Hong Kong must show human traffickers no mercy
The government needs to reflect on its reluctance to legislate against such activities and redouble efforts to enforce the laws already at its disposal
Launching an action plan to step up the fight against human trafficking for slave labour and the sex trade, and protection for the city’s 370,000 domestic helpers, the chief secretary said it was a heinous crime not tolerated in Hong Kong. The words of Matthew Cheung Kin-chung sent the right message. But there remains room for more effective action, such as reconsidering calls to introduce an anti-human trafficking law.
The government argues that such a law is unnecessary because the city already has at least 49 pieces of legislation to combat trafficking-related crimes. This degree of fragmentation cannot be helpful to enforcement and suggests that an anti-trafficking law is what the city needs.
That said, helper advocates and human rights activists welcomed the action plan, which includes the appointment of teams to handle cases of exploitation and a hotline with interpreters for domestic helpers, a tool for exposing abuses and seeking help that has been used in other countries. However, Cheung’s assertion to lawmakers that trafficking was neither widespread nor prevalent in Hong Kong conflicts with anecdotal evidence and previous reports in this newspaper. Human rights lawyer Patricia Ho said: “ More and more cases have been brought to [the government’s] attention. ”
The launching of the action plan follows reported claims that the city is a base for job recruitment fraud in which Filipino domestic helpers have been lured to quit their jobs and been trafficked to Russia, Turkey and Brazil for bogus high-paid employment. That report apparently did nothing to discourage the racket or prompt an effective crackdown on it.
A further report in the South China Morning Post at the weekend said workers were paying fees to networks, including in Hong Kong, promising jobs in the US, only to end up stranded in other countries when the jobs did not materialise.
Trafficking of people for forced labour or the sex trade is a serious violation of human rights. The government says the problem does not originate on Hong Kong soil. But there is evidence it is flourishing here. The government needs to reflect on its reluctance to legislate and redouble efforts to enforce the laws already at its disposal.