Plug Hong Kong’s legal loopholes on human-trafficking and forced labour, legislator tells officials

Dennis Kwok vows to introduce a bill to the legislature if government fails to do so

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 10:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 August, 2017, 10:34pm

A pro-democracy lawmaker in Hong Kong is stepping up his push to enact legislation against human-trafficking and forced labour in the city, vowing to introduce a bill to the legislature himself if the government refuses to act.

Dennis Kwok, who represents the legal sector in the Legislative Council, called for a united effort from legislators across the political spectrum, saying the issue would only tarnish the city’s reputation if left unresolved.

Together with the Hong Kong Anti-Trafficking Concern Group, Amnesty International and trade unions, Kwok reiterated on Tuesday that a comprehensive law was needed to criminalise human-trafficking activities.

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Citing the annual Trafficking in Persons Report by the US Department of State, he pointed out loopholes whereby current laws did not effectively address problems such as forced labour and slavery.

Last year that report put Hong Kong on a “Tier 2 Watch List”, denoting a “failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year”.

Local human rights lawyer Patricia Ho, of Daly and Associates, said a common problem was that victims were often arrested for crimes they had been coerced into committing by syndicates.

“We have seen cases of women from South Asian countries being lured into applying for work in Hong Kong by agents who referred them to brothels when they arrived in the city,” she said.

When these women wanted to escape, the agents threatened to disclose their work to their family and friends back home, Ho added.

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Mabel Au Mei-po, director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said education was needed to eradicate public misconceptions.

“The general public may not fully understand the complexity or the nature of these crimes ... From time to time we hear of foreigners being arrested for drug possession, but seldom do we think about if they were mules under the control of a crime ring,” she said.

Kwok said he would demand a discussion at Legco’s security panel in October, when the new legislative year begins.

A private bill could also be presented if necessary, he said, but so far a number of names from the pro-Beijing camp of politicians were missing from that petition.

“I will definitely engage my colleagues from across the aisle,” he said. “Even if the bill fails, it would still pressure the government to take action and create a conversation in society.”