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 remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by providing increased funding for an NGO available to assist trafficking victims and training new police recruits on victim identification and trafficking investigations. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities did not conduct any new trafficking investigations, develop procedures to proactively identify victims, or effectively coordinate governmental anti-trafficking efforts.

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

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Tongan law did not criminalize all forms of trafficking because it required transnationality to constitute a trafficking offense. Additionally, inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law did not include force, fraud, or coercion as an essential element of the crime. The law prescribed penalties of up to 15 years imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving adult victims and 20 years imprisonment for offenses involving children; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, 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. The government continued investigating a case involving Bangladeshi men smuggled to Tonga under fraudulent promises of work as a trafficking case, however, evidence indicated the men were victims of fraud but were not subjected to forced labor. Similar to the previous year, the government did not initiate any other trafficking investigations during the reporting periods. The Tongan police force provided human trafficking training to new police recruits. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.

The government maintained 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. The government continued providing victim identification trainings for law enforcement. Tongan police utilized an Asian liaison officer trained to speak Mandarin Chinese to engage with Chinese citizens living in Tonga who may be vulnerable to trafficking. The government provided 60,000 pa’anga ($28,380) to an NGO for operations to assist women and children victims of crime, including shelter, counseling, and legal services, an increase from 50,000 pa’anga ($23,650) in 2016. Although none were identified, adult female and child victims of trafficking would be eligible for these services. The government had procedures to refer victims of crime, including potential trafficking victims, to the NGO. There were no shelter facilities available to male victims older than 15 years old. Under the immigration act, the principal immigration officer had 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 could file civil cases against their traffickers. There were no reports officials penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking.

The government maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking. The government’s human trafficking task force led anti-trafficking efforts alongside the transnational crime unit of the police force. The government did not develop a national action plan to combat trafficking or conduct awareness campaigns. The lack of a national action plan or formal interagency policies reportedly hindered governmental anti-trafficking coordination. Authorities provided briefings to Tongans participating in seasonal worker programs overseas, which included information on workers’ rights. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. Tonga is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

As reported over the past five years, Tonga is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex and labor trafficking. 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.

U.S. Department of State

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