The US State Department has put Hong Kong under the “Tier 2 watch list” for the third consecutive year along with Zimbabwe, Liberia and the Central African Republic in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2018.
The report concludes that even though Hong Kong has made certain efforts to combat human trafficking, enhance protection for foreign domestic helpers (FDHs), step up penalties for errant employment agencies, and establish a high-level steering committee to coordinate the work involved in cracking down on human trafficking, the results have fallen short of the lowest standards laid down in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000.
Recently, I once again raised the issue with our government officials during a Legislative Council Question and Answer session, and demanded an update on the latest policies in this regard.
However, much to my disappointment, all they did was repeat the same old, ambiguous answer in relation to the work, and say that human trafficking is not common in Hong Kong.
If the government continues to bear such a tunnel vision and low vigilance on this issue, chances are, Hong Kong could be rated a “Tier-3” region, i.e. the worst category regarding the state of human trafficking activities, by the US State Department next year.
Apart from expressing concern over the problem of exploitation of FDHs in the city, the TIP report criticizes the Hong Kong government for failing to effectively stem the rising tide of sex trafficking.
In my opinion, there are substantial grounds for the US government to make such a criticism against us.
It is because, according to the figures provided by the government, over the past five years, an average of 4,200 foreign nationals were arrested annually on charges of engaging in illegal sex trade, suggesting that the influx of foreign people into the to engage in sex work has become a common phenomenon.
Recently, lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang and I pored through some court information and found two cases of sex trafficking that took place in 2013 and 2014.
In both cases, the two female victims were Southeast Asian nationals, who were arranged to come to Hong Kong to take part in sex trade, and who were found to serve 125 and 182 clients respectively within 13 days of their arrival here.
Yet they weren’t paid a dime because both of them had to surrender every penny which they made from the first 200 clients to their pimps as “agent fees”.
And after they had paid off all their commission, they were only paid some HK$60 for each session of sex service.
In another similar case, three women had to hand over all the money they made from their first 100 clients as agent fees to the pimps who had arranged for them to come to Hong Kong.
The ordeals and exploitations which these women faced are appalling and gut-wrenching, and show why we definitely need to work to eradicate the problem of human trafficking in Hong Kong.
While I am deeply grateful to the local law enforcement officers and prosecutors for having brought some criminals to justice, I have also noticed that in the two cases cited above, human traffickers were exploiting their victims and subjecting them to forced labor by means of charging the so-called “agent fees”.
I believe the charging of whopping agent fees is a common practice in the illegal sex industry here.
Judging from the increasing number of prostitution websites operating in Hong Kong in recent years, it is hard to imagine they aren’t supported and coordinated by organized crime syndicates.
I understand that it is often difficult for the law enforcement to seek the cooperation of foreign sex workers who have been arrested and have them give accounts of their situation, because many of the women either lack the necessary rights awareness or fear retaliation.
Given this, the law enforcement agencies need to provide further information and support for these victims, as well as undertake in-depth investigations and follow-up actions.
The government’s claims that over the past three years it has identified only three victims of sexual exploitation or human trafficking, and hence it said human trafficking isn’t a serious issue in the city. I can only say that the administration is refusing to accept the reality.
The government’s denial of the human trafficking problem raises concern as to whether the existing mechanism can truly and effectively identify human trafficking victims in the city.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 10
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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