US human trafficking report misleading, says Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 June, 2014, 4:30am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 June, 2014, 10:37am

Hong Kong has hit back after a US State Department report accused it of not doing enough to tackle human trafficking.

The latest annual Trafficking in Persons report for the first time identified the city as a "source territory" - as well as a "destination" and "transit" point - for trafficking.

It said victims came from as far away as Chad, Uganda and Colombia and Asian countries.

Some of the city's 320,000 domestic workers were victims of "debt bondage" because of fees owed to agencies, the report said. Authorities identified just seven victims of sex trafficking despite arresting 3,000 mainland and foreign prostitutes, it added.

But the government accused Washington of failing to reflect the city's "unfailing commitment" to fighting trafficking.

"[It] doesn't fully reflect the unfailing commitment and continuous efforts of the government in the fight against human trafficking," a government spokesman said. "In particular, we disagree that Hong Kong is a destination and transit and source territory for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour."

The report highlights the high-profile case of Indonesian domestic helper Erwiana Sulistyaningsih as an example of the dangers suffered by domestic workers. Erwiana's employer has pleaded not guilty to 20 charges of labour violations and abuse of Erwiana and two other maids.

The report said children as well as men and women were at risk of trafficking and forced labour. The practice of "compensated dating" would "facilitate the prostitution of Hong Kong children and their vulnerability to trafficking", it added.

Women were lured to the city and forced to work as prostitutes, the report said, and the city was a "transit point" for Southeast Asian fishermen forced to work aboard boats in the Pacific.

The city was ranked in tier two, which means it did not fully comply with US anti-trafficking laws. It was downgraded from tier-one status in 2009.

Eman Villanueva, of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body, welcomed the report.

"This time the report has focused on the abuses and this time it shows the problem persists, and in my view, is worsening," Villanueva said. "With the case of Erwiana … the US State Department report will put more pressure on the government to take some concrete measures in reforming their existing policies."

The government spokesman added: "Notwithstanding the rare occurrence of human trafficking crimes, we recognise the need to maintain our vigilance towards this threat."