Due to the tenuous political situation, the government faced serious challenges to combat trafficking, including substantial internal security threats, weak institutions, systemic corruption, a weakening economy, limited territorial control, and poor law enforcement capabilities. The government made no discernible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Government efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders were hampered by the absence of a law criminalizing all forms of trafficking and the government’s conflation of trafficking and smuggling. Article 248 of the penal code criminalized slavery and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. However, Article 248 narrowly focused on transactions and movement and therefore did not criminalize many forms of labor and sex trafficking, as defined under international law. Article 279 criminalized child sex trafficking under its “child prostitution” provision and prescribed penalties of up to seven years imprisonment, which could be increased to up to 15 years imprisonment under aggravating circumstances; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. While the government’s inter-ministerial National Technical Committee to Combat Human Trafficking drafted anti-trafficking legislation, with assistance from an international organization, prior to its departure, Houthi rebels illegally disbanded parliament in February 2015, and the legislation has not been enacted.
The government did not have oversight of the courts and therefore did not report efforts to prosecute, convict, or punish trafficking offenses during the year. In addition, the government was unable to pursue any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses, despite reports of officials engaged in trafficking in both urban and rural areas, including the domestic servitude of children and women, forced prostitution of women, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and forced labor of migrant workers. Local government and security officials allegedly willfully ignored trafficking crimes in their respective areas of responsibility. Prior to the conflict, the government did not effectively enforce anti-trafficking provisions due to a lack of resources and the financial interests of the elite, many of whom benefited from forced labor.
The government did not have the access to identify and provide adequate protection services to trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as women in prostitution and foreign migrants. As a result, the government was unable to ensure trafficking victims were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, such as prostitution or immigration violations. An international organization supported 12 victims of trafficking it identified in Yemen, including both adults and children. Although the Ministry of Interior (MOI) Women and Children Unit had formal standard operating procedures for proactive identification of trafficking victims, efforts to implement or train law enforcement on these procedures were suspended due to the prolonged unrest. Furthermore, the government did not encourage victims to assist in investigations or prosecutions of their traffickers or to provide assistance to its nationals repatriated after enduring trafficking abroad. In May 2014, the government acknowledged the use of child soldiers and signed a UN action plan to end the practice; however, it made limited effort to release child soldiers from the military or provide them with protective or rehabilitation services during the reporting year. Furthermore, an international organization continued to express concerns about the detention by the Yemeni Armed Forces (YAF) of children for alleged association with Houthi rebel forces. The government took some action in criticizing or condemning the active and aggressive rebel recruitment of child soldiers, including public press statements, and expressed its commitment to properly address this crime.
Due to its broad lack of access and capacity limitations, the government was unable to make efforts to prevent trafficking during the reporting period. A draft national strategy to combat trafficking initiated by the Ministry of Human Rights in a previous reporting period, in coordination with an international organization, remained pending. The draft included plans for raising awareness, increasing cooperation between Yemen and neighboring countries, training officials in victim identification, and instituting procedures to protect victims. During a previous reporting period, the government enacted a regulation requiring MOI approval for Yemenis to marry foreigners, particularly Saudis and Emiratis who “temporarily” married young Yemeni women; however, officials continued to provide approval for such marriages in exchange for bribes. Further, the government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel and could not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, forced labor, or address the problem of sex tourism more broadly. Yemen is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
Since the escalation of armed conflict in March 2015, human rights organizations reported all parties to the conflict continued their unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers. As a result of its limited capacity and the ongoing conflict, the Yemeni government has not implemented a 2014 UN action plan to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers, although the government did express interest in revitalizing the discussion on implementation. Despite a 1991 law requiring members of the armed forces to be at least 18 years of age and a May 2014 UN action plan to prevent unlawful recruitment of children into its armed forces, credible reports indicated the protraction of unlawful recruitment of children throughout the country, due to expansion of military activity by government forces and Houthi rebel forces, tribal and coalition militias, and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). During the year, these armed groups sustained, and in some cases intensified their recruitment, training, and mobilization of children as participants in the conflict. An international organization reported armed groups used children as uniformed soldiers in combat and at checkpoints during the reporting period. Armed boys, reportedly as young as 12 years old, are believed to have worked for Houthi militias and government forces. During the reporting period, verified cases of the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers occurred without familial knowledge or consent, and monetary and material support were utilized as incentives for joining the army, in addition to forced enrollment via abductions. According to an international organization, between January and September 2017, armed groups unlawfully recruited and used at least 370 children between the ages of 12-17, compared to168 the previous reporting period. The majority of incidents were attributed to the Houthis, followed by the YAF, Popular Committees, and AQAP. In 2017, Yemeni officials did not report demobilizing any child soldiers. In 2016, the Saudi-led coalition demobilized and referred to Yemeni officials 52 child soldiers alleged to have been recruited by the Houthis; the children were later detained in a YAF-controlled camp. Yemen’s security, political, and economic crises, cultural acceptance of child soldiering, weak law enforcement mechanisms, and limited political will continued to severely encumber the country’s capacity to end the recruitment and use of child soldiers.