A task force representing 27 community organizations said around 6 percent of foreign workers in Hong Kong were victims of human trafficking, with most of them having suffered labor exploitation and mistreatment, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
As the estimate is higher than that shown by official data, the Civil Society Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force, whose members include the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), urged the government to crack down on human trafficking through legislation.
The task force revealed its findings during a press conference on Monday, which coincides with the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
Looking into the cases of 1,037 foreigners working in Hong Kong between November last year and June this year, the task force found that 63 of them – mainly from Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka – had been victims of human trafficking. The majority of the victims were domestic helpers.
Over 90 percent of the victims reported labor exploitation while the rest prostitution and forced marriages, the task force said.
However, according to Undersecretary for Security Sonny Au Chi-kwong, the government identified only nine such victims after screening 4,710 foreign workers who were suspected victims of human trafficking last year, or about 0.2 percent.
Au said authorities consider human trafficking a serious offense, but insisted that the problem is not prevalent in Hong Kong, RTHK reported.
One of the victims of human trafficking presented by the task force is an Indonesian domestic helper.
She said that for the first nine months since she started working in Hong Kong in 2015, she had to get up at 4 a.m. every day and work until midnight, did not have a day off and was not paid in full as promised. Worse, she had been physically abused by her employer before she was able to seek help from a neighbor.
Another maid, also from Indonesia, said she had been sexually assaulted by her male employer multiple times before she was able to call the police for help.
Under the Palermo Protocol of the United Nations, human trafficking is defined as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation, which shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs”.
Lee Cheuk-yan, general secretary of the HKCTU, said the government must start counting labor exploitation as trafficking as the victims’ suffering meets the definition, RTHK reported.
Hong Kong needs legislation to set a clear definition of human trafficking and deal with the whole network of human trafficking, Lee added.
Meanwhile, the task force published a Handbook on Initial Victim Identification & Assistance for Trafficked Persons to help foreign workers determine if they are victims.
Of the 424 foreign maids who were invited to fill out the self-evaluation form in the handbook, 42 percent of those from the Philippines and 75 percent of those from Indonesia admitted they are not allowed to leave their workplaces or their employers’ residences freely.
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