The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People’s Republic of China is a destination and transit territory for men, women, and teenage girls from mainland China, Colombia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, Cambodia, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Some migrants are lured to Hong Kong by criminal syndicates or acquaintances with promises of financial rewards and are deceived about the nature of prospective work. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, some of these migrants are forced into prostitution to repay money owed for their passage to Hong Kong. According to an NGO and press reports, some victims of sex trafficking have been psychologically coerced into prostitution by trafficking offenders who threaten to reveal photos or recordings of the victims’ sexual encounters. Boys and girls are found in prostitution under the phenomenon of “compensated dating.” Some foreign domestic workers in the territory, particularly those from Indonesia and the Philippines, face notable indebtedness assumed in their home countries as part of the terms of job placement, which have the potential to lead to situations of debt bondage. Foreign domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia are generally charged the equivalent of approximately $1,950 and $2,725, respectively, by recruiters in their home countries, debts which may comprise more than 80 percent of workers’ salaries for the first seven to eight months of employment. During that period, some workers may be unwilling to report abusive employers for fear of losing their jobs. Several of Hong Kong’s domestic worker employment agencies have charged fees in excess of Hong Kong law and illegally withheld passports, employment contracts, and bank debit cards of domestic workers until their debt has been paid—factors that could facilitate labor trafficking in the territory.
Hong Kong authorities do not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, they are making significant efforts to do so. The authorities made modest progress over previous years in law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking, but secured no forced labor convictions. Authorities’ anti-trafficking efforts were limited because of insufficient laws that do not prohibit all forms of trafficking, unequal application of formal victim identification procedures, and lack of provisions that protect victims of trafficking.
Recommendations for Hong Kong: Enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits all forms of trafficking and defines terms according to established international standards as set forth in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; ensure adequate procedures are in place to guide officials in proactively identifying forced labor and sex trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and referring them to available services; grant victims permission to work and study while participating in trafficking investigations and prosecutions; develop a national action plan to commit resources and develop a clear, overarching strategy to combat trafficking; continue to publicize the availability of these protective service resources among vulnerable populations, such as foreign domestic workers; educate law enforcement, judges, authority officials, and the public on trafficking definitions in line with established international standards; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
Hong Kong authorities made modest progress in their anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts were hindered as authorities continued to define trafficking as the movement of people for prostitution and Hong Kong law continued to lack specific criminal prohibition of forced labor. Inconsistent with international norms as detailed in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol’s definition of human trafficking, Section 129 of the Crimes Ordinance, which prohibits “trafficking in persons to or from Hong Kong,” requires an element of transnationality in the offense and focuses on movement of persons into or out of Hong Kong for prostitution regardless of whether force, fraud, or coercion has been used. Section 129’s prescribed penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Other sections of Hong Kong’s Immigration Ordinance, Crimes Ordinance, and Employment Ordinance were also used to prosecute trafficking offenses. During this reporting period, Hong Kong authorities were in the process of prosecuting three cases under Section 129. Ten offenders were convicted under Crimes Ordinance Section 130, which prohibits forced or organized prostitution, for trafficking-related offenses, compared to six convictions last year. Six of the offenders received an average of six months’ imprisonment, while the other four received probation or community service orders, which might suggest that forced prostitution is not treated as a serious crime. No conviction for forced labor was reported. The authorities did not report conducting any trafficking-related law enforcement training. Hong Kong authorities did not report any investigations, arrests, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.
Hong Kong authorities continued their efforts to protect trafficking victims during the reporting period. Authorities identified seven sex trafficking victims; three were referred to care facilities and one was assisted by the victim’s consulate. In November 2012, Hong Kong authorities met with representatives from a coalition of service providers for ethnic minorities to exchange information. Despite NGOs’ reports of labor trafficking cases that occurred during the reporting period, the authorities did not identify any labor trafficking victims. Law enforcement and social services officials reportedly followed systematic procedures in identifying the full range of potential trafficking victims, particularly among high-risk populations such as foreigners arrested for prostitution or immigration violations. In 2012, the anti-trafficking working group updated the police’s victim identification procedure to enhance the ability of frontline officers to identify and offer protection to trafficking victims. However, these procedures did not seem to be effectively employed, as no trafficking victims were identified among the 551 mainland Chinese, Thai, Filipina, and Colombian women arrested by Hong Kong Police for immigration violations as the result of 5,900 anti-prostitution actions. Similarly, no trafficking victims were reported identified among the 2,681 persons similarly apprehended by the Immigration and Labor Departments. Authorities subsidized six NGO-run shelters and three government-owned and operated shelters that serve victims of abuse, violence, exploitation, and trafficking. Three trafficking victims were provided temporary free accommodation, counseling, and access to hospital services. Authorities claimed to have encouraged trafficking victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, though they did not permit victims to work while remaining in Hong Kong to participate in trials. Hong Kong does not specifically allow for permanent residency status for cases in which repatriation may constitute a risk of hardship or retribution. In 2012, the Immigration Department issued 4,500 visa extensions to former foreign domestic workers during legal proceedings in Hong Kong, but it is unclear how many of these legal proceedings involved labor exploitation.
Hong Kong authorities sustained previous efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period, distributing anti-trafficking pamphlets in six different languages and information packets for foreign domestic workers in eight different languages discussing ways to prevent and report human trafficking. Authorities also provided new foreign domestic workers arriving at the airport with information on their rights in multiple languages. The Labor Department conducted 958 inspections of foreign domestic worker employment agencies and revoked the licenses of two employment agencies that overcharged foreign domestic workers and committed fraud. Hong Kong authorities reported no efforts to prevent or combat child sex tourism of Hong Kong nationals in foreign countries. Hong Kong is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.