Country Study
40 of 167Prevalence Index Rank

China

  • 3,388,400 Estimate number living in Modern Slavery
  • 0.25% Estimate percentage of population living in Modern Slavery
  • 44.66/100 Vulnerability to Modern Slavery
  • CCC Government Response Rating
  • 1,371,738,000 Population
  • $13,206 GDP (PPP)

Prevalence

How many people are in modern slavery in China?

The disparity in work opportunities between the rural and urban populations creates an extremely high migrant population in China (estimated 253 million),[1] generating opportunities for human trafficking. Some 58 million ‘left behind children’ must live effectively uncared-for each year as their parents migrate to cities in search of work.[2] The government estimates that 10,000 children are trafficked each year for forced begging, illegal adoption and sex slavery.[3] Other estimates place the number as high as 70,000.[4]


Country Findings of Prevalence

3,388,400

Estimate number enslaved


Many media reports in the past decade exposed egregious cases of forced labour, including that of 9 disabled people in brick kilns in Shanxi province.[5] Cases of violations of labour standards are far fewer than before. One case in 2015 involved 16 mentally disabled people enslaved in a brickyard in Xishui, Guizhou province.[6] Despite the persistence of cases of this nature, expert opinion suggests that the relative decrease in their frequency indicates an overall improvement in labour standards.[7]

China still faces an enormous issue with the trafficking of women and children for forced marriage and the sex trade, both internally and on a transnational level as criminal gangs become more sophisticated.[8] Illegal female immigrants are trafficked and sold as brides to Chinese men. For example, it is estimated that at least 90% of the estimated 15,000 North Korean women defectors in China end up as victims of trafficking.[9]

Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer of cotton. During the annual cotton harvest, citizens are subjected to statesanctioned forced labour. Monitoring by international organisations has meant the government has begun to take steps to improve the situation, however, reports from the 2015 harvest estimate that over one million people were forced to work.

Photo credit, Simon Buxton/Anti-Slavery International

Vulnerability

What factors explain or predict the prevalence of modern slavery in China?

The internal migration of Chinese people from rural to urban areas creates opportunities for traffickers. This ‘floating population’[10] of migrant workers has less access to social services when they are outside their hukou[11] (destination of household registration) and left behind children[12] are very vulnerable to modern slavery. Boys may be kidnapped and sold as illegally adopted sons to other families[13] while trafficked girls are sold into the sex trade or forced marriage.[14] Baby stealing is an issue which has high public awareness and garners widespread media attention. Recent cases of doctors selling children to traffickers in particular are heavily reported.[15]


Average Vulnerability Score

44.66/100


Minority children (including the Uighur nationality) and those from very poor families are extremely vulnerable to trafficking. A highly organised practice exists where couples have children for the very purpose of selling.[16] Children from minorities are known to be deceived into trafficking under the false promise of work in hospitality, construction and manufacturing but are instead forced to engage in criminal activity or prostitution.[17] Forced begging is also an issue with the Ministry of Civil Affairs estimating 1.5 million children are currently enslaved.[18]

China suffers a chronic gender imbalance because of the lasting impacts of the One Child Policy and the cultural preference for boys as children.[19] Particularly in rural areas, this shortage of women generates a demand which only be satisfied by trafficking foreign women into China to be sold as cheap brides.[20] For poor men in rural areas, this option is much less costly than the expenses (dowries and wedding gifts) required to marry a Chinese woman.[21] This is exacerbated by the significant domestic marriage migration of rural women who choose to wed urban men in hope of a more comfortable life.[22]

Because of the gender imbalance issue, both domestic and foreign women are subjected to forced marriage in China. The vulnerability of foreign women, whose origin countries include Thailand,[23] Vietnam,[24] Laos,[25] Cambodia[26] and North Korea,[27] is very high because they are usually classified as illegal immigrants, leaving them with little capacity to seek help from local government.[28] Due to increased awareness of deception as a trafficking tool, gangs increasingly rely on coercion and abduction.[29] Because of this use increased of physical force, Chinese women are more vulnerable to slavery than before. More and more victims are being sold to by friends and relatives.[30] Yunnan province is particularly active in human trafficking between China and Southeast Asia because it shares borders with Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam.[31] Henan province is a high recipient destination for women because of its low population of women relative to men,[32] as well as Fujian, Guangdong and Shandong provinces.[33]

The poor are vulnerable to slavery because they are more desperate and therefore more likely to be receptive to fraudulent offers of employment. This is significant as the National Bureau of Statistics estimates that 70,170,000 Chinese are still living in poverty.[34] Disabled children of these families in particular face vulnerability as their parents or carers have limited means to look after them.[35] This and the underdeveloped governmental support system mean that many are left abandoned.[36] Demand still exists for forced labour of the disabled. In 2011, a journalist posed as a disabled person, lingering around a train station in Henan province which was a known source destination for trafficking victims. After two days he was abducted and sold as a slave to a brick kiln.[37]

From the 'Less than Human' series. A large cargo boat is seen in Songkla Port, Thailand. 09/03/2014. Photographer Chris Kelly worked undercover to expose the link between prawns being sold in big name supermarkets, and the slaves who live and work on Thai fishing boats miles out to sea.

Photo credit, Chris Kelly

Government Response

How is the China Government tackling modern slavery?

The government has demonstrated its commitment to tackling the issue of human trafficking and has issued the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (action plan) for 2013-2020. Following an increase in public awareness, the National People’s Congress amended the Labour Law to make the penalties tougher for firms who fail to pay their employees the contracted wage.[38] Thus, forced labour is illegal under Chinese law and unregistered businesses, as well as registered ones, can now be punished.[39] Additionally, the government’s action plan assigns roles to various government branches and identifies particular areas of need, such as homeless youth, disabled people and women.[40] While the division of roles may be necessary, it undermines the government’s ability to cooperate and unite their efforts.[41]


Government Response Rating

CCC


The Ministry of Child Protection has exhibited efforts to better engage with local governments to combat the issue of missing children. It conscientiously publicises and reports cases of missing children, taking their DNA samples[42] and has developed a smartphone application for the quick reporting of those missing.[43] Criminals found guilty of trafficking children and babies frequently receive the death penalty[44] and cases are highly publicised with criminals being subjected to intense public criticism.[45] 7,719 cases of trafficking of women and children were made between 2010 and 2014.[46] However, local governments sometimes still fail to take cases of sexual abuse of boys seriously.[47]

The Chinese government uses social media to spread awareness of cases of missing women and forced marriage.[48] The MPS sometimes assists in the repatriation of foreign women, particularly in cases where geographical distances prevent them from easily returning home. However, some trafficking victims wish to stay in China as local conditions are better than those in their home countries. It is therefore difficult for the local government to devise a standard solution.[49] Additionally, foreign women rarely make use of services such as women’s refuge shelters because of their illegal status.[50]

The effectiveness of the implementation of the Action Plan is undermined by a phenomenon known as “local protectionism” whereby local officials prioritise economic performance and the appearance of social stability over anti-trafficking efforts.[51] Additionally, labour[52] and human trafficking laws[53] protect only women and children, ignoring the exploitation of men and boys. It also remains unclear the extent to which Custody and Education Camps are an improvement on their predecessor (Re-education Through Labour or RTL camps). Officially abolished on 28th December 2013,[54] political dissidents were subjected to forced labour, torture and terrible living conditions in the RTL camps. Some academics suggest that the Custody and Education camps are largely the same as these.[55]

The media plays a critical role in uncovering issues by raising public awareness and attracting governmental attention. The same is true for the parents of lost children, who go to great lengths to raise public attention. The private sector has also made a positive contribution, as brands exert pressure[56] on their suppliers to eliminate the unlawful employment of university interns in their supply chains.[57]

Rajshahi, Bangladesh, January 2013. Dipa is 13 years old and has been engaged in prostitution for five months. She used to go to school, but stopped in class three after her family could no longer afford to send her. Her two sisters are also engaged in prostitution, but clients prefer to visit Dipa as she is the youngest of the three. She gets between four or five clients and earns about 1,200 Taka (US$15) a day.

Photo credit, Pep Bonet/ NOOR

Recommendations

What do we recommend

Government

  • Strengthen the implementation of anti-trafficking laws, particularly focusing on criminalising those that have purchased trafficking victims.
  • Improve the coordination and collaboration between non-governmental organisations and key government agencies for modern slavery initiatives, particularly focusing on the recovery and repatriation process of slavery victims.
  • Acknowledge and include men and boys in labour and human trafficking laws.

Footnotes

  1. Xiaodong Wang, ‘Migrant Population is Growing’, ChinaDaily.com, November 13 2015, 25/05/15:  http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2015-11/13/content_22445469.htm
  2. Anqi Shen, Georgios Antonopoulos and Georgios Papanicolaou, ‘China’s Stolen Children: Internal Child Trafficking in the People’s Republic of China’, Trends in Organized Crime, Anqi Shen, Georgios Antonopoulos, Georgios Papanicolaou, ‘China’s Stolen Children: Internal Child Trafficking in the People’s Republic of China’, Trends in Organized Crime, 16, no.1 (2013), p. 37 
  3. "Please Spread! 2 Year-old Sichuan Girl Allegedly Abducted in Hengshui, Hebei, Monitor Exposure!", Sohu Public Forum, May 15, 2016, 25/05/16:  http://mt.sohu.com/20160515/n449577451.shtml
  4. As above. 
  5. ‘Black-Hearted Man Forced Disabled People to Work Without Pay’, Wangyi News, May 14, 2014, 25/05/16:  http://news.163.com/14/0514/09/9S6Q18H800014AED.html
  6. Kexiang Zhu, ‘Brickyard Boss Receives Sentence for Forced Labour of Disabled People’, Guiyang Net, December 31, 2015, accessed 13/05/16:  http://www.gywb.cn/content/2015-12/31/content_4414620.htm
  7. Field source. 
  8. “Supreme Court Releases Typical Case of Punishment of Crimes of Trafficking of Women and Children”, ChinaCourt.org, February 27, 2016, 25/05/16:  http://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2015/02/id/1558493.shtml
  9. Donald Kirk, ‘North Korean Women Sold into ‘Slavery’ in China’, The Christian Science Monitor, May 11, 2012, accessed 06/05/16:  http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Asia-Pacific/2012/0511/North-Korean-women-sold-into-slavery-in-China
  10. Liang Zai and Ma Zhongdong, ‘China’s Floating Population: New Evidence from the 2000 Census’, Population and Development Review, 30, no.3 (2004), pp. 467-488 
  11. Li Shi, Rural Migrant Workers in China: Scenario, Challenges and Public Policy, (International Labour Organization, 2008), accessed 13/05/16:  http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---integration/documents/publication/wcms_097744.pdf
  12. Anqi Shen, Georgios Antonopoulos and Georgios Papanicolaou, ‘China’s Stolen Children: Internal Child Trafficking in the People’s Republic of China’, Trends in Organized Crime, 16, no.1 (2013), p. 37, accessed 29/04/16 
  13. Martin Patience, ‘The Father Searching for His Abducted Son’, BBC News, Changde, March 11, 2015, accessed 13/05/16  http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-31814295
  14. “The Trafficking Situation in China”, UNAIP, accessed 13/05/16:  http://www.no-trafficking.org/china.html
  15. Wang Wei, ‘Evil! Wenzhou Doctor Couple Suspected of Trafficking Babies!’, Hunan Net, September 24, 2015, 25/05/16:  http://www.xianghunet.com/news/view/259700.html
  16. Anqi Shen, Georgios Antonopoulos and Georgios Papanicolaou, ‘China’s Stolen Children: Internal Child Trafficking in the People’s Republic of China’, Trends in Organized Crime, 16, no.1 (2013), p. 37, accessed 29/04/16 
  17. As above. 
  18. Brian Milne, ‘Rights of the Child: 25 Years After the Adoption of the UN Convention’, Springer, 2015, p. 78 
  19. Huijun Liu, Shuzhuo Li and Marc Feldman, ‘Gender in Marriage and Life Satisfaction Under Gender Imbalance in China: the Role of Intergenerational Support and SES’, Social Indicators Research, 114, no.3 (2013), pp. 932 
  20. As above. 
  21. Gracie Ming Zhao, ‘Trafficking of women for marriage in China: Policy and Practice’, Criminology and Criminal Justice, 3, no.1 (2003), p. 87 
  22. Shenghai He and John Eade, ‘Unequal Marriage Exchange Between Majority and Minority Groups: A Case Study from Inner Mongolia, China’, Sociology Study, 5, no.5 (May 2015), p. 409, accessed 13/05/16:  http://www.davidpublisher.org/Public/uploads/Contribute/55f62d8c9a871.pdf
  23. Liu Fangping, ‘Ministry of Public Security: Crimes of Trafficking of Foreign Women Shows an Increasing Trend’, Hangzhou Report Online, December 3, 2011, 25/05/16:  http://news-hzrb.hangzhou.com.cn/system/2011/12/03/011647157.shtml
  24. Binglu Ma, ‘6 Vietnamese Girls Trafficked’, Anhui News, May 25, 2016, 25/05/16:  http://ah.anhuinews.com/system/2016/05/25/007359031.shtml
  25. Liu Fangping, ‘Ministry of Public Security: Crimes of Trafficking of Foreign Women Shows an Increasing Trend’, Hangzhou Report Online, December 3, 2011, 25/05/16:  http://news-hzrb.hangzhou.com.cn/system/2011/12/03/011647157.shtml
  26. Kuch Naren, Denise Hruby, ‘Promises of Marriage in China turn to Nightmare’, The Cambodia Daily, February 25 2016, accessed 13/05/16:  https://www.cambodiadaily.com/archives/promises-of-marriage-in-china-turn-to-nightmare-53136/
  27. Huijie Zhou, ‘North Korean Brides in China’, Henan Net, July 13, 2015, accessed 13/05/16:  http://henan.china.com.cn/culture/2015/0713/580503.shtml
  28. Eunyoung Kim, Minwoo Yun, Mirang Park and Hue Williams, ‘Cross border North Korean Women Trafficking and Victimization between North Korea and China: An ethnographic Study’, International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 37, no.4 (2009), p. 162 
  29. “National Trafficking Trends”, UN-ACT, accessed: 13/05/16:  http://un-act.org/countries/china/
  30. “Supreme Court Releases Typical Case of Punishment of Crimes of Trafficking of Women and Children”, ChinaCourt.org, February 27, 2016, 25/05/16:  http://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2015/02/id/1558493.shtml
  31. Guihua Ma, ‘China Joins Mekong Countries in Fighting Cross-border Human Trafficking’, Xinhua Net, November 29, 2009, 25/05/16:  http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2009-11/29/content_12558880.htm
  32. Liqun Cao, Ivan Sun and Bill Hebenton, ‘The Routledge Handbook of Chinese Criminology’, Routledge, New York, 2013, p. 199 
  33. ‘The Current Situation of Trafficking of Children in China’, Wenku Xiazai, 25/05/16:  http://www.wenkuxiazai.com/doc/17c2bab2b9f3f90f77c61b2c.html
  34. ‘Xi Jinping: Ensuring All People in Poverty Live Comfortably by the Year 2020’, Xinhua Net, February 14 2016, accessed 13/05/16:  http://news.southcn.com/shizheng/content/2016-02/14/content_142364903.htm
  35. Anna J. High, China’s Orphan Welfare System: Laws, Policies and Filled Gaps, University of Pennsylvania East Asia Law Review, 8, no.2 (2013), p. 138, accessed 10/05/16:  https://www.law.upenn.edu/live/files/2461-high8easialrev1272013
  36. As above. 
  37. Austin Ramzy, ‘Another Slavery Scandal Uncovered in Central China’, TIME Magazine, September 8 2011, accessed 13/05/16:  http://world.time.com/2011/09/08/another-slavery-scandal-uncovered-in-central-china/
  38. Field source. 
  39. Field source. 
  40. Central People's Government, "Notice from the State Council on the Issuance of the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking (2013-2020)", March 2, 2013, accessed 29/04/16:  http://www.gov.cn/zhengce/content/2013-03/08/content_6108.htm
  41. Field source 
  42. ‘Police Search for Parents of Lost Children’, China Daily, October 30, 2009, accessed 13/05/16:  http://www.china.org.cn/china/2009-10/30/content_18795450.htm
  43. Eileen Cheng, ‘China’s Ministry of Public Security Helps Improve Lost Child Platform’, Women of China, April 26, 2016, accessed 13/05/16:  http://www.womenofchina.cn/womenofchina/html1/news/china/1604/1870-1.htm
  44. ‘Henan Man Trafficking Children Receives Death Penalty: 3 and 4 Day Old Babies’, Xi’an Culture Net, February 2, 2016, 25/05/16:  http://henan.qq.com/a/20160130/015269.htm
  45. Tracy You, ‘Baby-snatcher is Caught and Publicly Shamed After Trying to Steal Toddler Girl from Her Mother in Broad Daylight’, Daily Mail, May 4, 2016, 25/06/13:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/peoplesdaily/article-3573041/Baby-snatcher-caught-publicly-shamed-trying-steal-toddler-girl-mother-broad-daylight.html
  46. “Supreme Court Releases Typical Case of Punishment of Crimes of Trafficking of Women and Children”, ChinaCourt.org, February 27, 2016, 25/05/16:  http://www.chinacourt.org/article/detail/2015/02/id/1558493.shtml
  47. Field source. 
  48. Field source. 
  49. Field source. 
  50. Eunyoung Kim, Minwoo Yun, Mirang Park, Hue Williams, ‘Cross border North Korean Women Trafficking and Victimization between North Korea and China: An ethnographic Study’, International Journal of Law, Crime and Justice, 37, no.4 (2009), p. 162 
  51. Anqi Shen, Georgios Antonopoulos and Georgios Papanicolaou, ‘China’s Stolen Children: Internal Child Trafficking in the People’s Republic of China’, Trends in Organized Crime, 16, no.1 (2013), p. 37, accessed 29/04/16 
  52. Field source. 
  53. United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking, Counter Trafficking Action Being Taken in China, (No Trafficking.org), 27/05/16:  http://www.no-trafficking.org/china_action.html
  54. Zhu Ningzhu, ‘China Abolishes Reeducation Through Labor’, Xinhua Net, December 28, 2016, 25/05/16:  http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/china/2013-12/28/c_133003042.htm
  55. “Three Questions: Custody and Education of Prostitutes”, China Youth Online, accessed 29/04/16:  http://zqb.cyol.com/html/2014-06/06/nw.D110000zgqnb_20140606_3-03.htm
  56. Daniel Berliner, Anne Greenleaf, Milli Lake, Margaret Levi and Jennifer Noveck, ‘Labor Standards in International Supply Chains: Aligning Rights and Incentives’, Edward Edgar Publishing, 2015, p. 168 
  57. Earl Brown, Jr and Kyle deCant, ‘Exploiting Chinese Interns as Unprotected Industrial Labor’, Asian-Pacific Law & Policy Journal, 15, no.2 (2014), pp. 149-195 

Access the Data

Walk Free’s data and the compilation of that data is proprietary and is protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. At Walk Free, we welcome any efforts that will improve the estimation of the extent of modern slavery. We are keen to learn from and work with any person or government seeking to expose the prevalence of this crime. To that end, we are committed to sharing our data and methodology on terms applicable to its intended use, and as such our data is available under licence for both commercial and non-commercial use.

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Access the Data

Walk Free’s data and the compilation of that data is proprietary and is protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. At Walk Free, we welcome any efforts that will improve the estimation of the extent of modern slavery. We are keen to learn from and work with any person or government seeking to expose the prevalence of this crime. To that end, we are committed to sharing our data and methodology on terms applicable to its intended use, and as such our data is available under licence for both commercial and non-commercial use.

Step 1 of 2

50%