HONG KONG: Tier 2
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China is a destination, transit, and source territory for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Victims include citizens from mainland China, the Philippines, Thailand, other Southeast Asian countries, Nepal, Colombia, Chad, and Uganda. More than 320,000 foreign domestic workers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Burma, and Bangladesh work in Hong Kong; some become victims of forced labor in the private homes in which they are employed. Recruiters in the Philippines and Indonesia generally charge excessive job placement fees, which may lead to situations of debt bondage in Hong Kong. Some domestic worker employment agencies in Hong Kong charge fees in excess of the maximum allowed under Hong Kong law. The accumulated debts sometimes amount to up to 80 percent of workers’ salaries for the first seven to eight months of employment. Some workers are unwilling to report abusive employers for fear of losing their jobs and being unable to repay their debts; some employers or employment agencies illegally withhold passports, employment contracts, or other possessions until the debt is paid. Domestic workers have also reported working 17-hour days, receiving less than minimum wage, experiencing physical or verbal abuse and confinement in the employer’s home, and not receiving a legally required weekly day off. Separately, criminal syndicates or acquaintances sometimes lure women to Hong Kong using false promises of lucrative employment and subsequently force them into prostitution to repay money owed for passage to Hong Kong. Traffickers psychologically coerce some sex trafficking victims by threatening to reveal photos or recordings of the victims’ sexual encounters to their families. Hong Kong is a transit point for Southeast Asian fishermen subjected to forced labor on fishing ships bound for Fiji and other ports in the Pacific. “Compensated dating” continues to facilitate the prostitution of Hong Kong children and make them vulnerable to trafficking.
The Government of Hong Kong does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In 2014, the government convicted one alleged trafficker in a highly publicized case involving an Indonesian domestic worker for various labor violations, including multiple trafficking indicators. The government continued to partially fund six NGO-run shelters and three government-owned and -operated shelters for victims of abuse and trafficking, and it continued distribution of anti-trafficking information pamphlets to foreign domestic workers. The government also continued law enforcement training, investigations, prosecutions, and cooperation with the consulates of labor-sending countries. Authorities also instituted a new waiver of visa renewal fees for foreign domestic workers who are victims and potential witnesses in criminal cases. However, Hong Kong’s laws do not specifically prohibit all forms of trafficking. In 2014, the government did not prosecute any suspects for trafficking and reported significantly fewer convictions than in 2013. The government did not consistently screen women arrested for prostitution or immigration violations to determine if they were trafficking victims. Although officials identified 26 potential victims, they did not refer them to or provide them with protective services, unlike in 2013.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HONG KONG:
Enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits all forms of trafficking in accordance with the definitions set forth in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; proactively identify sex and labor trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as mainland Chinese and foreign migrants, domestic workers, and women and Hong Kong children in prostitution, and refer them to available services; vigorously prosecute suspected labor traffickers, especially those who exploit foreign domestic workers; grant foreign victims permission to work and study while participating in judicial proceedings against their traffickers; adopt an action plan to combat trafficking and commit resources to its implementation; increase protective services for vulnerable populations, such as foreign domestic workers and women in prostitution; do not penalize victims for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; provide legal alternatives to foreign victims who may face hardship or retribution in their home countries; and educate law enforcement, government officials, and the public on trafficking definitions aligned with international standards.
The government decreased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Authorities continued to define trafficking as the trans-border movement of people for prostitution, and Hong Kong laws do not specifically criminalize forced labor; this definition is inconsistent with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol definition of human trafficking. Section 129 of the Crimes Ordinance, which prohibits “trafficking in persons to or from Hong Kong,” requires an element of trans-nationality given its focus on the movement of persons into or out of Hong Kong for prostitution, and it does not require the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Section 129 prescribes penalties of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government amended the prosecution code—an administrative handbook to guide prosecutors in building criminal cases—in 2013 to include the 2000 UN TIP Protocol’s definition of trafficking. There was no parallel change in the criminal laws, however, and no reported increase in labor trafficking investigations or prosecutions in 2014.
In 2014, the government initiated four trafficking investigations, all of which remained pending at the close of the reporting year. It reported zero prosecutions under Section 129, compared with five in 2013. In 2014, officials reported one conviction for labor violations—a significant decrease from 10 sex traffickers convicted in 2013—of a high-profile case involving a Hong Kong employer who subjected an Indonesian domestic worker to physical abuse and withholding of wages, among other trafficking indicators. The government sentenced the trafficker to six years’ imprisonment and a fine of 15,000 Hong Kong dollars ($1,900) under statutes related to assault and labor violations. In 2014, authorities trained approximately 500 front-line police officers and immigration officials on trafficking. Hong Kong authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.
The government maintained limited efforts to protect victims. In 2014, authorities identified 26 potential sex trafficking victims, an increase from seven in 2013. Authorities did not refer any victims to facilities where they could receive care; in comparison, all identified victims in 2013 were referred to care facilities. The government continued to partially fund six NGO-run shelters and three government-owned and -operated shelters that serve victims of abuse, exploitation, and trafficking; however, the funding dedicated to protection of victims in 2014 was unknown. Although the government reported having systematic procedures to identify potential victims of both labor and sex trafficking, the extent to which it employed them during the year remained unknown. It remained unclear if law enforcement screening procedures identified any victims among high-risk populations, such as foreign migrants, domestic workers, and mainland Chinese and foreign women arrested for prostitution. Potential victims, some of whom were arrested, were only considered for protective services in consultation with the Department of Justice. Under Hong Kong law, trafficking victims can be punished for committing immigration violations, and NGOs reported victims often plead guilty to this charge to be deported expeditiously. Officials reported having a policy in place to encourage victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers. However, they did not allow victims to work while participating in trials that were sometimes lengthy, thus deterring victims from cooperating with authorities. As a result, many victims opted to repatriate immediately or were deported. In 2014, immigration officials issued 2,179 visa extensions to former foreign domestic workers during ongoing legal proceedings in Hong Kong, but it was unclear how many involved cases of labor exploitation. Hong Kong does not specifically allow for permanent residency status for cases in which repatriation may constitute a risk of hardship or retribution in the victim’s home country.
The government made modest efforts to prevent trafficking. It did not formally adopt or implement the national plan of action to combat trafficking drafted in 2013. Authorities continued to distribute anti-trafficking pamphlets in five languages and information packets to foreign domestic workers at the airport and immigration and labor department offices. These information packages describe foreign domestic workers’ rights, explain their employers’ obligations under Hong Kong law, and provide contact information for relevant government offices. Authorities also conducted publicity campaigns using radio, newspaper, and leaflets to remind employers of their legal obligations to their domestic workers. Labor officials conducted inspections of approximately 1,300 employment agencies but revoked the licenses of only three, despite NGO and media reports of employment agencies violating regulations by charging exorbitant recruitment fees, requiring domestic workers to make deposits as a guarantee to work, and confiscating employees’ identification documents. The government made some efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex through school sex education programs but reported no efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. It reported no efforts to prevent or combat child sex tourism of Hong Kong residents in mainland China or other foreign countries. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its personnel posted abroad.