Lebanon is a source and destination country for women and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking and a transit point for Eastern European women and children subjected to sex trafficking in other Middle Eastern countries. Women and girls from South and Southeast Asia and an increasing number from East and West Africa experience domestic servitude in Lebanon with the assistance of recruitment agencies that at times engage in fraudulent recruitment. A highly publicized case of an Ethiopian domestic worker publicly beaten by a Lebanese recruitment agent in March 2012 exemplifies the abuse suffered by domestic workers in Lebanon. Under Lebanon’s sponsorship system, workers who leave their employers’ houses without permission forfeit their legal status, putting them at risk of re-trafficking. Women from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Dominican Republic enter Lebanon through the artiste visa program to work in the adult entertainment industry. In 2014, approximately 3,400 women entered Lebanon under this program—a substantially lower number than in 2013—which sustains a significant sex trade and enables forced prostitution. Some women from East and West Africa also endure forced prostitution in Lebanon. Lebanese children are reportedly victims of forced labor in street begging and commercial sexual exploitation facilitated by male pimps, husbands, and boyfriends, and, at times, through early marriage. Small numbers of Lebanese girls may be subjected to sex trafficking in other Arab countries. Syrian refugee men, women, and children in Lebanon are at risk of sex trafficking and forced labor. There is a reported increase in Syrian children engaged in forced street begging. Syrian girls are brought to Lebanon for prostitution, sometimes through the guise of early marriage. Some Syrian women may be forced to engage in street prostitution, and Syrian LGBT refugees are forced or coerced into prostitution by Lebanese pimps. In 2014, NGOs reported an increase in Syrian refugees forced to work in agriculture or conduct criminal activity. Syrian gangs force Syrian refugee men, women, and children to work in the agricultural sector in Beqaa Valley.
The Government of Lebanon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government has not shown evidence of increasing efforts to address human trafficking compared to the previous year; therefore, Lebanon is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a fourth consecutive year. Lebanon was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and it has committed to devoting sufficient resources to implement that plan. The government continued to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses; it also convicted an increased number of traffickers in 2014. Nonetheless, judicial officials were unaware of the anti-trafficking law and how to apply it, thus many trafficking offenders were not brought to justice. Although the government continued to partner with NGOs and identify and refer some victims to NGO-run protection services, the government did not thoroughly implement victim identification procedures or directly provide protection to victims. Authorities continued to arrest and detain trafficking victims among vulnerable groups for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. The government’s inter-ministerial coordination remained inadequate.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR LEBANON:
Increase investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of offenders under the anti-trafficking law, including officials complicit in human trafficking; increase training for judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officials, and diplomatic personnel about the crime of trafficking and the anti-trafficking law; continue to implement standard procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as illegal migrants, women holding artiste visas, domestic workers, and Syrian refugees; continue to work in partnership with NGOs to identify and provide protection services to victims, and ensure identified victims are not detained for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; enact the labor law amendment extending legal protections to foreign workers and the draft law providing increased labor protections to domestic workers; reconvene the national anti-trafficking committee and increase efforts to effectively coordinate inter-ministerial anti-trafficking activities; and continue to conduct anti-trafficking public awareness campaigns.
The government demonstrated uneven law enforcement efforts, as resource constraints and a lack of capacity and training hindered anti-trafficking efforts. Lebanon’s 2011 anti-trafficking law prohibits all forms of human trafficking. Prescribed penalties for sex trafficking and forced labor range from five to 15 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) reported the law was applied unevenly, as most judges were unfamiliar with it and did not understand the crime. The government remained without an explicit law to prohibit and punish employers or labor agents from confiscating workers’ passports or travel documents; NGOs and government officials continued to report most employers withhold workers’ passports. Nonetheless, in an unprecedented ruling in June 2014 involving a Filipina domestic worker who left her employer before completing her work contract, a judge required the employer to return the worker’s confiscated passport and travel documents; the employer was not, however, investigated or charged for trafficking crimes.
In October 2014, the government issued a ministerial decree creating an anti-trafficking bureau under the Internal Security Forces (ISF) to manage all trafficking investigations. ISF investigated five cases of trafficking, while the Directorate of General Security (DGS) investigated 78 suspected cases of trafficking involving nonpayment of wages, physical abuse, and rape or sexual abuse. MOJ referred cases involving 89 suspected traffickers to the public prosecutor’s office for further investigation. Officials charged 72 of these individuals under the anti-trafficking law for alleged forced prostitution, forced labor, and forced child begging. The government obtained convictions for six traffickers in cases initiated in 2014; the remaining cases were still under investigation at the end of the reporting period. In two cases initiated prior to this reporting period, four defendants were convicted in October and November 2014 under the anti-trafficking law for forced child begging; one of the perpetrators was a victim’s mother. All four perpetrators received sentences of 10 years’ imprisonment and other penalties. Nonetheless, government officials reported security forces were reluctant to arrest parents for trafficking their children due to a lack of social services available should the child be removed from the family. Overall, these law enforcement efforts mark a significant increase from the 14 prosecutions and zero convictions reported in 2013. The government cooperated with the Government of Liberia and investigated two Lebanese citizens who allegedly forced 10 Liberian women into domestic servitude in Lebanon; however, the investigative judge dropped the charges against the suspects because of the lack of witness testimony. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, NGOs continued to report DGS officers accepted bribes to protect adult nightclubs or issue artiste visas. Though there was no evidence these officers were directly involved in trafficking, one DGS official was fired in 2014 for sexually abusing a trafficking victim; the official was not, however, investigated further or prosecuted for any criminal offense. The government provided anti-trafficking training for officials, but the breadth and scope was inadequate to fully address the problem in Lebanon. In September 2014, the DGS began conducting weekly awareness sessions for its personnel, while the ISF conducted intermittent training and the Lebanese army instituted anti-trafficking training for soldiers in 2014.
The government made limited progress in victim identification and protection efforts and remained without a formal system for proactive victim identification among vulnerable populations. Though the government, in coordination with a local NGO, developed and distributed formal victim identification procedures to officials in October 2014, these procedures were not systematically utilized. The government did not consistently protect victims from crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, but it demonstrated some improvements in its protection efforts in the reporting period. Domestic workers who fled abusive employers, out-of-status migrant workers, women holding artiste visas, and persons in prostitution were often arrested, detained, and deported without being screened for trafficking. In September 2014, an international organization reported authorities detained and failed to refer to protection services a Syrian child in prostitution. Investigative judges sometimes ordered incarceration of sex trafficking victims for prostitution violations, despite ISF officers having identified them as victims. DGS maintained a 500-person detention center in Beirut for illegal foreign migrants, many of whom were unidentified trafficking victims. While DGS did not proactively identify victims within the detention center, it permitted an NGO to do so, which continued to report an increased level of professionalism among DGS officials and investigators.
The government did not directly provide protection services to trafficking victims, but it continued to rely on an NGO safe house to provide various services to female trafficking victims; DGS was required to refer victims to the safe house and provide security for the location. The safe house assisted 117 trafficking victims in 2014, twelve of whom were identified and referred by DGS and ISF. DGS also identified and referred to protection services 10 Liberian victims of domestic servitude; upon the victims’ requests, DGS repatriated all 10 victims in March 2015. Additionally, the ISF anti-trafficking bureau identified 33 potential victims of sexual exploitation and child trafficking in cases officials referred to the judiciary. In January 2015, the government signed a one-year memorandum of understanding with a local NGO to provide protection services to trafficking victims; however, this agreement did not include allocation of government funding in support of the NGO’s provision of care. Though victims were permitted to file civil suits against their traffickers, government officials did not undertake a policy to explicitly encourage victims to participate in criminal prosecution of trafficking offenders. Victims who chose voluntary repatriation were often without the option for legal redress because they were not present in the country to testify. The government did not provide temporary or permanent residence status or other relief from deportation for foreign trafficking victims who face retribution or hardship in the countries to which they would be deported. The government did not adopt the draft labor law amendment extending legal protections to foreign workers nor the draft law providing increased labor protections to domestic workers.
The government made limited efforts to prevent trafficking. The national anti-trafficking action plan was not formally adopted, yet relevant ministries took efforts to implement the plan. The national anti-trafficking committee did not meet during the reporting period and inter-ministerial coordination remained inadequate. Nevertheless, the government, in partnership with anti-trafficking advocates, conducted trafficking awareness campaigns in shopping centers and through television advertisements. DGS officers at Beirut International Airport continued to distribute booklets and return passports directly to migrant domestic workers upon their arrival. DGS and the Ministry of Labor (MOL) continued to operate hotlines to receive complaints, including for trafficking crimes, but it was unclear how many trafficking victims were identified through these hotlines. In 2014, the DGS also established a hotline specifically for women working in the adult entertainment industry and those who obtain artiste visas; DGS conducted interviews and provided the hotline number to these women before they entered this sector. DGS continued a program that distributed anti-trafficking brochures to an unknown number of departing Moldovan artiste visa holders; however, Lebanese authorities did not report identifying or offering protective services to any Moldovan sex trafficking victims. DGS also began a program to pre-brief holders of the artiste visa about restrictions and obligations of their visa status upon arrival to Beirut International Airport; under the program, if the visa holder objects to the obligations and restrictions, she is free to return to her home country.
In November 2014, the labor minister banned recruitment agencies from advertising their services, a violation that could be prosecuted under the anti-trafficking law. In February 2015, the labor minister also called for the adoption of a draft law to reduce the vulnerability of migrant domestic workers, but the law was not enacted at the end of the reporting period. DGS periodically issued circulars calling on Lebanese employers to abide by guest worker regulations. MOL and DGS have the authority to close or penalize employment agencies that exploit migrant workers; MOL closed 15 agencies for committing employment violations, while DGS blacklisted 56 recruitment agencies. Throughout the reporting period, MOL and ISF required Syrian nationals to have work permits in specific sectors; this requirement increased Syrian refugees’ vulnerability to trafficking by legally binding them to their employers under the sponsorship system. Lebanese peacekeeping troops continued to receive mandatory training on sexual exploitation and abuse but not specifically on human trafficking. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor in March 2015 when it closed and referred for prosecution a recruitment agency responsible for advertising short-term, cheap foreign domestic workers to the public. The government did not take any steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or address child sex tourism by Lebanese nationals abroad. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel.