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BRUNEI: Tier 2

The Government of Brunei does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Brunei remained on Tier 2. Increased efforts included convicting its first trafficker in four years; expanding victim protection measures during judicial proceedings; and carrying out victim screening procedures while strengthening investigations into alleged labor abuses that may amount to trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities leveled criminal charges against some foreign victims and deported or fined others for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of having been subjected to trafficking. Courts issued lighter sentences for trafficking crimes than those prescribed by law.


Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish both sex and labor traffickers, including complicit government officials, and ensure the imposition of sufficiently stringent penalties; increase protective services to provide incentives for victims to participate in investigations and prosecutions, including by allowing adult victims in government shelters to move freely and by issuing work permits to all victims; cease the arrest, deportation, and punishment of trafficking victims for crimes committed as a direct result of their being subjected to trafficking; allocate resources for the completion of the pending dedicated trafficking victims’ shelter and expand existing shelter services to accommodate adult male trafficking victims; train officials on implementation of proactive procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups; train judges on accurate and effective implementation of anti-trafficking laws; allocate government resources to the victims’ fund established under the 2004 law and allow those funds to be paid directly to victims as restitution; strengthen efforts to enforce laws prohibiting acts that facilitate trafficking, such as retention or confiscation of migrant workers’ identity documents; offer foreign victims long-term alternatives to removal from the country; expand comprehensive and visible anti-trafficking awareness campaigns directed at employers of foreign workers and clients of commercial sex; approve and implement the national action plan; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.


The government increased law enforcement efforts. The 2004 Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons Order prohibits both sex and labor trafficking and prescribes punishments of up to 30 years imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses, such as rape. The penal code prohibits travel outside the country for commercial sex with children, prescribing a punishment of up to 10 years imprisonment. Upon referral by other agencies, the Human Trafficking Unit (HTU) of the Royal Brunei Police Force screened for trafficking indicators in cases involving prostitution, unpaid wages, workers fleeing their place of employment, or physical abuse of workers. It is unclear how many cases of potential trafficking the government investigated in 2016, compared with 66 cases in 2015. Referrals to HTU led to one investigation into a suspected forced labor case involving an unregistered employment agency, which was ongoing at the end of the reporting period, and prosecutions against three Thai nationals for sex trafficking. Authorities convicted the three Thai nationals—the first convictions under trafficking provisions since 2012. Courts sentenced all three individuals to four years in prison and fines of USD $22,250, USD $14,836, and USD $7,418, respectively, but all three accepted added time to their prison sentences ranging from 10 to 30 months in lieu of paying the fines. Other HTU investigations resulted in prosecutions for non-trafficking offenses, such as human smuggling or labor violations. Courts also convicted and fined a Malaysian national for engaging in a sex act with a Bruneian minor forced into prostitution, but it was unclear if the courts also imposed a prison sentence on that defendant in accordance with the prescribed penalty. One additional sex trafficking prosecution from 2012 remained pending. During the reporting period, the HTU worked with domestic law enforcement and Philippine officials to investigate an alleged debt bondage and sex trafficking case in Malaysia, culminating in the victim’s rescue and repatriation. In previous years, government officials have been investigated for complicity in trafficking offenses, including domestic servitude, although no such investigations, prosecutions, or convictions took place during the reporting period.


The government increased efforts to protect victims. To reduce the risk of victim re-traumatization, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) enacted a legislative amendment allowing victims who are unwilling to testify in court to provide evidence via video link; it was unclear if this provision was implemented during the reporting period. The HTU continued to employ standardized interview questionnaires to screen and identify potential trafficking victims when apprehending persons in prostitution or when accompanying immigration and labor officials on operations with suspected trafficking elements. However, authorities only employed identification measures after detaining these victims during law enforcement operations and charging them with prostitution. Officials apprehended foreign women and children during brothel raids and detained and deported many for labor or immigration violations. According to one NGO, this practice perpetuated victims’ fear of communicating with law enforcement officers, culminating in significant identification and service provision gaps. The government maintained a secured, general-purpose shelter that was available to female trafficking victims and male trafficking victims under the age of 18, but required victims to apply to leave the shelter, and only with a chaperone; no facilities were available for adult male trafficking victims. During the reporting period, one individual received assistance at the shelter, and authorities referred four Indian nationals to their local embassy for protective services. The government was in the process of renovating a dedicated shelter for trafficking victims at the end of the reporting period.

The 2004 law established a fund to compensate victims and cover repatriation costs. However, convicted traffickers’ ability to elect additional prison time in lieu of paying fines resulted in the fund’s continued lack of resources. Negotiations were ongoing between relevant ministries regarding government contributions to the fund at the end of the reporting period; as such, the government did not allocate funding for this mechanism. By law, foreign trafficking victims can acquire a temporary stay while the government works with relevant local embassies to obtain new travel documents or repatriation assistance, and victims are eligible for temporary work passes on an ad hoc basis; it was unclear how many victims benefited from these provisions. The government offered no long-term alternatives to removal for victims who may face hardship or retribution upon return to their home countries.


The government maintained limited efforts to prevent trafficking. During the reporting period, the government conducted training for labor and immigration officials and NGOs, and it carried out targeted public awareness-raising campaigns. In 2016, the immigration department conducted nine roadshows to educate businesses and employees on employment laws, recruitment, and labor rights; the campaign reached 555 companies around the country, compared to 1,200 in the previous year. The government disseminated information to the public making it clear employers should not withhold workers’ passports, but it did not initiate any prosecutions against employers or agencies for passport retention; the practice remained widespread. The government did not complete its draft national action plan to combat trafficking, but authorities reported implementing its provisions during anti-trafficking efforts. Government-influenced media continued to publish articles related to trafficking—particularly regarding investigations and legal proceedings against employers suspected of labor violations—as well as the list of registered employment agencies in both English and Malay. The government increased public messaging on the consequences of violating workers’ rights and labor laws, but did not make efforts to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts. Unlike in prior years, the government trained diplomatic personnel departing for posts overseas on trafficking indicators. It did not accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, but took some legislative steps to do so.


As reported in the last five years, Brunei is a destination and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Men and women from Indonesia, Bangladesh, China, the Philippines, Thailand, and Malaysia migrate to Brunei primarily for domestic work, or on social visit passes or tourist visas. Upon arrival, some are subjected to involuntary servitude, debt bondage, non-payment of wages, passport confiscation, physical abuse, or confinement. Some migrants who transit Brunei become victims of sex or labor trafficking upon arrival in Malaysia or Indonesia. Some Bruneian women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking domestically. Although it is illegal for employers to withhold wages of domestic workers for more than 10 days, some employers withhold wages to recoup labor broker or recruitment fees, or to compel the continued service of workers. Retention of migrant workers’ travel documents by employers or agencies remains a widespread practice, although the law prohibits it.

U.S. Department of State

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