The release of the State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) revealed that Asia is home to some of the worst perpetrators of illegal human trafficking.

China has now joined the ranks of Russia, North Korea, Iran, and a handful of other countries as Tier 3 violators of human trafficking laws. Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Malaysia, Maldives, Micronesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand were placed on the Tier 2 Watch List for their lack of compliance with human trafficking laws.

China’s designation as a Tier 3 country authorizes the U.S. to place sanctions on non-humanitarian and non-trade-related aid. Whether President Obama imposes such sanctions will be determined over the next 90 days. Sanctions could impact U.S. support for aid from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as well as some aid coming directly from the U.S. to China.

China has been on the Tier 2 Watch List for nine years. The past two years, China has a received a waiver and maintained its Tier 2 Watch List status due to efforts at implementing new anti-human trafficking laws. This year, due to its failure to take remedial action, it slipped to Tier 3.

China is a source, transit point, and destination for trafficking victims. Forced labor has been documented at an estimated 320 state-controlled Chinese re-education camps. According to the TIP report, Chinese women were trafficked to every continent.

North Korea has long been designated as a Tier 3 country due to its labor camps that imprison 200,000 or more people. These prisoners are subjected to both forced labor and unimaginable brutality. Women and children trying to escape into neighboring countries are often trafficked as sex workers or brides, making freedom nearly unattainable.

Worldwide, there are an estimated 27 million people caught in the mire of human trafficking—including an estimated 1.2 million children. From persecuted religious minorities in Burma (such as the Rohingya) to sex slaves in Cambodia, the atrocities are innumerable.

It is important that the U.S. maintain pressure on countries that violate the dignity of their people and keep a spotlight on human trafficking victims in Asia. To that end, a team of analysts at The Heritage Foundation are currently engaged in a major study of ways to improve American efforts to stem human trafficking.