The government maintained inadequate efforts to protect victims. Police, immigration, and customs officials used a two-tiered identification mechanism to screen vulnerable populations for indicators of trafficking. Through this mechanism, officials referred potential victims for a full identification “debriefing” after determining whether an individual met at least one of seven indicators listed on the standard screening form of the first tier of the identification mechanism. Officials screened 7,678 individuals in 2021, compared to 6,912 screened in 2020, but only identified one victim (exploited in labor trafficking); this was a decrease compared with identifying three victims in 2020. Authorities’ implementation of the screening mechanism and victim identification was ineffective and inconsistent, and they lacked understanding of psychological trauma associated with trafficking. The government’s anti-trafficking task force met with civil society organizations to receive feedback on the screening process and accepted proposals for improving the process; however, the government did not report making any adjustments to the identification process by the end of the reporting period. Law enforcement often did not use a trauma-informed approach while interviewing potential victims during the identification process, which exacerbated victims’ emotional distress and, since authorities conducted interviews over many hours without adequate breaks, often did not successfully identify indicators of trafficking. The standard screening form listed the vulnerable populations authorities were required to screen, but it did not list any groups that included Hong Kong citizens. Although the government reported expanding screening of foreign domestic workers in 2021 to include all workers who applied for a new or to renew an existing worker visa, authorities did not routinely screen individuals in commercial sex for trafficking indicators. Hong Kong’s low age of consent, 16, further complicated efforts to identify child victims exploited in commercial sex as trafficking victims. Despite media reports indicating officials identified children in commercial sex during police raids on brothels, government authorities did not identify them as victims of trafficking or refer them to services. The failure to consistently provide potential victims with immediate stabilizing care upon their initial contact with authorities, as well as a lack of legal assistance for victims, also likely impeded officials’ ability to effectively interview victims and identify trafficking indicators. In previous years, authorities failed to identify mainland People’s Republic of China (PRC) national child victims of sex trafficking who were found during anti-vice operations, and authorities deported them without providing adequate assistance; however, in 2021, authorities did not report finding any such victims during anti-vice operations.
The government did not report providing services to any victims. The government reported agencies could refer potential victims to anti- trafficking teams and provide them services; however, authorities did not refer any victims to services, and the government lacked a formal referral process and clear guidance for officials to inform victims of available services. Victims commonly preferred to receive services provided by foreign consulates or NGOs, rather than services offered by the government. The government partially subsidized six NGO-operated and three government-operated shelters that served victims of violence, abuse, and exploitation, including trafficking victims. These shelters could provide temporary accommodation, counseling, and medical and psychological services to local and foreign victims, regardless of gender or age. However, some services were not available to foreign victims, including welfare and social services provided by the Social Welfare Department.
The government could assist foreign victims, including domestic workers, to return to Hong Kong to serve as witnesses in trials by providing financial assistance but did not report doing so during the reporting period. To enable foreign victims to temporarily remain in Hong Kong, the government could provide visa extensions with fee waivers and could provide victims who were foreign domestic workers with permission to change their employer. Inconsistent coordination between immigration officials and police made it difficult for victims to obtain visa extensions in practice. Authorities generally did not permit foreign victims, including those given visa extensions, to work or study while they remained in Hong Kong, unless an exception was granted; this likely deterred some victims from remaining in Hong Kong to participate as witnesses in investigations against traffickers. Hong Kong law allowed victims to seek compensation from traffickers through civil suits and labor tribunals. Nonetheless, a shortage of interpretation services, lack of trained attorneys, inability to work while awaiting a decision, and judges’ inexperience with forced labor cases sometimes impaired victims’ attempts to claim back wages or restitution through labor tribunals and deterred some from bringing claims forward.
Due to a lack of effective identification procedures, authorities likely detained, arrested, and deported some unidentified trafficking victims. Authorities penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. During police raids in brothels, authorities arrested individuals in commercial sex, did not screen them for indicators of trafficking, and deported foreign individuals without screening. The government typically initiated immigration proceedings against victims, rather than referring them to services and investigating or prosecuting the traffickers. In addition, anecdotal reporting suggested authorities continued to penalize victims of forced criminality, specifically those coerced to carry drugs into Hong Kong, without screening them for trafficking indicators. The government could grant immunity from prosecution to victims identified through the screening mechanism, as well as exploited foreign domestic workers, and reported granting immunity to two individual in 2021.