The absence of a specific law to check human trafficking in Laos is fueling the smuggling of newborn babies in the country, officials acknowledged Wednesday.
This "loophole" allows human traffickers to pose as "adopted parents," making it difficult for officials to distinguish them from "genuine adopted parents" and even more difficult to indict them due to lack of strong evidence, according to an anti-human trafficking official in Vientiane.
Human trafficking syndicates have been combing hospitals and poor households in remote areas in Laos to "adopt" newborn babies before selling them to foreigners for up to U.S. $5,000 each, a Lao security official said on Tuesday.
They use government documents obtained from the foreign and justice ministries to legalize the trade, the security official said, calling for a concerted government action to stop the practice.
But the anti-trafficking official said Wednesday, "People with bad intentions can always manage to find loopholes in the law because Laos doesn't have an anti-human trafficking law yet. For now Laos has only some articles in the criminal code to deal with human trafficking matters."
Laos is already a source, transit, and destination country for women and girls subjected to the sex trade.
Men, women, and children are also roped in by syndicates which force them to work in factories and other areas.
Laos prohibits all forms of human trafficking through a 2006 revised Penal Code, which prescribes penalties ranging from five years’ to life imprisonment.
The punishment is viewed as stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
But, according to the U.S. State Department's 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report, court proceedings of human trafficking cases in Laos "lacked due process and transparency."
The Lao judicial sector remained weak and inefficient, and prison conditions raised serious human rights concerns, it said.
International organizations and non governmental organizations have also been unable to verify data provided by the Lao government, the report said.
The government did not report prosecuting any cases of internal trafficking, while impunity of corrupt government officials remained a problem throughout the Lao justice system, it said.
The report also highlighted corruption, which it said is "endemic" in Laos.
Observers of trafficking in Laos believe that some public officials—particularly at local levels—are involved in facilitating human trafficking, sometimes in collusion with counterparts in neighboring Thailand.
"Nevertheless, the government has never reported any officials investigated, prosecuted, or punished for involvement in trafficking in persons."
The Lao National Assembly approved a National Plan of Action on human trafficking in 2007 that has yet to be approved by the Prime Minister’s Office.
Reported by RFA's Lao service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.