Bahrain in the U.S. Report on Human Trafficking:

Improvement in Performance and Legislation

On 14 June, the U.S. State Department issued its report on human trafficking in the world. The report positioned Bahrain among the countries that occupy the second category, a classification of countries that their governments are doing their best to adhere to international standards in this regard. The report pointed out that Bahrain does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but it is making significant efforts to do so. The report added that the government did not show evidence of progress in providing protective services to victims or prosecuting those involved in cases of trafficking in persons. The report also criticized Bahrain for not criminally prosecuting any employers or labour agents for forced labour of migrant labourers, including domestic workers

This rating represents a development as far as regards Bahrain’s dealing with the issue of trafficking in persons compared to the reports issued in the same connection during the past three years, where Bahrain was in the second category in the U.S. report for 2008 and 2009, respectively, while it was classified in the third category in 2007. But this year there has been an evolution as Bahrain has been positioned among the countries that are committed to apply standards against trafficking in persons.

The Government of Bahrain cautiously welcomed the report, which show the recognition of the State Department of the efforts made and the developments that Bahrain has achieved in the fight against trafficking in persons, but at the same time the report did not do justice to Bahrain. The first reaction to the report came from the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Abdullah Abdul Latif who said in a press conference held on 14 June that: (We are happy that there are international recognitions ?f increasing efforts of the Kingdom of Bahrain in the fight against this phenomenon, including praises coming from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), as well as the U.S. report itself which featured the efforts of countries in the world in their fight against trafficking in persons). However, the Undersecretary went on to criticize the U.S. report in that the report did not do justice to Bahrain, which issued a report prepared by the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons in March 2010, which included efforts by the Bahraini government, according to him.

To confirm Bahrain’s national and international obligations, Abdullah Abdul-Latif said: (Bahrain will continue its efforts to reach full implementation of all international standards to address the phenomenon of trafficking in persons, and will continue to cooperate with the concerned authorities at the local, regional and international levels in this regard). He also referred to the future plans to combat this phenomenon, including plans for the media aim at increasing awareness among the citizens of the ?henomenon of trafficking in persons.

Legislative Developments against Trafficking in Persons

Although the U.S. State of Department report criticized Bahrain, there are several indicators supporting Bahrain›s commitment to international standards, including the opening of an office and a branch by the IOM in Bahrain in January 2008. The IOM initiated a project aims at capacity building and awareness on trafficking in human persons in Bahrain. The project also aims to cooperate with Bahrain›s government and civil society institutions to support their capacity with regard to employment protection, da?a collection and application of law.

The National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons has issued its first report, which was translated into English. The report dealt with the legislative developments in the Kingdom of Bahrain since the issuance of the Bahraini Penal Code in 1976, which dealt since that time with some types of trafficking in persons. The report pointed to 9 articles criminalizing trafficking in persons. It also pointed to the issuance of a number of decrees that strengthen the fight against trafficking in persons, in?luding Decree No. 16 of 1998 on transplants of human organs being a form of trafficking in persons to some extent; and the Decree No. 23 of 1976 regarding the Labour Code, which regulates the employment of juveniles and women.

There are many other legislative developments mentioned in the report such as the Trade Unions Act promulgated by Legislative Decree No. (33) of 2002; and Law No. (19) of 2006 on the organization of the labour market. In August 2009, a law was passed allowing the foreign worker to move into employment with another employer without the consent of the first employer. The law requires the labour market department to take actions that enable the worker to move. Furthermore, the law imposes penalties for violat?on of its provisions, which aim at combating forms of trafficking in persons, notably forced labour.

In another development, the Government referred to the legislature draft of a new labour law, which contains provisions governing the work of domestic workers. For example, the draft law organizes the form of employment contract, the number of hours and days of work, and also includes sanctions on the employer in case of violating the provisions of the employment contract.

Practical Measures to Combat Trafficking in Persons

The report of the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons reviewed measures and decisions taken by government agencies, including the establishment of a specialized unit to combat trafficking in persons at the Ministry of the Interior, where the unit was formed on the recommendation of the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons. The report focused briefly on the key activities to build capacity and increase awareness about trafficking in persons, as well as Bahrain’s cooperation with other organizations and agencies of the U.N. in this regard.

Important indicator for the fight against trafficking in persons in Bahrain deals with efforts made by Bahrain to organize the work of foreign workers, especially irregular employment and how Bahrain deals with the issue humanely and according to international standards.

The Minister of Labour issued a decision to form a High National Committee to address the phenomenon of irregular employment. The Labour Market Regulatory Authority created a system to electronically protect the wages of workers, and to ensure that workers are receiving their wages in full and in time. The electronic system also provides the Regulatory Authority with the necessary database and information about the operations of wages payment in the private sector and to what extent the relevant instituti?ns are committed to pay wages as agreed.

The BHRM noted many of the practical measures and decisions taken by governmental agencies such as the establishment by the Ministry of the Interior of a specialized unit for crimes of trafficking in persons; not deporting any foreign workers by the General Directorate of Nationality, Passports and Residence except by court orders; receive complaints through the hotline; provide psychosocial support and shelters to victims; coordination with the embassies and offices of foreign workers to overcome the obstacles that may face the workers as well as to reconcile their situation. Also the Labour Market Regulatory Authority issued manuals on the rights of migrant workers in several langua?es including Indi, Urdu, Bengali and English. The Ministry of Social Development established a shelter for victims of trafficking in persons; the Attorney-General passed a resolution limiting the investigation of crimes of trafficking in persons to the capital city alone, in order to increase cooperation between the judicial officers and prosecutors; many cases of trafficking in persons were determined by the Bahraini courts, which sentenced to varying prison terms some defendants. For example, an Asian wo?an was tried in December 2008 on charges of trafficking in persons for exploitation of young Asian women in prostitution and the seizure of their passports. The woman was gaining from the earnings of victim females she was exploiting in prostitution. The court ruled against the woman and sentenced her to three and a half years and fined her 5000 BD. The victims were housed in a shelter house. Two persons (Bahraini and an Asian) were arrested in January 2010 on charges of trafficking in persons, and are cur?ently under pre-trial investigation under the anti-trafficking law. In February 2010, a Bahrain was arrested on charges of trafficking in persons and is currently being investigated.


The recommendations of the report of the U.S. State Department are objective and practical and included:

■ The need to continue to apply the Anti-Trafficking Law of 2008 in order to increase the effective investigation and prosecution of crimes related to trafficking in persons, and to punish violators, especially of crimes related to forced labour,

■ Effectively investigate all crimes of trafficking in persons including complaints obtained through the hotline.

■ To benefit from the Interior Ministry to identify the victims as a basis for the establishment and application of formal procedures that help in identifying victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as women working as prostitutes and domestic workers who have fled abusive employers.

■ To refer victims to protection services, expand government-run shelters, and to ensure non-restriction of the movement of the victims. Also there is need to ensure that the staff working in shelters are qualified and speak the languages of foreign workers.

■ To ensure that the non-punishment of victims of trafficking for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked, such as illegal immigration or prostitution.

■ The need to add a representative from the Ministry of Labour to the Joint Ministerial Committee to combat trafficking in persons.

■ The need to consider the appointment of a national rapporteur or a coordinator to combat trafficking in persons.

■ To ensure that domestic workers receive the same protection enjoyed by foreign workers under the law.

■ To provide the necessary support for the adoption of the ILO Convention to protect the rights of domestic workers.

Future steps

Fortunately, the State Department›s report came at a time when Bahrain has a national institution for human rights and is expected to play a crucial role to combat trafficking in persons. This can only be done through a realistic and practical plan compatible with international standards. This is also indicated by the President of the NIHR Salman Kamal al-Din that the Kingdom of Bahrain is serious in its quest to combat trafficking in persons and has a plan to fight it, but so far does not live up to inte?national standards.

If the efforts to combat this bad phenomenon continue, coupled with the approach of strict application of laws that criminalize trafficking in persons, we will see Bahrain progresses in the report of the U.S. State Department to the first category in the next year. This puts a burden on everyone, especially relevant governmental institutions, the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons, the NIHR, and civil society organizations.