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TONGA: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Tonga does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included training new police recruits on victim identification and trafficking investigations and continuing to provide funding to an NGO available to assist trafficking victims. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government did not develop victim identification procedures, take steps to proactively identify victims, or conduct awareness-raising campaigns. It did not investigate any cases of trafficking for the second consecutive year and has not prosecuted or convicted any traffickers since 2011. Therefore Tonga was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.

Develop and fully implement procedures for proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable groups. • Increase efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes. • Amend trafficking laws to criminalize all forms of trafficking in line with the definition under international law, including offenses lacking cross-border movement. • Develop, adopt, and implement a national action plan. • Utilize the Asian liaison position to facilitate proactive identification of foreign victims and their referral to care. • Provide explicit protections and benefits for trafficking victims, such as restitution, legal and medical benefits, and immigration relief. • Develop and conduct antitrafficking information and education campaigns. • Accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government continued to make negligible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime Act of 2013 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. The government did not investigate any potential trafficking cases for the second consecutive year. Since convicting its first trafficker in April 2011, the government has not prosecuted or convicted any trafficking cases. Law enforcement reported language barriers and resource limitations impacted their ability to investigate trafficking. The Tongan police force provided trafficking training to an unknown number of new police recruits in 2020, compared with 30 trained in 2019. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.

The government maintained weak victim protection efforts and did not take steps to proactively identify victims. Since the government’s identification of four potential trafficking victims in 2015, the government has not identified any victims of trafficking. The government did not develop or employ systematic procedures for victim identification among at-risk groups, such as migrant workers or women in commercial sex. 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; however, this has never led to the identification of a victim of trafficking. The government had procedures to refer victims of crime, including potential trafficking victims, to an NGO, but did not deploy the procedures during the reporting year due to the lack of proactive victim identification. A distrust of Tongan courts, as well as low levels of understanding of human trafficking among the public, likely contributed to the absence of identified victims. The government continued to provide an unknown amount of funding to an NGO for operations to assist adult female and child victims of crime, including shelter, counseling, and legal services. Although no victims were identified during the year, adult female and child victims of trafficking would be eligible for these services. There were no shelter facilities available to male victims older than 14 years old; however, male counselors were available to assist male victims of any age. Under the immigration act, the principal immigration officer had broad discretionary authority to grant victims permits to stay in the country for any length of time necessary for their protection. Victims could receive asylum in Tonga if they feared retribution or hardship in their country of origin, although no trafficking victim has ever requested asylum.

The government maintained minimal efforts to prevent trafficking. The government’s trafficking task force was responsible for leading anti-trafficking efforts alongside the transnational crime unit of the police force. The government did not develop a national action plan, which reportedly continued to hinder governmental anti-trafficking coordination. The government did not conduct awareness campaigns. Authorities provided briefings to Tongans participating in seasonal worker programs overseas, which included information on workers’ rights. Under Tongan law labor recruiters and brokers who used fraudulent recruitment methods were liable to up to 10 years’ imprisonment, but the government did not report if it monitored or held any recruiters and brokers liable for fraudulent recruitment during the reporting year. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not 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, some Tongan and foreign individuals are vulnerable to trafficking in Tonga, and some Tongans are vulnerable to trafficking abroad. As a result of the government’s pandemic-related mitigation efforts, entry into Tonga was severely restricted during the reporting period. East Asian women, especially those from China, who are recruited from their home countries for legitimate work in Tonga and often pay excessive recruitment fees, are vulnerable to sex trafficking in clandestine establishments operating as legitimate businesses. Some Tongan women and children are vulnerable to forced labor in domestic work; Tongan children are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Reports indicate Fijians working in the domestic service industry in Tonga experience mistreatment indicative of labor trafficking. Chinese construction laborers working on government infrastructure projects in Tonga are vulnerable to labor trafficking. Tongan adults working overseas, including in Australia and New Zealand, are vulnerable to labor trafficking, including through withholding of wages and excessive work hours. Employers rush some workers to sign employment contracts they may not fully understand, and others are unable to retain copies of their contracts, exacerbating the potential for employers to exploit these workers in labor trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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