased, including through the use of blackmail on social media as a coercive method. Traffickers exploit women and girls in sex trafficking in Mongolian hotels, massage parlors, illegal brothels, bars, and karaoke clubs, as well as in outdoor urban areas, sometimes through the lack of enforcement of local police. Traffickers often utilize online platforms to lure, groom, or blackmail Mongolian children into domestic sex trafficking. LGBTQI+ individuals are vulnerable to trafficking amid widespread discrimination that often jeopardizes their employment status and complicates their access to justice. Transgender women in particular are at higher risk of sex trafficking due to pervasive social stigma barring them from employment in the formal sector. Mongolian communities experiencing widespread unemployment due to the pandemic – especially women and informal sector workers – were more vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor. Tourists from Japan and the ROK reportedly engaged in child sex tourism in Mongolia in prior years; some civil society groups believe this practice persists, however pandemic-related flight restrictions and public health requirements likely limited the number of tourists traveling to Mongolia for child sex tourism between January 2020 and January 2023.
The ongoing development of the mining industry in southern Mongolia continues to drive growing internal migration, intensifying trafficking vulnerabilities. Prior to the pandemic, this was especially the case along the PRC-Mongolia border, but stringent border restrictions severely limited movement across the border between January 2020 and January 2023. Truck drivers transporting coal across the PRC border in Omnogovi Province who do not own their trucks are vulnerable to labor traffickers due to an arrangement under which employers confiscate their passports as collateral for their vehicles. Prior to pandemic-related Mongolia-PRC border closures in January 2020, coal drivers often waited in truck lines with minimal sleep, heating, or access to basic needs for weeks or months at a time until they received permission to cross and make deliveries in the PRC, where PRC-national employers and customers imposed wage deductions for the delays; this loss of income reportedly made them further vulnerable to labor exploitation. The families of coal transporters who were delayed at the border, who were injured, or who died as a result of the poor working conditions may also be vulnerable to sex trafficking due to ensuing economic hardships. Traffickers exploit women and girls in sex trafficking in these truck lines, along the coal transport roads connecting mining sites to the PRC border, at nightlife establishments in mining towns, and, in previous years, 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. Sex trafficking and child forced labor also occur in connection with artisanal mining. Some men in predominantly ethnic Kazakh regions of western Mongolia subject local women and girls to abduction and forced marriage as part of a cultural practice known as Ala kachuu, or “grab and run”; some of these forced marriages may feature corollary sex trafficking or forced labor elements. Traffickers force some children to beg, steal, or work in other informal sectors of the Mongolian economy, such as horseracing, herding and animal husbandry, scavenging in garbage dumpsites, and construction. Some Mongolian families are complicit in exploiting children in sex trafficking and forced labor.
Traffickers exploit Mongolian men, women, and children in forced labor and sex trafficking in the PRC, ROK, Türkiye as well as other countries in Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Officials believe Türkiye may be rising in prevalence as a destination country due to visa-free travel regimes, the availability of direct flights, and shifts in migration trends following the pandemic-related closure of the PRC border. Traffickers sometimes use drugs, fraudulent social networking, online job opportunities, or English language programs to lure Mongolian victims into sex trafficking abroad. Traffickers have forced Mongolian girls to work as contortionists – often under contractual agreements signed by their parents – primarily in Mongolia and Türkiye, and to a lesser extent in Hong Kong and Singapore.
Prior to the pandemic-related Mongolia-PRC border closure, Mongolian boys were 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 PRC border, provided they return with a chaperone once a month; this frequent facilitated transit also makes them more vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers compelled women and girls to work in domestic service and engage in commercial sex acts after entering into commercially brokered marriages with men from the PRC and, to a lesser extent, the ROK. PRC-based companies hired 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 micro-lending institutions in the PRC reportedly retained Mongolians’ passports as a form of collateral, leaving them vulnerable to immigration status-related coercion.
While pandemic-related border closures greatly limited the presence of foreign workers, PRC national 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. In prior years, some of them experienced contract switching when they entered the country, making them especially vulnerable to coercion due to ensuing immigration violations. When the border was open, some Russian and Ukrainian women entering Mongolia through PRC border crossings for short periods under visa-free regimes may have been sex trafficking victims. Observers report corruption among some Mongolian officials impedes the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.