Hong Kong was ranked in the Tier 2 Watchlist for the third consecutive year by the US Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, narrowly escaping an automatic downgrade to Tier 3 thanks to a waiver by the US.
Still, Hong Kong officials slammed the report, calling it unfair and saying it had ignored local authorities’ efforts. A spokesman for the government said the report “contained criticisms not founded on facts and allegations not supported by evidence.”
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This year’s TIP report notes that Hong Kong does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, though says the city is taking steps in the right direction.
Normally countries that remain on the Tier 2 Watch List for three years are automatically downgraded to Tier 3 — the lowest grade — but US officials gave Hong Kong a waiver, explaining that the “government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards.”
The South China Morning Post reports:
The US government pointed to some positive efforts that included an action plan to combat trafficking and enhance protections for foreign domestic workers released this year, along with a central steering committee to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts.
The US State Department also noted that Hong Kong passed legislation that strengthened the penalties against employment agencies that violate certain labour provisions and increased the number of investigations for sex trafficking related offences.
According to the document, Hong Kong reported fewer convictions for sex trafficking related offences and issued sentences that were “insufficiently stringent” given the seriousness of the crime.
“Some law enforcement officers did not properly investigate incidents with clear trafficking indicators reported to them by NGOs,” it said.
“The absence of laws criminalising all forms of trafficking impeded investigators’ ability to charge suspected traffickers, particularly in cases where it was difficult to prove physical assault, theft, recruitment, or transportation,” the report said.
Forced labor is technically not a crime in Hong Kong, and anti-trafficking law only applies to trafficking for sexual exploitation.
Piya Muqit, executive director of the non-profit Justice Centre Hong Kong, noted that “the report makes it clear that comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation should be introduced in Hong Kong.”
The US report also highlights gaps in victim support, particularly for abused migrant domestic workers who are not allowed to work pending court cases. This barrier to earn an income if they report abuses is seen as a strong deterrent for victims to ask authorities for help.
Other cases of human trafficking Hong Kong include Indian and Pakistani men who were brought to Hong Kong for arranged marriages that involved forced domestic servitude and bonded labor in the construction industry.
Patricia Ho, a lawyer who has dealt with several human trafficking cases in Hong Kong, says that the city must finally acknowledge the scale of the problem.
“When NGOs tell them on a general level that tens of thousands of victims are in our jurisdiction, they deny that. When lawyers and social workers bring victims to the authorities for help, they do nothing to assist them,” she said.
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