14 November 2019
Hong Kong needs to pass comprehensive legislation that deals specifically with human trafficking and other forms of exploitation, say rights activists. Photo: Bloomberg
Hong Kong needs to pass comprehensive legislation that deals specifically with human trafficking and other forms of exploitation, say rights activists. Photo: Bloomberg

Time for HK to legislate against human trafficking

My colleague Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong and I recently organized Hong Kong’s first international symposium on human trafficking, drawing the participation of diplomats and representatives from the US, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, Poland, the Philippines and the European Union.

Also present at the event were over 150 representatives from the Hong Kong government, the local business sector, and legal and accounting professions, as well as experts from non-governmental organizations.

Human trafficking has become a global issue, and unfortunately, Hong Kong is now considered one of the world’s major hubs for this criminal activity.

Even more unfortunate is that over the years our government has remained sluggish in responding to the increasingly rampant human trafficking activities in Hong Kong.

For example, among the most infamous loopholes in our existing system is the fact that there isn’t any single piece of legislation in the city that deals specifically with human trafficking and other forms of human exploitation such as forced labor, let alone criminalizing them.

At the symposium, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung gave a keynote speech, in which he outlined some of the latest policy initiatives of the Hong Kong government to combat human trafficking.

Among the government’s most important measures is the establishment of a high-level and interdepartmental steering committee, chaired by Secretary Cheung, in March this year.

The new steering committee is charged with overseeing the implementation of the government’s “Action Plan to Tackle Trafficking in Persons and Enhance Protection of Foreign Domestic Helpers.”

According to Secretary Cheung, the action plan is aimed to identify and protect victims of international human trafficking as well as to enhance efforts at carrying out investigations, enforcing the law and pressing criminal charges against human traffickers.

It appears the government, particularly the Chief Secretary, is finally determined to get tough with human trafficking and fulfill the city’s international obligations on the critical issue.

Another guest speaker, Lord McColl of Dulwich, a prominent judge from the British House of Peers who is devoted to anti-human trafficking and is a leading international authority on this issue, in his address stressed the importance of legislating specifically and comprehensively against human trafficking.

Lord McColl noted that in the past, Britain, like Hong Kong, didn’t have a specific law that dealt with human trafficking. Instead, there were several separate and scattered legislations that regulated different forms of human trafficking and exploitations.

However, he went on to explain, based on his past experience on hearing human trafficking cases over the years, he had realized that the absence of a single and specific law that deals with human trafficking had proven to be totally inadequate for reflecting comprehensively and accurately the kind of exploitations to which human trafficking victims were subjected.

Meanwhile, the absence of an anti-human trafficking law would also make it very difficult for the law enforcement to nail international human traffickers, he added.

To address this unsatisfactory condition, the British Parliament eventually passed the “Modern Slavery Act” in 2015, under which human trafficking, forced labor, sex slavery and other sorts of human exploitation would be dealt with by a unified and single piece of new legislation.

As we can see, fighting human trafficking with a single and specific piece of legislation has become a leading trend in advanced overseas jurisdictions that are governed by the rule of law, and has proven to be a highly effective way to combat the menace.

Now that we have already agreed on the general principles and direction on fighting human trafficking, the next important task lying before us is to translate our ideals into solid actions.

The recent symposium marked a beginning in Hong Kong’s resolve to fight international human trafficking activities. After this event, it would be the turn of different stakeholders to push for reforms on this issue in their particular fields.

As far as I am concerned, I am determined to campaign for the passage of an anti-human trafficking law in Legco because as a lawmaker, it is my responsibility to push for legislative initiatives that are in the best public interests.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 30

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legco member representing the Legal functional constituency (2012-2016) and a founding member of Civic Party