The Hong Kong government will consider a new law and has recently announced an action plan to help it more effectively fight human trafficking.
A new law will raise Hong Kong’s anti-trafficking game
If passed the law, drafted by a Hong Kong lawmaker and two prominent lawyers, will go some way to address criticism that the city's government has not done enough to address this problem.
The Global Slavery Index, a project which monitors slavery internationally, in 2016 ranked Hong Kong as having the second worst government response to slavery in Asia, above only that of North Korea. It estimates there are 45.8 million slaves worldwide
Human trafficking involves the trade of humans for various purposes including prostitution, forced labor and forced marriage.
In 2015, the US State department alleged Hong Kong was a “destination, transit and source territory for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour,” but the Hong Kong government strongly denied it.
Hong Kong’s foreign domestic worker population, who number some 350,000, are also prone to abuse and economic exploitation, with repeated reports of ill-treatment and illegal practices at the hands of employment agencies and employers alike.
What’s the law?
The draft law is scheduled to be discussed next month by the legislature’s Panel on Security – a group of lawmakers responsible for monitoring and debating policies – although the timetable for the passing of this legislation is not yet determined.
The Hong Kong government announced in March an action plan to combat human trafficking, promising to devote more manpower and resources to this effort.
As part of the action plan, in March the Hong Kong government set up a steering committee to tackle trafficking in persons and to enhance protection of foreign domestic helpers.
What does it do?
Although many countries have enacted specific anti-human trafficking laws, Hong Kong is behind. The city has existing laws that deal with sex and human trafficking, but it has no laws against forced labor, said Sandy Wong Hang-yee, chair of the anti-human trafficking committee of the Hong Kong Federation of Women Lawyers.
“The Hong Kong government is now putting in place the required processes needed to help respond to human trafficking and modern-day slavery,” said Matthew Friedman, chief executive officer of The Mekong Club, a Hong Kong-based anti-slavery organization.
This upcoming law will broaden the scope of punishable offences deemed as trafficking.
It will repeal Hong Kong’s existing law on prostitution and replace it with a broader range of offences.
For instance, the new law will criminalize sex tourism, including traveling to Hong Kong to indulge in child pornography, which is not covered under Hong Kong’s current law.
The new legislation will also forbid the trafficking of people into forced labor and forced marriages.
In late July 2017, the South China Morning Post reported that a Pakistani man, Ashraf, had moved to Hong Kong to enter into an arranged marriage – but instead he became a slave bridegroom. His wife, a Hong Kong-born Pakistani woman, forced him to clean and cook, and took his entire salary from his work as a security guard.
“If there were proper trafficking laws, and Ashraf was recognized as a trafficking victim through marriage migration, it would be easier for him to get justice,” said Richard Aziz Butt, a Hong Kong-based immigration consultant.
In all cities and countries, there are trafficking cases beyond prostitution that fall into the category of forced labor, said the Mekong Club’s Matthew Friedman, who provided feedback to the Hong Kong government on this upcoming law.
This category includes domestic workers caught in debt bondage and people in the service industries. Throughout Asia, nearly all the laws related to human trafficking include forced labor, he added. “If Hong Kong’s proposed laws are adopted, this will bring Hong Kong in line with the rest of Asia.”
How good is Hong Kong at fighting trafficking?
Over the years, the US State Department has accused the Hong Kong government of not doing enough to fight trafficking.
The US State Department’s 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report said, “the Government of Hong Kong does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so… The government identified a relatively low number of victims compared to the known scale of the problem.”
The Hong Kong government has repeatedly denied and refuted the criticisms by the US State Department.
“Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is a heinous crime which is not tolerated in Hong Kong. The Hong Kong Government has always been fully committed to combatting TIP through multi-faceted measures,” said Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, chief secretary for administration and chairman of the new steering committee tasked with tackling TIP and protecting of foreign domestic helpers.