The government maintained prevention efforts. The government reported its budget for anti-trafficking activities remained the same as the previous reporting period, which was 300 million Lao kip ($32,330) provided to each ministry. Some agencies, especially service providers, reported they had incurred extra expenses in 2020 due to the high volume of returning migrant workers; the government provided extra funds to the MOH for anti-trafficking activities, in part to assist in the unusually high number of victims returning from Thailand. The ministerial level National Steering Committee on Anti-Human Trafficking and the working-level National Secretariat on Anti-Human Trafficking continued to meet regularly and led Laos’ anti-trafficking response. The Prime Minister’s 2018 decree on the creation of multi-sectoral anti-trafficking steering committees at the provincial and district levels to implement the 2016 anti-trafficking law and national action plan remained a priority; all 18 provinces and districts maintained committees. Coordination with civil society organizations continued to improve throughout the reporting period through joint formal consultations, sharing of best practices, and partnerships at national and sub-national levels. The government implemented its 2016-2020 national action plan and continued to consult with civil society organizations—for a new plan covering 2021-2025. The government’s annual progress report on implementation of the existing plan was not publicly available.
The government continued to conduct a range of anti-trafficking education and outreach efforts through public posters, radio segments, and television, including a nationally broadcast weekly television program on trafficking issues. In December 2020, the government conducted awareness-raising on child sex tourism for 50-60 representatives from local anti-trafficking committees, tourism businesses, restaurants, and hoteliers in Champasak and Salavan provinces, then held similar activities in Vientiane Capital and Savannakhet in March and April 2021, respectively. The government also reportedly provided an anti-trafficking training to tourist-focused businesses during the reporting period. The ATD continued to operate a trafficking hotline, which received an average of 15 calls per month, but observers reported it was not fully staffed by an officer who could answer or address calls. The LWU also operated a hotline for domestic and gender-based violence and human trafficking, which served as the de facto national trafficking hotline; the hotline received 60-100 calls a day, but the government did not report how many trafficking cases or victim referrals it received from the hotline. Observers reported that staff at both hotlines did not always provide effective assistance or follow-up, and public awareness of these hotlines was limited.
Regulations for Lao workers migrating abroad were designed to prevent trafficking but in some cases may have exacerbated vulnerability to it. In May 2020, the Prime Minister issued Decree No.245 on the placement of Lao workers abroad, intended to protect the rights and interests of both workers and recruitment agencies; it also eliminated the ban on domestic work, which previously created the risk that some workers would migrate through informal channels and increase their vulnerability to unscrupulous agents and traffickers. During the reporting period, MLSW conducted skills training and job placement services for Lao workers, in an effort to discourage returned migrants from illegally seeking employment abroad. MLSW continued to oversee 24 recruitment agencies authorized to recruit for jobs abroad, although most of these agencies were closed during the reporting period. These agencies acted as gatekeepers to the formal migration process in Laos, and Lao law allowed these agencies to charge workers various recruitment fees. A 2002 MOU on employment cooperation with the Government of Thailand remained active and provided for a formal labor migration process, but it was costly to workers (requiring forced savings for repatriation and payment of other fees), complex, and time-consuming. As a result, the MOU process did not dissuade migrants from utilizing irregular migration schemes, though it led to higher wages and fewer hours of work. A 2020 study conducted by an international organization reported that while the bilateral process did not always prevent Thai employers from exploiting workers, the process offered victims with assistance in both Thailand and Laos. A 2018 study by an international organization found formal recruitment centers passed on fees to workers; many workers did not understand the contracts they signed with the recruitment centers; and some Thai employers withheld workers’ passports—all of which increased workers’ vulnerability to trafficking. The MLSW continued to employ a labor attaché in Thailand who could register employment grievances of Lao workers in the country, but the government did not report if the attaché received anti-trafficking training or if the attaché formally identified any trafficking victims in Thailand during the reporting period. The government scheduled standard anti-trafficking trainings for its diplomatic personnel in 2020, but they were delayed due to COVID-19 restrictions; however, MOFA and LWU held a training session for consular officers on victim identification and referral in February 2021. Government capacity to register births and issue family books and other civil documents, particularly in remote areas of the country, remained limited and contributed to vulnerability; however, the government began to modernize civil registration systems in March 2021. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex.