Lao PDR

Illicit Trafficking and Smuggling

Illicit trafficking is characterized by crimes that, by their very nature, tend to have a strong transnational character and are highly damaging to human security and sustainable development

  • Trafficking in Persons:

    Human trafficking is a serious crime and has become a matter of high concern in the Lao PDR. Approximately 60,000 young people try to enter the labour force each year, but employment opportunities are very limited making migration an attractive alternative for many young people in search of work. The lack of public awareness of laws and legislation makes potential migrants vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking. It is estimated that between 200,000 and 450,000 people are trafficked annually within the Greater Mekong Sub Region. Laos is also severely affected. Human trafficking is not only a cross-border activity but also occurs within the boundaries of the Lao PDR. Many young people choose to migrate either internationally to Thailand or internally from rural locations to the cities, in search of better economic opportunities. It is believed that about 90% of trafficking from Laos occurs to Thailand where the majority of victims are girls aged between 12 and 18. Of those people trafficked from Laos to Thailand, it has been estimated that about 35% end up in prostitution, 32% in situations of labour exploitation, 17% in factories and 4% on fishing boats. There have been reported health impacts linked to the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region. More than 50% of the HIV positive cases within Laos have been located among Lao migrant workers who return from neighbouring countries. This criminal phenomenon is difficult to evaluate and statistics documenting human trafficking in the Lao PDR are very poor.
  • Drug trafficking:

    Since the mid 1990s, drugs trafficking have become an increasingly serious problem. The Lao PDR lacks both human and financial resources to effectively police its 5,083 kilometre long border with Myanmar (235 km), Cambodia (541 km), China (423 km), Thailand (1,754 km), Viet Nam (2,130 km). Most drug smuggling takes place in the Northern region and across the Mekong River in transit from Myanmar on its way to other countries. Tighter law enforcement in China and Thailand has contributed to the Lao PDR's rapid emergence as a key transit and storage country for ATS and heroin from Myanmar to neighbouring countries in the region and then onwards to other countries in the world, with precursors going in the opposite direction. The Lao PDR is also used for trans-shipment purposes of chemicals. The availability of precursor chemicals, technical chemical expertise and growing ATS local demand also raises the risks of domestic manufacturing of ATS and heroin in Laos within the remote and inaccessible border areas. More recently West African gangs have been involved in trafficking cocaine and heroin as well as cannabis. Women have been targeted to carry drugs across borders. In some remote border areas, mountainous ethnic groups have been deliberately made dependant on heroin and ATS by trans-national criminal gangs in order to be used as human mules to carry drugs across borders.
  • Environmental crime :

    Illicit trafficking is linked with transnational criminal groups and is trans-boundary in nature. The commodities being trafficked include not only illicit drugs, chemical precursors, humans, arms, counterfeit products but also illicit logging as well as many endangered species which can be classified as environmental crimes. In the Lao PDR, a great variety of wildlife included CITES I and II are currently openly traded in northern areas, often in large volume. Although various legal instruments have been created and a new wildlife law is due to be published soon, there is an important need for law enforcement efforts since wildlife trade continues undisturbed.


The current situation is causing very serious concerns as traffickers are becoming more sophisticated and organized in carrying out cross-border and transit-trafficking operations. These recent changes in illicit trafficking routes making Laos a key transit country have occurred faster than the Lao Government's ability to respond accordingly. Limited funds have hindered the effective development of the legal sector in the Lao PDR. This situation has had serious repercussions on the implementation of the rule of law as well as on the establishment of upstanding law enforcement and forensic capacities nationwide which also directly impede regional progress in preventing and controlling illicit trafficking.

The Government has expressed its concerns on the increase in related corruption and money laundering. Because of its geographical location and its vulnerability the country is attracting the attention of trans-national criminal organizations and is at risk of becoming a hub for storage, illicit transit trafficking and drug consumption in the region. Although there are no indication that large scale production of synthetic drugs currently occurs in the Lao PDR, strategic analysis indicate that it is only a matter of time before synthetic drugs are clandestinely produced in the country.