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, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Nepal, Cambodia, other Southeast Asian countries, Colombia, Chad, and Uganda. 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. Workers from the Philippines and Indonesia are generally charged the equivalent of between $1,900 and $2,800, respectively, in their home countries for job placement; these debts lead to situations of debt bondage in Hong Kong. Several of Hong Kong’s domestic worker employment agencies have charged fees in excess of the maximum job placement fee allowed under Hong Kong law. The accumulated debts amount to more than 80 percent of workers’ salaries for the first seven to eight months of employment. During that period, some workers are unwilling to report abusive employers for fear of losing their jobs; some employers or employment agencies also illegally withhold passports, employment contracts, and workers’ bank debit cards until their debt has been paid. In addition, domestic workers have reported working 17-hour days, receiving less than minimum wage, being physically or verbally assaulted, experiencing confinement in the employer’s home, and not receiving a weekly day off. Many such workers do not have their own bedroom and are forced to sleep in bathrooms, kitchens, storage rooms, and other inappropriate locations. Some women are lured to Hong Kong by criminal syndicates or acquaintances with promises of financial rewards and are deceived about the nature of the prospective work. Upon arrival in Hong Kong, they are forced into prostitution to repay money owed for their passage to Hong Kong. Traffickers psychologically coerce some victims of sex trafficking 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 their vulnerability to trafficking.
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. In 2013, authorities amended the Prosecution Code to include the 2000 UN TIP Protocol’s definition of human trafficking. Authorities’ anti-trafficking efforts remained limited, however, because of insufficient laws that do not prohibit all forms of trafficking. Authorities failed to screen women who were arrested for prostitution or immigration violations to determine if they were trafficking victims. Authorities identified and assisted only seven sex trafficking victims and made limited efforts to bring traffickers to justice, while thousands of potential victims were arrested, fined, and deported. The government did not identify or assist any labor trafficking victims and made no law enforcement efforts to address labor trafficking crimes, despite increased reports of forced labor involving foreign domestic workers, including a highly publicized case involving an Indonesian domestic worker severely abused and exploited by her employer for eight months.
Recommendations for Hong Kong:
Enact a comprehensive anti-trafficking law that prohibits all forms of trafficking and defines terms according to established international standards set forth in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol; proactively identify forced labor and sex trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as mainland Chinese and foreign migrant workers, and Hong Kong children in prostitution, and refer them to available services; vigorously prosecute suspected labor traffickers, especially those who abuse and exploit foreign domestic workers; grant victims permission to work and study while participating in trafficking investigations and prosecutions; develop an action plan to commit resources and develop a clear, overarching strategy to combat trafficking; continue to publicize the availability of protective services among vulnerable populations, such as foreign domestic workers and foreign women in prostitution; provide permanent residency visas as a legal alternative to those who may face hardship or retribution in their home countries; and educate law enforcement, judges, authority officials, and the public on trafficking definitions in line with established international standards.
Hong Kong authorities made modest progress in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Authorities continue to define trafficking as the movement of people for prostitution, and Hong Kong laws lack specific criminal prohibition of forced labor; this definition is inconsistent with 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 and does not require that force, fraud, or coercion be used. Section 129’s prescribed penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Other sections of Hong Kong’s Immigration, Crimes, Offenses Against the Person, and Employment Ordinances are also used to prosecute trafficking offenses. In September 2013, the Department of Justice amended the Prosecution Code—an administrative handbook providing instruction to guide prosecutors in conducting prosecutions—to include Section 18.1, which contains the 2000 UN TIP Protocol’s definition of trafficking. This section was added to improve prosecutors’ understanding of human trafficking and better equip them to identify and prosecute such cases.
Authorities have never prosecuted or convicted traffickers for subjecting victims to forced labor, despite numerous reports of forced labor abuses perpetrated against migrant domestic workers. In 2013, Hong Kong authorities initiated five sex trafficking prosecutions under Article 129, compared to three prosecutions in 2012. Four sex trafficking offenders were convicted; three traffickers received sentences of four to six months’ imprisonment, and one received a sentence of 30 months. Six sex traffickers were convicted under the Crimes Ordinance Section 130 (forced or organized prostitution), a decrease from 10 convictions achieved in 2012; convicted traffickers received sentences ranging from three weeks’ to 32 months’ imprisonment. Authorities initiated one prosecution under the Offenses Against the Person Ordinance’s Section 41, which prohibits forcible taking or detention of a person, with intent to sell. In January 2014, media reported a high-profile case involving an Indonesian maid subjected to labor exploitation by her Hong Kong employer for eight months. The maid’s employer deprived her of food, restricted her movement, physically abused her, overworked her, and did not pay her. Hong Kong Police sent an investigative team to Indonesia to further assess the case, which was under investigation as an assault case. The maid’s Hong Kong employer attempted to flee Hong Kong but was apprehended at the airport and held on high bail.
During the year, Hong Kong authorities trained more than 540 police officers and newly recruited immigration officers on trafficking. The Department of Justice also discussed trafficking during the annual prosecutors’ conference in May 2013. Hong Kong authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.
Hong Kong authorities maintained minimal efforts to protect victims of trafficking. In 2013, authorities identified seven sex trafficking victims, the same number as in 2012. The government referred all seven victims to care facilities where they were provided temporary accommodation, counseling, and access to hospital services. Authorities did not identify or assist any labor trafficking victims despite multiple NGO and media reports of labor trafficking cases, government reports of 3,078 foreign domestic workers that had experienced abuse, and the government providing 21 foreign domestic workers permission to change their employers due to documented abuse and exploitation. Law enforcement officials reported following systematic procedures to identify potential trafficking victims, particularly among high-risk populations, such as foreigners arrested for prostitution or immigration violations. The Hong Kong Police’s screening procedures did not identify trafficking victims among the 3,022 mainland Chinese and two foreign women in prostitution who were arrested; these women were instead arrested for immigration violations. The Police and Immigration Departments’ joint operations, reportedly for the purpose of detecting human trafficking, did not result in identifying victims of trafficking. Instead, 121 foreign women were arrested for their involvement in prostitution, as were 33 persons (including 11 children) involved in “compensated dating.” The Immigration and Labor Departments investigated 121 premises and arrested 16 foreign domestic workers and 39 employers on charges of illegal employment, but did not identify any forced labor violations. In 2013, the Immigration Department issued 3,571 visa extensions to former foreign domestic workers during legal proceedings in Hong Kong, but it was unclear if these cases involved labor exploitation or if these legal proceedings addressed cases of alleged labor exploitation.
Authorities continued to partially fund six NGO-run shelters and three government-owned and operated shelters that serve victims of abuse, violence, exploitation, and trafficking; however, the level of financial resources dedicated to trafficking-specific assistance or protection in 2013 was unclear. Authorities reported to have encouraged trafficking victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, but they did not allow victims to work while participating in trials. As a result, many victims opted to repatriate immediately or were deported. 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.
Hong Kong authorities sustained efforts to prevent trafficking. Authorities continued to distribute anti-trafficking pamphlets in six languages and information packets for foreign domestic workers in eight languages at parks and airports. The Labor Department conducted inspections of more than 1,200 employment agencies, but revoked the licenses of only four, despite overwhelming NGO and media reports that employment agencies breached regulations by charging high recruitment fees, requiring domestic workers to make deposits as a guarantee to work the contracted period, and confiscating employees’ personal documents. The Anti-TIP working group did not draft or publish a written plan of action to combat trafficking. Authorities made efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex through school sex education programs. Hong Kong authorities reported no efforts to prevent or combat child sex tourism of Hong Kong nationals in foreign countries.