[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

LEBANON (TIER 2 Watch List)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Lebanon is a destination for Asian and African women trafficked for the purpose of domestic servitude, and for women from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Lebanese children are trafficked within the country for the purpose of forced labor (mostly street vending), and sexual exploitation. Women from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Ethiopia who travel to Lebanon legally to work as household servants often find themselves in conditions of forced labor through withholding of passports, non-payment of wages, restrictions on movement, threats, and physical or sexual assault. In some cases, employers have kept foreign domestics confined in houses for years. Reports from NGOs indicate that 15 percent of foreign domestics encounter physical abuse from their employers, a potential indicator of involuntary domestic servitude.

In April 2008, the Ethiopian government banned its nationals from traveling to Lebanon to work as household maids for numerous cultural and socio-economic reasons, but also because of some incidents of mistreatment, including physical abuse, rape, and murder. The Philippines government lifted a similar ban on its nationals traveling to Lebanon for work in March 2009. The Lebanese government’s “artist” work permit program, which facilitates entry of women from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union to work in the adult entertainment industry, serves to sustain a significant sex trade and facilitates sex trafficking. Some women are reportedly held in debt bondage, receiving little or no income until the employer has forced the women to repay fraudulently imposed debts allegedly associated with the cost of their recruitment, transportation and employment.

The Government of Lebanon does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these efforts, the government failed to show significant progress in identifying foreign victims of trafficking – particularly victims of domestic servitude – and punishing their exploiters. Nonetheless, it cooperated with NGO’s, namely Caritas, by referring eight victims to Caritas in 2008. In October 2008, the Ministry of Justice, in cooperation with UNDOC, launched a national report on trafficking in persons and committed to undertake efforts to combat trafficking. The assessment revealed a number of policies and practices that contribute to the phenomenon of trafficking in Lebanon. While the report represents a step forward in recognizing and bringing to light the nature of the problem, it may underestimate the overall magnitude of Lebanon’s human trafficking problem – particularly with regard to domestic servitude.

Recommendations for Lebanon: Criminalize all forms of trafficking in persons; investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses under existing law and convict and punish trafficking offenders; develop and institute formal procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, such as women holding “artist” work permits and foreign domestic workers who have escaped from abusive employers; consider measures to lessen the abuse of the “artist” work permit as a conduit for sex trafficking; enforce Lebanese law prohibiting the confiscation of passports of foreign maids; implement the March 2009 Labor Code revision that provides a unified contract; and ensure that victims of trafficking are referred to protection services rather than detained for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as immigration violations and prostitution.

Lebanon made modest but insufficient efforts to prosecute or punish trafficking offenses during the reporting period. Although trafficking is not defined as a crime in Lebanese law, some trafficking-related offenses are codified in the criminal code, including commercial sexual exploitation, depriving a person of his or her freedom, and use of documents belonging to another person. The prescribed penalties for commercial sexual exploitation -- a maximum of two years’ imprisonment -- and forced prostitution -- a minimum of one year’s imprisonment -- are not commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. Penalties for other forms of trafficking are not sufficiently stringent: temporary hard labor is prescribed for the offense of depriving a person of freedom. During the past year, five cases were reported of foreign household servants who had been victims of violence, insufficient payment of salary, and withholding of passports; these may have constituted trafficking. In one case of rape of a domestic worker, an employer was prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and ordered to pay the victim compensation. Other cases involved financial compensation and/or two-month prison sentences. The Ministry of Labor closed down two employment agencies for violation of workers’ rights, including physical abuse. The General Security reported 47 complaints of physical abuse, rape, and withheld earnings of foreign women working in adult clubs in 2008 – complaints that may have involved conditions of involuntary servitude. Most were settled out of court and the victims deported. These cases were hampered by a lack of resources; court backlogs; corruption; cultural biases, particularly against foreign women; bureaucratic indifference and inefficiency; difficulty proving cases of reported abuse; and victims' lack of knowledge of their rights. Given the significant hurdles to pursuing criminal complaints in the Lebanese court system, and in the absence of alternate legal recourse, many foreign victims opted for quick administrative settlements followed by mandatory repatriation.

The Government of Lebanon did not make sufficient efforts to protect victims of trafficking during the reporting period. The government did not provide trafficking victims with any services directly; only an NGO, funded by a foreign donor, provided shelter to foreign victims of involuntary domestic servitude. However, this NGO has a Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Lebanon, which stipulates that the government will cooperate with the NGO by referring trafficking victims to the shelter. The government also provides security for the shelter and protects the location’s whereabouts as requested by the NGO. That NGO provided shelter for 92 victims of trafficking in 2008. The government did not employ formal procedures to identify and refer victims of trafficking, although some victims are referred informally to NGOs for assistance. Moreover, the government pursued policies and practices that significantly harmed foreign victims of trafficking. For example, authorities required that women recruited for prostitution under its “artist” work permit program be confined in hotels for most of the dayand summarily deported them if they complained of mistreatment. Similarly, the government regularly detained and deported foreign domestic workers who left their employers and did not have valid residency and work permits, without attempting to determine if any were victims of forced labor. Previously, domestic workers signed a contract with an employment agency before leaving their home country and signed a second contract in Arabic upon arrival in Lebanon, a language they may not understand, and on terms that may not be consistent with initial contract. The new unified contract provided in the March 2009 amendment to Lebanon’s Labor Code is printed in nine languages and provided to prospective employees in their home countries; domestic workers now sign the same contract, in their native language, upon arrival in Lebanon. It is common practice for employers to force a domestic worker who breaks his or her contract to repay residency and work permit fees, or pay for a paper releasing him or her from their contract; there is no exception for workers who break their contracts due to employers’ abuse. Victims were neither encouraged to participate in trials, nor offered legal alternatives to removal to countries where they would face hardship or retribution. Rather, the government often deported victims to their countries of origin before giving them the opportunity to testify against their traffickers.

Lebanon made minimal efforts to prevent trafficking in persons over the last year. In February 2009, the Ministry of Labor published a unified contract to be used by all employment agencies hiring domestic workers locally or overseas; the contract regulates working hours and stipulates that workers be given days off for vacations and holidays. During 2008, 50 members of the armed forces and law enforcement officials participated in training conducted by an NGO on basic awareness of human rights, migrant workers' rights, and trafficking issues. In addition, the Ministry of Labor conducted routine training courses for its inspectors, although the Ministry has limited jurisdiction in cases of household employment. Aside from the introduction of the aforementioned unified contract for domestic workers, the government did not take additional steps to reduce the demand for domestic servitude or commercial sex acts in Lebanon during the reporting period. The government similarly did not institute a public awareness campaign targeting citizens traveling to known child sex tourism destinations.