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TONGA: Tier 2

The Government of Tonga does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Tonga was upgraded to Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by providing training to police recruits on human trafficking, coordinating its efforts through an anti-trafficking taskforce, funding an NGO capable of assisting victims, and posting a police officer trained to speak Mandarin Chinese to liaise with Chinese community members, including those who may be vulnerable to trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities did not initiate any trafficking prosecutions, establish formal procedures to proactively identify victims, or conduct awareness-raising campaigns.

Develop and fully implement procedures for proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable groups; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including child sex trafficking; amend trafficking laws to criminalize the full scope of trafficking crimes, including offenses lacking cross-border movement; utilize the newly appointed Asian liaison position to facilitate proactive identification of foreign victims and their referral to care; increase training for law enforcement officials and labor inspectors on human trafficking, including on how to identify and assist victims; provide explicit protections and benefits for trafficking victims, such as restitution, legal and medical benefits, and immigration relief; develop a national action plan; develop and conduct anti-trafficking information and education campaigns; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government maintained minimal anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime Act defines trafficking as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of a person for the purpose of exploitation; however, it does not prohibit all forms of trafficking because it defines trafficking only as a transnational crime and does not define exploitation nor include elements of force, fraud or coercion. This law prescribes penalties of up to 15 years imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving adult victims and 20 years imprisonment for offenses involving children; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Since convicting its first trafficker in April 2011, the government has not prosecuted any trafficking cases. During the reporting period the government continued one investigation of a case involving Bangladeshi men in conditions indicative of debt bondage. The Tongan police force continued providing anti-trafficking trainings for new police recruits during the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.

The government maintained minimal efforts to protect trafficking victims. The government identified no trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government did not develop or employ systematic procedures for victim identification among at-risk groups, such as migrant workers or women in prostitution. However, Tongan police posted a new Asian liaison officer trained to speak Mandarin Chinese, increasing the police force’s ability to engage with Chinese citizens living in Tonga who may be vulnerable to trafficking; nonetheless, it was unclear if this resulted in attempts to identify victims proactively during the reporting period. The government continued to provide 50,000 pa’anga ($23,223) to an NGO for operations to assist women and children victims of crime, including shelter, counseling, and legal services. Although none were identified, trafficking victims would be eligible for these services. The government has procedures to refer victims of crime, including potential trafficking victims, to the NGO. There are no shelter facilities available to male victims older than 15 years old. Under the immigration act, the principal immigration officer has broad discretionary authority to grant trafficking victims permits to stay in the country for any length of time necessary for their protection. Victims could be granted asylum in Tonga if they feared retribution or hardship in their country of origin, although no trafficking victim has ever requested asylum. Victims had the ability to file civil cases against their traffickers, but none filed such cases in 2016. There were no reports officials penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking.

The government maintained minimal efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government did not develop a national action plan to combat trafficking or conduct educational campaigns to increase awareness of trafficking in Tonga. However, the government’s human trafficking taskforce led its anti-trafficking efforts alongside the transnational crime unit of the police force. Tongans participating in seasonal worker programs overseas received orientation briefings from the government, which included information on workers’ rights. The government did not take action to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor during the reporting period, nor did it provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel. Tonga is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

As reported over the past five years, Tonga is a destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking and, to a lesser extent, a source country for women and children subjected to domestic sex trafficking and forced labor. East Asian women, especially those from China, are exploited in prostitution in clandestine establishments operating as legitimate businesses; some East Asian women are recruited from their home countries for legitimate work in Tonga, paying large sums of money in recruitment fees, and upon arrival are forced into prostitution. Some Tongan women and children are reportedly subjected to involuntary domestic servitude. Reports indicate Fijians working in the domestic service industry in Tonga experience mistreatment indicative of trafficking. Tongan adults working overseas, including in Australia and New Zealand, are vulnerable to exploitation, including through withholding of wages and excessive work hours. Some workers are rushed to sign employment contracts and may not fully understand employment terms; others are unable to retain copies of their contracts, exacerbating the potential for employers to exploit these workers. There are reports of foreign men who attempted to transit Tonga in situations of potential debt bondage.

U.S. Department of State

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