A US State Department report has delivered a scathing assessment of Hong Kong's laws against human trafficking, comparing the city's record on combating the problem to that of Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Serbia.
The Trafficking in Persons Report 2012 sets out the city's failure to meet minimum international standards and highlights a lack of progress in getting appropriate legislation in place. It also confirms that Hong Kong that has dropped down a tier in international rankings for efforts to combat human trafficking.
In a three-tier system of rankings, Hong Kong's position has dropped from tier one in 2008 to tier two today.
The report says Hong Kong 'does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking' and 'authorities have made no discernable progress over previous years in law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking or forced labour [labour trafficking]'.
The city's ranking is now on a par not only with that of Congo, Serbia and Cambodia, but also with that of Ukraine, Iran, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.
'Due to Hong Kong's failure to fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and the lack of discernable progress over previous years in law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking or forced labour [its ranking has been dropped down a tier],' the report says.
It also says that foreign domestic helpers face notable indebtedness assumed in their countries as part of the terms of job placements, which has the potential to plunge them into debt bondage.
This is prevalent in Hong Kong, where Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers are brought to the city under false pretences to work and are unknowingly involved in trafficking by their employers. Some of these domestic helpers have been imprisoned for immigration offences, while those trafficking them have not been prosecuted.
Solicitor Mike Vidler has represented Filipino and Indonesian domestic helpers who have been caught up in this situation and was critical of how these cases are handled. 'The emphasis is always on the domestic helpers being charged with immigration offences rather than the much more serious crime of human trafficking,' he said.
The report also says that Hong Kong secured only six sex-trafficking convictions and no forced labour convictions, which gave the false impression that there was no problem. 'To say that only six prosecutions have been made defies belief. It's just because there is no system in place to identify what the real problem is,' Vidler said.
A Security Bureau spokesman refuted the report's findings. 'Over the years, there was no difference, certainly no deterioration, in the trend of human trafficking and the effectiveness of our law enforcement in terms of number of arrest, prosecutions or convictions,' the spokesman said.
'Hong Kong's legislation already provides a solid framework for the law enforcement agencies to prevent and combat human-trafficking activities,' the spokesman said.