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  • Dec 24, 2014
  • Updated: 12:33pm
Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong
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HUMAN RIGHTS

Report slams Hong Kong for 'narrow, fragmented laws' that fail to stop human trafficking

Damning report says city is failing to comply with minimum standards and calls for action on forced labour and laws to protect victims

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 March, 2014, 5:26am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 11:37am
 

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Hong Kong's laws on human trafficking are too narrow and fragmented to protect victims, says a report published today.

It says the city's focus on trafficking for prostitution means it is failing to address the wider problem of forced labour.

The report, by the Justice Centre Hong Kong and Liberty Asia, says the government should broaden its definition of trafficking and pass comprehensive new laws to stamp out the practice.

"As an important regional hub and both a destination and transit territory for human trafficking, Hong Kong is failing to fully comply with the minimum standards for [its] elimination," it says.

The report comes as the trial of the employer accused of abusing domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih is set to resume.

Public concern over the abuse of helpers has increased after claims that three Indonesian maids were abused by the same employer. Another helper alleges abuse by another employer.

Report co-author Victoria Wisniewski Otero said: "Recent cases of abuse against helpers should raise warning flags because they bear many hallmarks of forced labour, such as contractual deception, excessive agencies fees leading to debt bondage, the retention of passports and physical or sexual violence."

Figures show that between January and July last year, 2,172 foreign domestic workers were granted visa extensions to resolve legal disputes with employers or agencies, but not a single case of trafficking for forced labour was identified by the Hong Kong authorities, the report says.

And despite a record number of complaints against recruitment agencies last year, the Labour Department revoked the licences of just four out of more than 1,200 operating in the city.

"Clearly, victims are slipping through the net and perpetrators are able to operate unhindered," the report says.

Unlike Macau and Taiwan, Hong Kong has no comprehensive anti-human-trafficking law, relying instead on several measures to deal with the problem - the Crimes Ordinance, Immigration Ordinance and the Offences Against the Person Ordinance.

A Security Bureau spokesman said the penalties contained in the ordinances - with maximum jail sentences ranging from 10 years to life imprisonment - were "sufficiently stringent".

The Department of Justice amended the Prosecution Code last September to define "human exploitation cases" to cover activities that demean the value of human life, covering cases such as sexual exploitation, enforced labour, domestic servitude, debt bondage and organ harvesting, the spokesman added.

But the report says that as the amendment is not backed up by legislation, there is little likelihood of cases being prosecuted.

"There is no one piece of legislation that is robust enough," said co-author Archana Sinha Kotecha, Head of Legal at Liberty Asia.

"Scattered legislation over different ordinances creates little appetite to address the full scope of trafficking for forced labour in Hong Kong,” she said. 

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok told a meeting of Legco last month that the existing legislation provides a "solid framework" on trafficking.

But the US State Department ranked the city's efforts to stamp out human trafficking on a par with those in Congo and Serbia.

Campaigners say trafficking for forced labour constitutes about 68 per cent of total human trafficking and generates illicit profits globally of US$32 billion.

The International Labour Organisation says nearly 21 million people are victims of forced labour worldwide, with 11.7 million in the Asia-Pacific region.

The new report's authors say no estimate is available of how much of that trafficking either comes to Hong Kong or passes through it because trafficking for forced labour is not adequately monitored.

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26

This article is now closed to comments

mymak
At the end of the day - Liberty Asia et al don't like us and we don't like them. The maids don't like Hong Kongers and Hong Kongers don't want them. We need them because their is no alternative childcare in Hong Kong. Yes, Yes, on your high horses - the parents should look after them. Which one? The father or the mother? If its the mother then climb down out of your chauvinistic ivory towers. Proper childcare facilities, regulated and trustworthy as in other countries please and then no more Liberty Asia and much less human traf**** (maids) in Hong Kong. Let us breathe again and not have to put up with weekly assaults on our character.
wumao
We are hearing about helper abuse and unethical agencies on a weekly basis now. Surely it is time for 'the deniers' to face up to the fact that abuse and exploitation is widespread in Hong Kong. Once Asia's World City, now China's Great Mall.
wumao
Employment agencies break the law in Hong Kong on daily basis by overcharging helpers (typically HK$7000-HK$10,000 for sevices when the law sets maximum payment at Hk$401). 58% of helpers are verbally abused, 18% are physically abused and 6% are sexually abused.
Stop the illegal activities of agencies, stop the abuse of helpers, and then the stories will go away.
gunzy
Are you saying that of the approximately 200,000 to 300,000 domestic helpers in HK, all 100% of them are abused in some way?
The problem with this article is that it uses alot of half-truths. Of the 1200 agencies, how many of them are breaking the law? Of these 2172 legal disputes that maids have with the agencies, how many agencies does this represent? If all 2172 cases are concentrated within 20-30 agencies, then why all the gross generalization?
There are absolutely some employers in HK who should never be allowed to employ a maid, and instead should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. But are all employers like this? I know I'm not.
Stop your generalizations, you aren't helping the issue.
johnyuan
Hong Kong’s dependency on domestic helpers can’t be any less bespoken of. They underpin Hong Kong’s economic success by allowing Hong Kong to do few simple tasks most lucratively for a few to maintain a prosper society as we can see it.
.
The simple tasks include selling land by government, building flats by property developers and collecting mortgage interests by banks. Hong Kong people see their wealth improved through the values accumulated in their flat(s). Without domestic helpers, Hong Kong people just can’t toil themselves spending time working for mortgage payments which make all the simple tasks possible.
.
When come to abuse of the domestic helpers, the least such behavior should be happening in Hong Kong. But the greed and overcrowding have overpowered and affected all Hong Kong people. Unwittingly, Hong Kong as a whole is an accomplice to what is being accused rightly a city ‘failing to address the wider problem of forced labour’ by the Justice Centre Hong Kong and Liberty Asia.
.
Heartless and shamful.
mymak
Still too short-sighted. When we don't need them then the stories will go away. Instead of spending so much money trying to mend a broken system simply put in place proper childcare for all Hong Kongers. Simple economics - $4,000 per month + pro rate agency fees $800 per month + flights home $300 per month = $5,100 per month that could be paid to reliable, trustworthy and regulated childcare providers instead of the domestic helper industry.
wumao
Since when has enforcing agencies to obey the law and stopping verbal, physical and sexual violence in the workplace been short-sighted. By all means introduce alternative childcare options into Hong Kong. But while domestic helpers are still working in Hong Kong, treat them with dignity and respect.
HK_eh!
and some basic criteria in order to employ a maid, like livable area > 400 sq ft.
Don't treat maids like animals, living in your kid's bedroom or some closet.
SpeakFreely
Not only to foreign workers, we are making those living in cage n coffin home as slave too. Shame shame shame.
HK_eh!
get to the root of the problem, the employment agencies.
certify and monitor them (not just the companies, but the individuals as business license easy to get in HK).
just like any other professional organization. this will have immediate impact. no fly by night joints.

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