[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

KUWAIT (TIER 3)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Kuwait is a destination country for men and women trafficked for the purposes of forced labor. The majority of trafficking victims are from among the over 500,000 foreign women recruited for domestic service work in Kuwait. Men and women migrate from Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh in search of work in the domestic and sanitation industries. Although they migrate willingly to Kuwait, upon arrival some are subjected to conditions of forced labor from their “sponsors” and labor agents, such as withholding of passports, confinement, physical sexual abuse and threats of such abuse or other serious harm, and non-payment of wages with the intent of compelling their continued service. Adult female migrant workers are particularly vulnerable, and consequently are often victims of sexual exploitation and forced prostitution. There have been instances of domestic workers who have fled from their employers, lured by the promise of well-paying service industry jobs, and being coerced into prostitution. In other cases, the terms of employment in Kuwait are wholly different from those agreed to in their home countries.

The Government of Kuwait does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making sufficient efforts to do so. Although the government made some efforts to improve its performance from previous years, heated public discourse and wide press debate on human trafficking have not yet resulted in the implementation of adequate laws. The Kuwaiti government has shown an inability to define trafficking and has demonstrated insufficient political will to address human trafficking adequately. Much of the human trafficking found in Kuwait involves domestic workers in private residences and the government is reluctant to prosecute Kuwaiti citizens. The Kuwaiti government has made progress on some of the commitments it made in 2007, e.g. by investigating and prosecuting individuals for trafficking-related offenses and by arranging for officials to participate in trafficking-related training. However, the government has not made significant progress in fulfilling other commitments it made in 2007, which included enacting legislation targeting human trafficking and establishing a permanent shelter for victims of trafficking.

Recommendations for Kuwait: Enact legislation specifically prohibiting and punishing all human trafficking offenses; develop and expand on anti-trafficking training to law enforcement and judicial officials; establish methods to proactively discern victims of human trafficking, especially among the female domestic worker population; provide a means by which trafficking victims can file claims against their offenders. Kuwait should also join international efforts and activities to discourage the demand for commercial sex acts and sex tourism by Kuwaiti nationals.

The Government of Kuwait demonstrated some progress in punishing trafficking offenses this year. While existing legislation does not explicitly prohibit trafficking in persons, there are several related offenses which are prohibited by the Kuwaiti Criminal Code. Transnational slavery is prohibited through Article 185 of the criminal code and prescribes a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment. Article 201, which prohibits forced prostitution, prescribes a maximum sentence of five years’ imprisonment if the victim is an adult and seven years if the victim is a minor under the age of 18. These prescribed penalties are sufficiently severe and commensurate with those prescribed for other grave offenses. While the government did not punish any offenders under the specific charge of "human trafficking," it charged 12 individuals with domestic labor abuse and registered 1,762 cases against persons charged with falsifying labor petitions. Kuwaiti law enforcement generally takes an administrative or civil approach in addressing cases of labor exploitation or abuses, such as assessing fines, shutting down employment firms, issuing orders for employers to return withheld passports or requiring employers to pay back wages. Police, lawyers and judges have not been adequately trained on trafficking issues, although MOSAL and MOI sent a small group of officers training by IOM on human trafficking in Bahrain. In addition, the Kuwaiti government recently committed to funding anti-trafficking training for 15 to 20 police officers to be provided by IOM.

During the year, Kuwait made minimal efforts to improve protection for victims of trafficking. In September 2007, the government opened a temporary shelter for female victims of forced labor. The shelter has a maximum capacity of 40 and is intended to provide medical, psychological and legal services. During its first full year of operation, 279 domestic workers—the group most vulnerable to trafficking and abuse—entered and departed the shelter. There is, to date, no shelter available for male migrant workers. In 2007, the government proposed opening a larger shelter that would be able to accommodate up to 700 men and women. An existing building was finally selected in 2008 to serve as the shelter and $2.5 million was allocated toward its refurbishment. Final authorization from the Council of Ministers is necessary before the funds can be disbursed and refurbishment of the building can begin; as of this writing the shelter had not yet been opened. The government continues to lack a formal procedure for the systematic identification and protection of trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as foreign workers arrested without proper identity documents and women forced into prostitution. Government authorities do not encourage victims to participate in the investigation or prosecution of their traffickers. In July 2008 Kuwaiti law enforcement responded with force to protests and riots by an estimated 80,000 Bangladeshi workers complaining of non-payment of wages and abuses; the government made no discernable effort to identify trafficking victims among the 80,000 or investigate their complaints related to forced labor; instead, hundreds of the workers were summarily deported to Bangladesh. The government responded to some of the protesting workers by offering them reimbursement of unpaid wages.

Kuwait made minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons this year. Throughout September 2008, the ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs organized a series of lectures in mosques throughout Kuwait in which imams discussed the rights of domestic workers according to Islam. In April 2008, Kuwait established a Human Rights Commission, which meets once a month to discuss such issues, though there has been no indication of actions or decisions from these meetings. The government did not take any steps to address child sex tourism among Kuwait citizens traveling abroad or efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sexual acts within Kuwait.