New strategy to close the net on sex traffickers in Hong Kong

Initiative will see officials mapping cases of exploitation, including enforced labour and abuse of helpers, with more aid for victims

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 March, 2013, 1:37pm

Hong Kong has launched a bold initiative that could lead to a fundamental change in the way the city tackles international human traffickers and their victims.

Justice officials will record and map cases of sex trafficking, enforced labour and abuse of domestic helpers in the fight against what Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos has described as "modern-day slavery".

The initiative - prompted by growing international concern over human trafficking and trans-national exploitation - is being led by assistant DPP Catherine Ko Po-chui.

It aims to develop a strategy to deal with a problem the United Nations estimates brings misery to 27 million people worldwide.

Officials deny the move is a response to a US State Department report that labelled Hong Kong a transit point and destination for people from the mainland and Southeast Asia who are trafficked for forced labour and prostitution.

Zervos said: "We want to ensure there's an integrated approach to the problem of human exploitation, not only as a criminal offence, but also to address any underlying social problem.

"We need to deal with human exploitation in a comprehensive, consistent and compassionate manner, in particular with those who have been exploited."

He said while the city's law enforcement authorities and courts had been effective in prosecuting those behind exploitation, there was no "systematic data collection" to monitor trends and indicate the size of the problem.

He added: "I have been aware of the increasing problem of human exploitation in other jurisdictions. We need to start moving with the times."

Last year the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report recommended that Hong Kong "enact a stringent, comprehensive anti-trafficking law".

It also called for the city to adopt international standards as set out in the 2000 United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children.

Adopting the protocol, which defines human trafficking victims as people who are subjected to "sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs", would broaden the definition of trafficking in the city. It has already been ratified by the mainland and applies to Macau.

Human rights lawyer Michael Vidler welcomed the initiative. He said: "Hong Kong badly needs a paradigm shift when it comes to human trafficking.

"There needs to be a regime in place to identify and protect victims. It is incumbent on the government to establish such a regime. If no protection is offered to victims, no one will be willing to step forward."