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 was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included resuming funding for victim service provision; significantly increasing identification of victims and assistance for repatriation; securing several convictions under new provisions of the amended criminal code; and initiating a new law enforcement campaign to curb fraudulent recruitment via social media. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities did not reopen any of the trafficking prosecutions discontinued without proper recourse in 2017 following enactment of the new criminal code, and some law enforcement officials reportedly continued to penalize victims for crimes committed as a result of their having been subjected to trafficking.
Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute all trafficking offenses using Articles 12.3 and 13.1 of the criminal code, including by opening investigations into crimes detected during research and prevention activities, and by reopening cases discontinued without proper recourse following enactment of the new criminal code. • 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. • Cease penalizing victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of having been subjected to trafficking, including by amending the Law on Petty Offenses to ensure sex trafficking victims are not detained or fined. • 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. • 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. • Allocate funding to support and expand both government and NGO-run shelters and other forms of victim assistance and protection, including for male victims. • 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. • Increase efforts to raise awareness on trafficking vulnerabilities among rural and border communities.
The government 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. 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. During the reporting period, the government investigated 17 trafficking cases (12 in 2017) involving 62 alleged perpetrators, 21 of whom were prosecuted (15 defendants under Article 13.1 and six under Article 12.3, compared to 19 in 2017). The National Police Agency (NPA) maintained an anti-trafficking unit, which conducted at least 11 of these investigations (none in 2017). Courts secured convictions in six trafficking cases—five under Article 13.1 and one under Article 12.3—compared to none in 2017. Authorities did not report full sentencing data, but NPA officials noted the trafficker convicted under Article 12.3 was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment. Upon enactment of the new criminal code in 2017, prosecutors dismissed as many as 26 trafficking cases that had been filed under a defunct criminal code article, rather than conducting assessments of 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 early 2018, but a decision remained pending at the end of the reporting period. 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 where traffickers targeted male victims and instead used provisions with less stringent penalties. The government resumed funding for training courses for law enforcement officers and social workers on trafficking, along with certain forms of in-kind support, including instructors and classroom spaces. 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. Rural prosecutors’ offices noted an acute need for additional training, resources, and dedicated personnel to properly handle trafficking cases. Municipal police in Zamiin-Uud, the largest port of entry on Mongolia’s southern border, held quarterly information-sharing sessions and conducted joint anti-trafficking operations with a counterpart agency in the neighboring Chinese city of Erlian. NPA officials also participated in capacity-building training in Korea and Thailand. Authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses, despite ongoing reports that some low-level law enforcement officials facilitated the crime.
The government increased efforts to protect victims. After three consecutive years without government funding for victim protection, the government provided 95 million tugriks ($35,950) to the primary anti-trafficking NGOs that continued to provide the vast majority of victim protection services. Two shelters run by the non-governmental Mongolian Gender Equality Center (GEC) were the main victim service providers in the country and received a large portion of this funding to expand their work. Only one of these shelters could accommodate male victims and neither was accessible to persons with disabilities. NPA investigators reported using a trafficking risk assessment checklist containing 11 questions to proactively identify victims among vulnerable populations; in practice, NGOs indicated victim identification and referrals were not sufficiently systematic and often depended largely on the awareness and initiative of individual officers.
Neither the government nor the GEC identified any foreign victims during the reporting period. However, civil society groups noted some improvement in these practices following increased government participation in foreign donor-funded training activities nationwide and with increased government funding for anti-trafficking activities. Authorities identified and referred at least 20 victims to NGO protection services (unreported in 2017). NPA officials referred eight Mongolian child sex trafficking victims to psycho-social and medical care, and the Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs (MOJHA) contracted with several NGOs to secure shelter services for 12 victims. The GEC assisted one victim of labor trafficking and 38 victims of sex trafficking (a total of 29 in 2017). According to the GEC, all of the adult victims were female, and six—one male and five females—were child sex trafficking victims. The GEC in turn formally supplied information on 10 cases involving 34 of the victims to the NPA for criminal investigations into the relevant suspects. The NPA’s Victim and Witness Protection Department reported it did not provide protection services to any trafficking victims in 2018.
Mongolia maintained a National Anti-Trafficking Program (2017-2021) and work plan aimed at improving prevention and protection efforts; unlike in previous reporting periods, the government allocated 709 million tugriks ($268,260) to implement this program (no funding in 2017). This budget allocation allowed border authorities to install and implement new immigration software to screen for trafficking indicators among 167 Mongolian children traveling internationally without parents or legal guardians; although they did not identify any victims among these children, border authorities provided them with passport inserts containing emergency consular contact information and shared their biometric data with law enforcement for continued monitoring.
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 2017. In an effort to address this issue in 2018, MOJHA created a working group and instituted an intra-governmental comment period to consider amendments to the Law on Victim and Witness Protection; these remained in draft form at the end of the reporting period. Article 15 of the anti-trafficking law stipulated that 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. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) Consular Department maintained a fund to assist Mongolian nationals subjected to trafficking abroad, but it was only available in cases involving organized crime syndicates or “grave harm.” In 2018, authorities repatriated at least 20 Mongolian individuals subjected to trafficking abroad—two from Malaysia, 17 from China, and at least one from Cambodia—a significant increase from a total of seven in 2017. MOJHA reported the MFA also provided psycho-social services to 15 of these victims.
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 their having been subjected to trafficking. Authorities claimed to have identified and protected 10 child sex trafficking victims among 415 individuals arrested during anti-prostitution raids in 2018, but they did not report on the status of charges brought against four underage girls arrested for prostitution in the last reporting period. Mongolian law did not provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries in which they could face retribution or hardship. In observance of a 2017 UN Security Council resolution, the government had reportedly repatriated the majority of North Korean labor migrants originally in Mongolia under the auspices of bilateral work agreements; authorities did not screen them for trafficking indicators. Some civil society and provincial government contacts expressed concern that a small number of non-diplomatic North Korean migrant workers remained in country and continued to face conditions indicative of forced labor.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. It increased 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. Authorities continued to work with an international organization to establish an integrated law enforcement statistical database, which remained in progress at year’s end. MOJHA provided nine million tugriks ($3,410) to a local NGO to conduct a labor exploitation study that included a forced labor prevalence component. The General Authority for Specialized Investigation (GASI) also conducted two large-scale surveys on children’s general vulnerabilities in horse jockeying and on child labor protection issues, respectively. Officials continued to disseminate a daily trafficking-themed public service announcement (PSA) on social media and television, in addition to distributing PSAs to police stations in all provinces. In the south, authorities also began 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 Ministry of Labor and Social Protection General Agency for Labor and Social Welfare had the authority to monitor labor agreements for foreign nationals working in Mongolia and for Mongolians working in countries that had bilateral work agreements with Mongolia. GASI had the authority to inspect labor contracts and monitor compliance with the law for all workers in Mongolia and to 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 48 hours’ advance notification before conducting an inspection, raising concerns that employers may have been able to conceal violations in the interim. Unlike in the prior reporting period, the government took measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor. Together with an international organization, MOJHA and NPA created, co-funded, and implemented a campaign to raise awareness on, investigate, and intervene in fraudulent online recruitment leading to sex trafficking and forced labor. Through these efforts, the government shuttered dozens of social media pages attempting to lure Mongolians into false employment opportunities abroad, and referred several cases for criminal investigation.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Mongolia, and traffickers 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, 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 subject women and girls to 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 may be on the rise.
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 subjecting women and girls to 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 subjecting children to sex trafficking and forced labor. Traffickers force 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 every six months; 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, Korea.
Chinese companies are increasingly 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.
North Korean and 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. The remaining North Korean laborers in Mongolia reportedly do not have freedom of movement or choice of employment, and companies allow them to retain only a small portion of their wages while subjecting them to harsh working and living conditions. Officials report 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 that corruption among some Mongolian officials facilitates sex trafficking in illicit establishments and impedes the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.