The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Hong Kong law did not criminalize all forms of human trafficking and the government relied on various provisions of laws relating to prostitution, immigration, employment, and physical abuse to prosecute trafficking crimes. Section 129 of the crimes ordinance, which criminalized “trafficking in persons to or from Hong Kong,” required transnational movement and did not require the use of force, fraud, or coercion, and was therefore inconsistent with international law. Section 129 prescribed penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Section 130 of the crimes ordinance criminalized the harboring, controlling, or directing of a person for the purpose of prostitution and prescribed penalties of up to 14 years imprisonment. Section 131 criminalized procuring a person to engage in commercial sex acts and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment.
The absence of laws that fully criminalize trafficking made it difficult to accurately assess the government’s prosecution efforts compared to the previous year and made it difficult to determine which law enforcement actions involved human trafficking as defined by international law. The government reported investigating nine potential cases of labor trafficking and 37 potential cases of sex trafficking in 2017 (19 potential sex trafficking investigations in 2016). Authorities initiated the prosecutions of and convicted two potential labor traffickers, including an employer of a foreign domestic worker and the owner of an employment agency, for conspiracy to defraud the immigration department. The government sentenced both offenders to six months imprisonment, one with a suspended sentence. The government did not report the number of sex trafficking prosecutions initiated in 2017, but reported completing 14 prosecutions and obtaining 12 convictions for offenses related to sex trafficking (28 convictions in 2016), including sections 129, 130, and 131 of the crimes ordinance. Courts sentenced 10 offenders to terms of imprisonment ranging from one to nine months imprisonment and one to a suspended sentence; one offender was sentenced to a hospital order.
Police sometimes did not adequately investigate trafficking cases referred to them by NGOs and often dropped cases with clear indicators of trafficking. The absence of laws criminalizing all forms of trafficking impeded investigators’ ability to charge suspected traffickers, particularly in cases where it was difficult to prove physical assault, theft, recruitment, or transportation. The government designated a team of prosecutors, which it expanded to include additional staff during the reporting period, to prosecute trafficking related crimes. 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. However, there was no parallel change in the criminal laws. Prosecutors sometimes used victims’ 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. The government trained a large number of police, immigration, labor, and customs officials on human trafficking awareness, victim identification, and the investigation of trafficking cases. The immigration and customs departments’ provided trafficking related training to all new employees. Authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.