LAO PDR

Lao PDR Quick Facts:

Capital: Vientiane
Population: 6.6 million (2012)
Unofficial: 6.8 million (2014 estimate)
Estimated rural population: 64.7%
GDP per capita: US$ 1,417 (2012)
Human Development Index (HDI): 0.543 (2012)
HDI Rank: 138 (2012)
Neighbouring Countries: Cambodia, China, Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam

Contact Details:

Dr. Xoukiet Panyanouvong
National Project Coordinator
xoukiet.panyanouvong@undp.org
Direct line: +856 21 267 790

UN-ACT Lao PDR
Office of the UN Resident Coordinator
Lane Xang Avenue, PO Box 345
Vientiane, Lao PDR
Tel: +856 21 267777
Fax: +856 21 267 792 / +856 21 267 799

National Trafficking Trends
  • Primarily an origin country for human trafficking victims
  • The majority of Lao migrants travel abroad to Thailand in search of better work opportunities
  • Victim services are provided mainly by NGOs and International Organisations
  • Developments in transportation and communication networks have led to increases in migration and associated trafficking routes and patterns
  • Most cases of human trafficking start as voluntary movement or migration
  • Lao PDR is increasingly being used as a transit country for victims from China and Viet Nam
The Trafficking Situation

Lao PDR is predominantly a source country for human trafficking, with Lao nationals exploited for labour and sexual services in various regional countries, Thailand being the main destination. While some opportunities for regular labour migration do exist, a significant proportion of labour migration from Lao PDR to Thailand remains irregular, which carries inherent vulnerabilities to exploitation. Seeking better employment opportunities in neighbouring states, Lao migrants are susceptible to exploitation in the commercial sex trade, garment factories, domestic services, agricultural and construction industries and the fishing and seafood sectors. Trafficking of Laotians to Myanmar, China and South Korea for sexual exploitation and forced marriage has also been reported.

The role of brokers in trafficking patterns from Lao PDR to Thailand is insufficiently understood. The limited available evidence suggests that while broker operations certainly exist, a significant proportion of migration starts as a voluntary, self-determined process. Lao PDR has a long migratory history with Thailand as a result of geographic proximity, cultural and linguistic ties, and better economic opportunities available in the latter state. The vast majority of Lao migrants originate from the lowlands of the country and travel through formal and informal crossing points along the country’s borders. Distinct socio-economic differences between Lao PDR and neighbouring countries are a significant contributing factor to the supply of vulnerable migrants, with many Lao nationals keen to enhance their livelihood opportunities abroad. Reports indicate that substantial rural to urban migration has also created additional strains on the existing job market, serving as a further catalyst for many to migrate in search of work.

There is generally limited information about the perpetrators of human trafficking who exploit Lao victims. Traditionally, there has been a focus on recruiters and brokers, with less attention paid to persons and companies who own factories, brothels, fishing boats, and other locales where the majority of exploitation takes place. Recruiters for either internal or cross-border trafficking are often familiar to victims and there is little difference in the methods used for either domestic or transnational movement. It is also important to note that there are various types of recruiters, ranging from those who knowingly facilitate the trafficking of persons into exploitative situations, and others who strive to ensure the wellbeing of workers who employ their services. The limited impact rule of law and corruption remain significant problems in the country’s development and for anti-trafficking programmes in the country.

Anti-trafficking mechanisms at a glance
  • The National Steering Committee on Human Trafficking (NSC) is an inter-agency body headed by the Minister of Public Security (MPS), bringing together all relevant governmental anti-trafficking stakeholders
  • The NSC Secretariat is headed by the Deputy Director of the MPS Police Department
  • The Department of Prevention and Anti-Human Trafficking (DPA) includes six divisions:
    – Intelligence, Investigation, Awareness and Training, Secretariat, Cases and the Cabinet
  • The NSC is supported by Provincial Steering Committees (PSCs) in all 17 provinces
  • Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking (COMMIT) Task Force (2005), with UN-ACT as secretariat
  • Anti-Trafficking Divisions (ATDs) of the MPS at the provincial level
  • Police forces specialized in anti-human trafficking operations, many having received training from UNIAP/UN-ACT, UNODC or ARTIP
  • Lao Women’s Union (LWU) and Lao Youth Union (LYU) maintain a presence across the country and down to the village level providing direct linkages within institutions, between communities and the capital and to other anti-human trafficking stakeholders
  • Vientiane Transit Centre (VTC) for repatriation purposes (MLSW, supported by IOM)
  • Three operational shelters providing support for victims
TIP challenges ahead

Despite significant progress in recent years, Lao PDR still lacks structures that are fully dedicated to dealing with the complex issue of human trafficking. In the absence of a comprehensive human trafficking law, current legislation does not offer protection to adult male trafficked persons as it does women and children. This presents a critical challenge, particularly in prosecuting labour trafficking cases, and also poses a problem in securing protection and reintegration services for male victims. While men can be identified as victims of trafficking under the Penal Code, most services that exist serve women and children only.

Lao PDR has approved a National Plan of Action (NPA) but has yet to operationalise this, and there is a reluctance on behalf of the government to support initiatives or dedicate adequate funding to anti-human trafficking activities. With limitations on the activities of civil society, an overreliance on financial support from non-government stakeholders has further hampered sustainable progress. Building on and strengthening safe channels of labour migration will be a key priority in the protection of Lao migrants in their future labour migration. Research, impact assessment, and monitoring and evaluation on trafficking should also be further developed in the counter-trafficking sector.

For national, bi- and multilateral laws and agreements on human trafficking involving Lao PDR, please see the resource section