The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Hong Kong law does not criminalize all forms of human trafficking—for example, it does not include forced labor—and the government relies on various provisions of laws relating to prostitution, immigration, employment, and physical abuse to prosecute trafficking in persons crimes. Section 129 of the crimes ordinance, which criminalizes “trafficking in persons to or from Hong Kong,” requires transnational movement and does not require the use of force, fraud, or coercion, and is therefore inconsistent with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. 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. Section 130 of the crimes ordinance criminalizes the harboring, controlling, or directing of a person for the purpose of prostitution and prescribes penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment. Section 131 criminalizes procuring a person to engage in commercial sex acts and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment. 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; the security bureau, which is responsible for coordinating and implementing the government’s overall anti-trafficking efforts, adopted the same definition at the working level in 2016. There was no parallel change in the criminal laws, however, and trafficking investigations and criminal prosecutions of trafficking-related crimes remained low compared to the scope of the problem. In December 2016, the Hong Kong Court of First Instance ruled that the government was required to increase victim protections, expand procedures to prosecute traffickers, and expand existing trafficking laws, including by enacting a comprehensive anti-trafficking law.
The government reported investigating 15 cases with elements of trafficking (six in 2015), initiating prosecutions of seven employers of exploited foreign domestic workers and five alleged sex trafficking suspects (17 prosecutions in 2015), and obtaining convictions of 32 offenders under various statutes (eight in 2015) in 2016. The government reported obtaining convictions of five employers of foreign domestic workers for crimes such as assault and inflicting bodily harm but it was unclear if these cases included the elements of human trafficking consistent with the international definition. Courts sentenced one of these employers to eight months imprisonment and a fine of 40,000 Hong Kong dollar (HKD) ($5,160), and others were sentenced to probation or fines. The government reported obtaining 28 convictions on offenses related to sex trafficking, including sections 129, 130, and 131 of the crimes ordinance. The government reported 18 offenders received immediate custodial sentences, and reported sentencing only three to prison terms exceeding one year. Prosecutors sometimes used victims’ receipt of unlawfully low wages or their acceptance to work outside of their contracts under duress as evidence that victims violated their immigration status, instead of as evidence of abuse and prosecuted victims for immigration violations. While victims could go to labor tribunals to attempt to claim back wages, poor translation services, lack of trained defense attorneys, the inability to work while awaiting a decision, and judges’ inexperience with forced labor cases sometimes impaired victims attempts at restitution; the cases of two exploited domestic workers identified in 2016 were settled in labor tribunals, but it was unclear if the victims received compensation from their employers. In an effort to improve the efficacy of labor tribunals, the government increased the number of available translators and provided victims with the right to counsel.
Authorities trained approximately 1,000 police, immigration, labor, justice, and customs officials on human trafficking awareness, victim identification, and the investigation of trafficking cases. The labor department introduced a training module on labor laws protecting against child labor and exploitation of foreign domestic workers for new employees. The immigration department’s victim identification training was incorporated into training courses for new employees at all law enforcement agencies, and the customs and excise department added a training requirement for new employees covering international human trafficking trends and analysis. Authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.