US Traffickingin Persons Report 2012: Oman is a destination and transit country for men and women, primarily from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Indonesia, who are subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor and, to a lesser extent, forced prostitution. Most migrants travel willingly and legally to Oman with the expectation of employment in domestic service or as low-skilled workers in the country’s construction, agriculture, or service sectors. Some subsequently face conditions indicative of forced labor, such as the withholding of passports and other restrictions on movement, nonpayment of wages, long working hours without food or rest, threats, and physical or sexual abuse. Government sources note that runaway domestic workers are also susceptible to coercion into forced prostitution. Unscrupulous labor recruitment agencies and their sub-agents in migrants’ original communities in South Asia, as well as labor brokers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Oman, and Iran, may deceive workers into accepting work that constitutes forced labor. Many of these agencies provide false contracts for employment either with fictitious employers or fictitious wages and charge workers high recruitment fees (often in an amount exceeding the equivalent of $1,000) at usurious rates of interest, leaving workers vulnerable to trafficking. Oman is also a destination and transit country for women from China, India, Morocco, Eastern Europe, and parts of South Asia who may be forced into commercial sexual exploitation, generally by nationals of their own countries. The majority of women identified as sex trafficking victims are from countries in East Africa, namely Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, and Burundi. Male Pakistani laborers and others from India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and East Asia transit Oman en route to the UAE; some of these migrant workers are exploited in situations of forced labor upon reaching their destination.
The Government of Oman does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government continued to prosecute suspected sex trafficking offenders and sentence convicted sex traffickers to imprisonment; however, it failed to ensure that some trafficking victims were not punished for prostitution they that may have engaged in at the outset of their victimization by sex traffickers. The government failed to report any criminal prosecutions or punishment of labor trafficking offenders. The government continued to refer and assist victims of trafficking to a government-run shelter for trafficking victims. Nonetheless, Omani authorities continued to lack formal procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among those detained for immigration violations. As a result, the government may not have adequately identified victims of forced labor or punished their traffickers. The government continued to provide anti-trafficking training to its law enforcement.
Recommendations for Oman: Continue to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and sentence convicted traffickers to imprisonment; make greater efforts to investigate and prosecute forced labor offenses, including those perpetrated by recruitment agents and employers; ensure that victims of trafficking are not punished for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; institute formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among all vulnerable populations, such as illegal immigrants; refer all suspected victims of trafficking, including victims of both forced labor and forced prostitution, to a shelter, regardless of whether there is a corresponding prosecution of an alleged offender; as a measure to prevent labor trafficking, enact and enforce penalties for employers who withhold their employees’ passports; increase and enforce legal protections for domestic workers, including coverage under the labor laws of Oman; continue training government officials in all relevant departments to recognize and respond appropriately to human trafficking crimes; and increase public awareness campaigns or other prevention programs to reduce the demand for forced labor and commercial sex acts.
The Government of Oman sustained modest anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Through its Royal Decree No. 126/2008, also known as the Law Combating Human Trafficking, issued in 2008, the Omani government prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of three to 15 years’ imprisonment, in addition to financial penalties, for trafficking crimes. These punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. A legally-enforceable government circular prohibits employers from withholding migrant workers’ passports, a practice known to contribute to forced labor. Although the circular does not specify penalties for noncompliance, courts frequently enforced this prohibition by requiring employers to return passports to their employees; the government did not report the number of such cases during the reporting period. Withholding of employees’ passports remains widespread among employers in Oman, including government officials. The government failed to report on investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses in this reporting period that did not lead to convictions or acquittals. During the reporting period, the Government of Oman prosecuted and convicted twelve individuals for sex trafficking offenses, an increase over the number of convictions for sex trafficking reported last year. Each offender received a sentence of three to three-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and a fine in an amount equivalent to $13,000. Another individual was convicted of failing to report a crime of trafficking in persons and sentenced to three months in prison and a fine in an amount equivalent to $50. Despite these convictions, the victims in these cases received six-month prison sentences for prostitution and were then deported. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of labor trafficking offenders. All Royal Oman Police officers receive training as cadets on human rights issues, including how to recognize trafficking in persons.
The government’s efforts to identify and protect victims of trafficking remained weak. The Royal Oman Police continued to operate and fund a permanent shelter, which opened in January 2011, that can accommodate up to 50 men, women, and children who are victims of forced labor or sex trafficking. Victims in this shelter may not leave the premises unchaperoned, but they can readily access shelter employees to accompany them offsite. The shelter remains underutilized due to strict government entry requirements; most victims are cared for by shelters run by the embassies of their home countries. The Public Prosecution only refers trafficking victims to the government shelter if it determines the case against the alleged offender(s) will go to trial; it remains unclear where the victims are housed prior to this decision. During the reporting period, the Public Prosecution – the only entity who can refer victims to the shelter – referred 14 identified victims of sex trafficking to the government care facility for assistance, a decrease from the 24 victims the government referred to its shelter last year. There were no reports of child victims or victims of labor trafficking referred to the shelter during this reporting period. The government continued to lack formal procedures to proactively identify victims of trafficking among all vulnerable groups, including migrants detained for immigration violations and women in prostitution. Due to a lack of comprehensive victim identification procedures, the Government of Oman failed to ensure that migrant workers subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking were not inappropriately incarcerated, fined, or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Government authorities report that victims can be identified through the government’s 24-hour hotline, during the course of prosecution by trained prosecutors and police, or through random labor inspections of workplaces; however, government authorities have never reported the identification of a labor trafficking victim. The government encouraged suspected trafficking victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, but it did not provide them with a standard legal alternative to removal to countries in which they may face retribution or hardship. Some victims, however, were permitted to stay in Oman on a case-by-case basis. Victims were not permitted to work while awaiting court proceedings.
The government sustained modest efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. It continued to distribute brochures in numerous languages, highlighting the rights and services to which workers are legally entitled, to source country embassies and to new migrant laborers upon arrival in the country at airports, recruitment agencies, and in their places of work. In a move to prevent forced labor, the government amended provisions in the Omani labor law in October 2011 by issuing Royal Decree 113/2011, which requires employers to pay all wages by electronic deposit to the employee’s local bank account; fines are prescribed for violations of this law, though the government did not report conducting investigations or imposing fines under this law during the reporting period. The government continued to operate an anti-trafficking hotline, but the government did not report how many calls the hotline received during the reporting period. The government also requires that all employers post labor law regulations in the languages of their workers in prominent locations at worksites. In addition, the government continued its public awareness campaign, which included the placement of at least one article or editorial about the labor law and trafficking issues in the press each month. There were no reported efforts by the government to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in Oman.