The government maintained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Crimes Act of 1961, as amended in 2015, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Section 98D (trafficking in persons) criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding 500,000 New Zealand dollars (NZD) ($361,530), or both; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to the forms of sex trafficking covered under the provision, commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, Section 98D required a demonstration of deception or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. However, Section 98AA criminalized all forms of child sex trafficking under its “dealing in persons” provision and prescribed penalties of up to 14 years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government sometimes utilized the Prostitution Reform Act (PRA), including Sections 20 and 21 which criminalized the facilitating, assisting, causing, or encouraging a child to provide commercial sex, in addition to receiving earnings from commercial sex acts provided by a child. These sections of the PRA prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment for the sex trafficking of children, which were significantly lower than those available for trafficking offenses under Section 98D and 98AA of the Crimes Act.
During the reporting period, the government initiated investigations for eight potential cases of trafficking, initiated two sex trafficking prosecutions, and convicted seven offenders for sex trafficking crimes; compared with nine investigations, five sex trafficking prosecutions, and two convictions (one for labor trafficking and one for sex trafficking) in the previous reporting period. The government did not initiate any prosecutions for labor trafficking for the second consecutive year. Of the seven convicted traffickers, courts convicted one under Section 98 AA of the Crimes Act for attempting to purchase a child for sexual exploitation (among other charges) and sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment. Courts also convicted six for PRA violations related to the receiving of or arranging commercial sex acts from children and sentenced them to six to 18 months’ home detention. A trafficker previously convicted in March 2020 for exploiting 13 Samoan victims in forced labor was sentenced to 11 years’ imprisonment during the reporting period. Although this represented the longest term of imprisonment sentenced under the trafficking statute to date, the government appealed the judge’s sentence, claiming it was “manifestly inadequate.”
Following the enactment of the trafficking law in 2015, the government has exclusively used Section 98D to prosecute labor offenses, and has never prosecuted a sex trafficking crime, or a case of internal trafficking, under Section 98D. High evidentiary and procedural standards, weak trafficking victim identification, and a lack of sufficient resources and understanding of all forms of trafficking among some government officials continued to result in the prosecution of potential traffickers under different statutes, including non-criminal labor violations. While the government believed that a requirement that the attorney general approve any charges of Section 98D before court proceedings could be initiated signaled the seriousness with which the crime was treated in New Zealand, some observers reported that in practice this encouraged officials to bring alternative charges. Section 98D’s requirement that deception or coercion be demonstrated to constitute a child sex trafficking offense further resulted in the government prosecuting child sex trafficking crimes as violations of the PRA. Although authorities claimed this was done to increase victims’ access to justice and to quickly impose comparable consequence as those convicted for trafficking, during the reporting period this contributed to the majority of convicted traffickers avoiding imprisonment. This weakened deterrence and undercut the government’s overall anti-trafficking efforts. Some experts noted the lack of efforts by law enforcement to treat sex trafficking cases appropriately continued to minimize the prevalence of the crime and resulted in weak efforts to hold traffickers accountable and protect victims. For example, police sometimes failed to investigate traffickers complicit in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Furthermore, police were not adequately trained to identify indicators of trafficking among victims of domestic or family violence, including in cases where adult victims were forced into commercial sex, and therefore the crime often went unnoticed by authorities.
An anti-trafficking operations group, composed of immigration authorities, police, and the children’s ministry, continued to meet to increase law enforcement coordination. The labor inspectorate investigated forced labor complaints but worked mainly within the civil legal system, which may have contributed to the lack of criminal prosecution of forced labor crimes when cases weren’t referred for criminal investigations. Immigration New Zealand’s (INZ) serious offences unit investigated trafficking cases but was limited to investigating only those cases in which immigration violations were also identified. In September 2020, New Zealand Police (NZP) released a strategy for addressing transnational organized crime, which included migrant exploitation and trafficking, with the aim of improving understanding of transnational organized crime and increasing coordination among government agencies. The Ministry of Business, Immigration, and Employment (MBIE) continued to require immigration officers, labor inspectors, and other relevant staff to complete an online training module on human trafficking. MBIE worked to develop new training modules for immigration officers, labor inspectors, and other frontline officials on identifying and investigating trafficking, interviewing victims, and processing visas for victims. Although these training modules were not released before the end of the reporting period, MBIE’s anti-trafficking team presented to more than 350 INZ staff members to increase their awareness of trafficking and promote victim protection efforts. NZP continued to require anti-trafficking training for all detectives and included a trafficking and smuggling chapter in its police manual. The government did not report training prosecutors or judiciary officials. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.