Last Updated: Friday, 17 October 2014, 15:58 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Hong Kong

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Hong Kong, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee76c.html [accessed 20 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Hong Kong (Tier 2)

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People's Republic of China is a destination and transit territory for men and women from mainland China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, Cambodia, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, subjected to forced prostitution and possibly forced labor. Women from Hong Kong have also been subjected to forced prostitution in Canada. Some migrants are lured to Hong Kong by criminal syndicates or acquaintances with promises of financial rewards and deceived about the nature of the prospective work. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, these migrants are forced into prostitution to repay money owed for their passage to Hong Kong. According to an NGO, some victims of sex trafficking have been psychologically coerced into prostitution by traffickers who threaten to reveal photos or recordings of the victims' sexual encounters. 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 $1,950 and $2,725, respectively, by recruiters in their home countries. These debts may comprise more than 80 percent of workers' salaries for the first seven to eight months during which time some workers may be particularly afraid to report abuse by employers for fear of losing their jobs and being unable to pay debts. Several of Hong Kong's domestic worker employment agencies have 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. In previous years, one NGO reported that some employers of Indonesian domestic workers compel their employees to work seven days a week and forbid them to leave the residence of work for non-work-related reasons, effectively preventing them from reporting exploitation to authorities.

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 August 2010, the government established the Anti-Trafficking Working Group composed of officials from the Security Bureau, Hong Kong Police Force, and the Immigration, Customs, Labor, and Social Welfare Departments to coordinate on Hong Kong's anti-trafficking efforts. The government sustained efforts to investigate and punish sex trafficking offenses, and continued anti-trafficking prevention efforts among foreign domestic workers. Hong Kong authorities did not, however, prosecute labor trafficking offenses.

Recommendations for Hong Kong: Define the term "trafficking in persons" in Hong Kong law to fully prohibit domestic sex trafficking and forced labor and prescribe penalties of imprisonment for these acts; significantly increase efforts to identify indicators of trafficking in persons during investigations of illegal immigration and labor violations to increase trafficking prosecutions, particularly acts of domestic servitude and debt bondage; strengthen penalties for forced prostitution and delineate penalties for forced labor that are sufficiently stringent; investigate and criminally prosecute Hong Kong employment agencies who require domestic workers to pay significant fees beyond the level permitted by Hong Kong authorities, which usually increases their vulnerability to trafficking resulting from the significant amounts of debt they assume to pay these fees; strengthen implementation of victim identification procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable groups to identify a greater number of sex and labor trafficking victims; provide incentives for foreign trafficking victims to pursue cases against their traffickers, such as routinely granting permission to remain in Hong Kong and allowing victims to work while participating in court proceedings; increase efforts to enforce existing criminal laws on holding travel documents and other identification as collateral on debts, particularly where used to hold someone in forced labor; and conduct a visible public awareness campaign aimed at reducing the demand for commercial sex acts.

Prosecution

The Hong Kong government improved its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period, though it continued to be handicapped by an inadequate legal structure to address human trafficking. Section 129 of the Crimes Ordinance prohibiting "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 other serious crimes. The Hong Kong Bill of Rights prohibits slavery and servitude, though it does not prescribe specific penalties for these offenses. Other sections of Hong Kong's Immigration Ordinance, Crimes Ordinance, and Employment Ordinance can be used to prosecute trafficking offenses, though there was no indication that they were so used during the reporting period. Hong Kong authorities' interpretation of trafficking, focusing on movement for prostitution and the lack of specific criminal prohibition on forced labor hinders the government's anti-trafficking response. Nonetheless, authorities reported investigating four trafficking cases during the reporting period, resulting in the conviction, in one case, of five traffickers for luring five Chinese women to Hong Kong and subjecting them to forced prostitution under Section 129. These traffickers received sentences ranging from 16 months' to three years' imprisonment. The other three investigations are ongoing. Hong Kong authorities did not report, however, criminally investigating or prosecuting any cases of labor trafficking during the reporting period. Hong Kong's laws also prohibits illegally withholding a foreign domestic worker's passport – punishable with imprisonment of up to 10 years – though there was no evidence that authorities used this to prosecute and punish any trafficking offenders. In addition, police continued to receive training on investigating trafficking cases during the reporting period. There were no reports of official involvement or complicity in trafficking, and the government did not report any investigations, arrests, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.

Protection

The Hong Kong government made progress in identifying and protecting trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government identified 11 victims in four trafficking cases in 2010, including two Chinese, four Thai, and five Filipina women, all of whom were victims of forced prostitution. In identifying these 11 victims, the government reportedly employed a formal victim identification procedure to standardize and improve identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as those arrested for prostitution and immigration violations. Victims who were recognized by Hong Kong authorities were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. However, some victims may have been deported for immigration violations. For example, one NGO reported that two young women from China were allegedly lured to Hong Kong with promises of jobs in hotels, but were later forced into prostitution. They were subsequently arrested and sentenced to 15 months' imprisonment for illegally entering and remaining in Hong Kong. Hong Kong did not report identifying or having any victims of forced labor request protection during the reporting period. Hong Kong authorities operated three shelters for victims of violence, abuse, or exploitation, including trafficking victims, and subsidized an additional six NGO-operated shelters. Five of the 11 victims identified were referred to and received protection services at a shelter operated by one government-funded NGO; the other six victims returned home. Victims are legally required to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers and are provided with a stipend, but are not allowed to work while in Hong Kong. Victims, however, are allowed to leave Hong Kong pending trial proceedings. Seven of the 11 identified victims of trafficking assisted Hong Kong authorities with investigations during the reporting period. Some victims are reluctant to assist in long trials while not allowed to work in Hong Kong. Workers who filed labor complaints, including of conditions indicative of forced labor, were not allowed to work during subsequent legal proceedings, and it often took several weeks to schedule a conciliation meeting. While victims have the ability to file civil charges for compensation from their traffickers and are eligible for legal aid from the Hong Kong government, there were no such cases during the year. The Hong Kong government did not provide any victims with long-term legal alternatives to their removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution, though authorities report that no foreign victim has requested such immigration relief.

Prevention

Hong Kong continued modest efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. Authorities did not criminally prosecute any cases of withholding workers' passports or charging excessive fees during the reporting period. The Labor Department, however, reported receiving four complaints from foreign domestic workers of employment agencies withholding their travel documents; the Labor Department returned the documents to the workers and issued warnings to the offending employment agencies, but did not criminally investigate or punish them for these offenses. Nine employers of foreign domestic workers were fined or made to perform community service for withholding workers' salaries and one employer was fined and sentenced to three months' imprisonment. The Labor Department revoked the license of one employment agency for charging foreign domestic workers excessive placement fees. It is unclear, however, whether these particular acts were used by employment agencies and employers for forced labor or sex trafficking. The Hong Kong authorities published and distributed an anti-trafficking informational pamphlet in five languages – Chinese, English, Bahasa Indonesia, Tagalog, and Thai – aimed at educating the public on trafficking issues. The Labor Department also continued to publish "guidebooks" for foreign domestic workers in several languages that explain workers' rights and services provided by the government. To reduce the demand for commercial sex acts, the Hong Kong authorities distributed pamphlets outlining prostitution-related offenses; however, authorities tolerated the existence of "one woman brothels" in Hong Kong. Authorities did not report efforts to address any demand for child sex tourism by Hong Kong residents. Hong Kong's Crimes Ordinance, however, allows for the prosecution of Hong Kong residents suspected of committing sex crimes against children under the age of 16 outside of the Hong Kong region. In January 2011, the government used this provision to sentence a Hong Kong social worker to eight years in prison following conviction for sex crimes against children in mainland China. Hong Kong is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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