Project Factsheet
Tools for » UNA063 Myanmar CR trafficking
Project ID:00116960Description:UNA063 Myanmar CR trafficking
UN Action Agst Sexual Violence
Start Date *: 26 Jul 2019
UN Action Against Sexual Viole
End Date*: 30 Dec 2019
Country: Myanmar Project Status: Operationally Closed
  Participating Organization:   Multiple

In Kachin, since 2011, renewed conflict and ongoing heightened tensions have led to extensive loss of life, damage to infrastructures, destruction of livelihoods, protracted displacement of thousands of people, and increased sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) including human trafficking. Civilians bear the brunt of ongoing armed conflict with frequent outbreaks of fighting with some families being displaced multiple times. Over 97,000[1] people in Kachin remain displaced in camps or camp-like settings, of which approximately 75 per cent of the displaced are women and children. Due to increases in the intensity and frequency of conflicts and the significant deterioration in humanitarian access to IDPs and other vulnerable conflict-affected people in Kachin State during 2017 and into 2018, humanitarian organizations have faced significant challenges in the delivery of aid. Since April 2016, the Government and military have not permitted international humanitarian organizations to take food or other relief supplies into areas beyond Government control (NGCAs), where about 43 per cent of the displaced people are located, and even in Government-controlled areas (GCAs), international humanitarian organizations have experienced unprecedented delays in obtaining travel authorizations for staff and this has affected the delivery of assistance and the quality of humanitarian operations.

The crisis and conflict situation in Kachin, including its trafficking risks as a direct consequence of the conflict, has a particular gendered nature, as pre-existing and deeply entrenched gender discrimination and violence are compounded with women and girls being disproportionately affected. This leaves women and girls in subordinate positions in households, communities, workplaces and society, undermining their overall capacities, potential and rights. As highlighted in the Myanmar Humanitarian Response Plan (HRP) and Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) 2019, the challenges faced by women and girls are particularly pronounced in remote and conflict-affected areas in Kachin State, where they are exposed to protection risks and human rights violations including SGBV, sexual exploitation and abuse, early and forced marriage, trafficking as well as gendered barriers to accessing relief, services, information, income generating activities, community participation and decision making at all levels. With limited programmes targeting women and girls’ needs, gender barriers prevent women and girls from equally benefiting from humanitarian action, the peace-building process and socio-economic development as well as participating in and influencing humanitarian decisions that affect their lives.[2] Women’s networks, civil society organizations and gender equality advocates, including in conflict affected states, have identified the lack of capacities and opportunities for women to engage in planning, implementation and decision-making for humanitarian action, recovery and peace building, as a key gap for these processes to be effective, accountable and evidence-based.

UNODC’s 2018 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons highlighted the global rise in trafficking and spotlighted trafficking in the context of armed conflict. Trafficking in persons, especially when it is of transnational nature, flourishes in areas marked by armed conflict and post-conflict situations due to porous borders, weak enforcement, and the lack of capacity of police and other criminal justice actors. It is often challenging to distinguish between different crimes; a challenge that is even more acute in conflict situations. A range of crimes may include elements of persons being transported, recruited or transferred with some form of coercive, deceptive or abusive means for the purpose of being exploited.

As per the Report of the Secretary-General on conflict-related sexual violence (2018)[3], conflict related sexual violence encompasses trafficking in persons when committed in situations of conflict for the purpose of sexual violence or exploitation. Violent and exploitative crimes such as sexual slavery in conflict areas typically stem from a trafficking process, as they involve an act (often recruitment and/or transportation) and a means (often coercion) as well as a purpose (exploitation). Women and girls comprise the largest share of detected trafficking victims worldwide. In conflict areas, trafficking in persons for sexual slavery, forced labour, and abduction of women and girls for forced marriages are the most commonly reported forms of trafficking. Globally, sexual exploitation continues to be the main purpose for trafficking, accounting for some 59 per cent.

Myanmar is a major source country for women and children in the trafficking context, especially in conflict-affected border areas in Kachin – often for the purposes of forced marriage and commercial sexual exploitation. Women and girls continue to be at high risk of human trafficking due to conflict, displacement and poverty. Human trafficking remains under researched and cases are believed to be underreported in Kachin. According to the Global Slavery Index 2016, 515,100 men, women and children with women and girls were human trafficking victims in Myanmar in 2016[4] making it the number one source country for irregular migration and trafficking in Greater Mekong Sub-region.[5] Ethnic minority groups such as the Kachin communities have an increased risk of trafficking due to being disproportionately impacted by conflict, human rights abuses and displacement, as well as their overall restricted freedom of movement, and limited access to services, land and livelihoods. According to the US Government 2017 report[6], men, women, and children from Kachin ethnic minority groups, especially IDPs, are at increased risk of trafficking, including domestic labour trafficking, and cross-border labour and sex trafficking to Thailand and China. High levels of human trafficking of IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan states was further reiterated as a continued serious issue in the recent November 2018 assessment report by the Joint Strategy Team[7]. The 2017 US Government report also emphasises that Myanmar authorities failed to actively combat domestic labour trafficking of men, women and children, and cross-border labor and sex trafficking to China from Kachin.

According to UN Women and the Kachin State Women Network[8], prolonged displacement has affected communities’ coping resilience and economic security with high exposure to negative coping mechanisms, exploitation and protection risks and threats including the illegal cross-border trade of drugs, arms and other illicit products and human trafficking into China, especially of women and girls in at-risk border areas and those in IDP camps and in non-government-controlled areas.  Search for employment, attempts to escape worsening security situations, overcrowded and unsafe living conditions in camps, and cross-border marriage arrangements are among key ways women are lured into human trafficking crossing illegally into China. Because of their lack of legal status, this is often through forced domestic labor, sex work, forced marriage and forced pregnancy. Thousands of vulnerable women and girls from northern Myanmar are being trafficked to China and forced to marry[9]. Based on interviews with scores of people who escaped and returned to Myanmar, and others still inside China, a recently released study found that the majority of those trafficked were also forced to carry a child for their husband.  According to UN Women’s local partner organisation Gender and Development Foundation, in 8 out of 10 cases, women are trafficked as brides and another 20 per cent are trafficked to deliver babies[10].

This overall scenario puts women at high risk of exploitation, abuse and violence, while there are inadequate systems and measures in place for survivors to seek protection, services and justice but are often further stigmatized and marginalised[11]. The lack of humanitarian access further limits survivors’ access to protection and response services such as psychosocial support and legal aid services. Women’s groups in Kachin, including UN Women’s local partner organisation Htoi Gender and Development Foundation, report that limited human and financial resources of the police in Kachin is hampering investigations into human trafficking and contributing to a crime wave in Myitkyina, in which women and girls, especially those that are IDPs, are often the targets[12]. UN Women’s local partner organisation Htoi Gender and Development Foundation further reports that some IDP camp leaders have supported the marriages of girls who had received offers of money from Chinese men, with the fate of the girls who went to China unknown[13]. Members of Parliament from Kachin State have stated that they want firmer police action to combat cross-bordering trafficking of poor women from northern Myanmar for marriage to Chinese farmers[14].

Through consultations, IDP women have reported that they are strongly affected by the loss of livelihoods and limited economic opportunities. The lack of economic opportunities renders women and girls particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and trafficking – as found by the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand, the combination of large-scale displacement, gaps in protection mechanisms, and shortages of humanitarian aid combined with lack of economic opportunity have become major factors fueling human trafficking along the Kachin-China border.[15]

The Government of Myanmar has made notable commitments and progress towards gender equality and empowerment of women and girls including through its National Strategic Plan for the Advancement of Women 2013-2022 with a dedicated focus on “women in emergences” and “violence against women” area as well as drafting a Law on Prevention and Protection against VAW which has yet to be passed. Further, despite the establishment of an institutional structure aimed at providing services for survivors of VAW and trafficking, a mechanism of coordinated responsive services is still under development in Myanmar. Myanmar signed a 2004 anti-trafficking agreement and passed an anti-trafficking law in 2005, but procedures are unclear, anti-trafficking police have little budget, and the existing law is still weak including from a gender perspective and not fully implemented. The Government of Myanmar has demonstrated an increased willingness to tackle trafficking and better understand its gendered dynamics. The ASEAN Convention Against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, entered into force on 8 March 2017, with Myanmar as one of the six ASEAN Member States that has ratified the Convention, highlighting their resolve to combat trafficking and provide effective safeguards and protection to victims.

The Joint Communique of the Union Government of Myanmar and the United Nations on Prevention and Response to Conflict Related Sexual Violence (7 December 2018) issued pursuant to the visit of the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict to Myanmar in December 2017, highlights the following key priority areas for cooperation which this project proposal directly responds to: 1) Ensuring effective access to strengthen service delivery for survivors of sexual violence, including medical, psychosocial, legal and livelihoods support particularly in conflict areas; and 2) Putting in place risk mitigation measures against conflict related trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation/violence, including awareness raising of Border Guard Police and immigration officials, in line with Security Council resolution 2331 (2016).

[1] 2019 Myanmar Humanitarian Needs Overview (December 2018), Humanitarian Country Team.

[2] ActionAid (2016). On the Frontline: Catalyzing Women’s Leadership in Humanitarian Action.


[4] Global Slavery Survey Index 2016

[5] IOM (2017). Network of Service Providers to Trafficking in Persons. 

[6] Trafficking in Persons Report (June 2017). Office to Monitor and Combat trafficking in persons, US Department of State Diplomacy in Action.

[7] Joint Strategy Team (November 2018),“The Hidden War“ Assessment Report on Comprehensive Needs, Livelihood Opportunities and Coping Strategies and the Situation of Spontaneous Return

[8] Kachin State Women Network and UN Women (2018) Common Charter of Demands by Women’s Groups for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment  across the Peace-Humanitarian-Development Nexus in Kachin State, — Myanmar: 

[9] December 2018, Jhon Hopkins University, “Estimating traffcking of Myanmar women for forced marriage and childbearing in China”


[11] Ibid.


[13] Ibid.


[15] Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (2013). Pushed to the Brink: Conflict and human trafficking on the Kachin-China border.


The proposed project responds to the above outlined context for the gendered aspects of human trafficking as a form of SGBV as a result of the conflict in Kachin State, Myanmar. The proposed project supplements both UNODC and UN Women’s current programme activities in Myanmar and specifically in Kachin State under a regional UN Women-UNODC joint programme on “Preventing and Mitigating the impacts of Terrorism, Trafficking and Transnational Crime through Women’s Empowerment” in South East Asia with a focus in the Greater Mekong Sub-Region (Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam) from 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019 with support from the Government of Japan. The overall goal of the regional joint programme is to ensure that at-risk border communities are more resilient to human trafficking and related escalation, with particular focus on women. In realizing this goal, UN Women and UNODC focus on achieving the following outputs: (i) strengthening community awareness and the rapid provision of gender sensitive services for the reintegration and empowerment of victims; (ii) promoting the increase of women’s participation and leadership in law enforcement and border management; (iii) strengthening understanding of the true scope and impact of cross-border crime on women and their communities; and (4) strengthening the capacity of front line officers in border locations to meet the needs of women in the context of cross-border crime.


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