The Security Bureau has taken issue with a closely watched annual report on human trafficking by the US State Department, which says Hong Kong has failed to make any discernible progress in enforcement of the law against sex trafficking or labour trafficking. 'Over the years, there was no difference ... in the trend of human trafficking,' said a Security Bureau spokesman, although he confirmed that police had recently broken up two trafficking syndicates. Since it is difficult to reconcile those two statements let us assume that the truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between. As a result, the State Department dropped the city from tier one to tier two on a three-tier scale of performance in combating human trafficking, placing it in the company of Russia, Ukraine, Iran, Congo, Indonesia and Cambodia. That is not good for the reputation of a city that prides itself on upholding the rule of law and human rights.
The report also said that fees gouged from foreign domestic helpers in return for job placement in Hong Kong can lead to debt bondage and their unknowing involvement in trafficking by their employers and immigration offences. Solicitor Mike Vidler, who has represented helpers caught in this trap, says the emphasis is on charging them with immigration offences rather than the crime of human trafficking.
No one has an accurate idea of the extent of trafficking, mostly of women and children for prostitution and forced labour. It is not long since the State Department praised Hong Kong for its efforts - despite concerns about organised gangs bringing women here from Southeast Asian countries for prostitution. On the face of it, it is difficult to dismiss suspicions that some unsavoury and unscrupulous people are profiting from involvement in sex tourism to Hong Kong and exploitation of helpers saddled with crushing debt. If the State Department report serves any practical purpose, it might be to spur governments generally to do better in targeting legislation at a form of slavery in a 21st century setting and enforcing it.