Laos has filed charges against 20 suspected human traffickers, including foreigners, who forced teenage girls into prostitution after luring them from rural areas, according to a government official.
The suspects were involved in12 cases of human trafficking investigated over a three-month period to October, an anti-human-trafficking official told RFA’s Lao service, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The suspects are under prosecution,” he said.
All of the cases involved forced prostitution and most of the victims rescued by police in their investigations were women under 18, he said, though he did not say how many victims were involved.
The suspects are believed to have lured girls from mountainous northern and remote areas in Laos’s southern provinces and forced them to sell sex, he said.
But authorities have not yet been able to identify any trafficking rings behind the cases.
Laos has stepped up its efforts to investigate human smuggling offenses and to prosecute and punish traffickers in recent years, according to an annual report by the U.S. State Department that monitors human trafficking worldwide.
In 2011, authorities reported investigating 49 cases of suspected trafficking, involving 69 alleged offenders and resulting in 37 convictions, a step up from the 20 cases investigated and 33 convictions the year before, the report said.
Laos is a source, transit, and destination country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking, as well as for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor, according to the report.
This year, Lao officials have exposed foreign sex rings smuggling Lao women to China, Thailand, and Malaysia.
In June, Lao and Thai officials met to launch a joint campaign to prevent human trafficking across their shared border.
Laos currently has no comprehensive human trafficking law and instead uses its criminal code to deal with the problem.
A draft law on human trafficking is currently under review and is likely to be put into law by 2014, officials have said.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.