The government maintained inadequate 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 ($342,470), 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 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) to prosecute child sex trafficking crimes, including Sections 20 and 21 which criminalized the facilitating, assisting, causing, or encouraging a child to provide commercial sex acts, 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, which were significantly lower than those available for trafficking offenses under Section 98D and 98AA of the Crimes Act.
The government initiated investigations of three potential cases of trafficking but did not initiate any prosecutions or convict any traffickers; this was compared with eight investigations, two sex trafficking prosecutions, and conviction of seven sex traffickers in the previous reporting period. Following the enactment of the trafficking law in 2015, the government has exclusively used Section 98D to prosecute labor trafficking crimes and has never prosecuted a sex trafficking crime or a case of internal trafficking under Section 98D. The government required the Attorney General to approve any charges under Section 98D before authorities could initiate court proceedings.
An anti-trafficking operations group, composed of immigration authorities, police, the children’s ministry, and other agencies, continued to meet to increase law enforcement coordination. The Labour Inspectorate (LI) 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 authorities did not refer cases for criminal investigations. Immigration New Zealand’s (INZ) serious offences unit investigated trafficking cases that involved immigration violations; however, according to some observers, there was a reluctance within INZ to pursue trafficking charges and the agency did not consistently coordinate with prosecutors before deciding to pursue charges. In addition, LI and INZ reportedly did not consistently respond to or investigate complaints made by exploited migrant workers, and despite finalizing a strategy in early 2021 to formalize their collaboration, the agencies reportedly did not effectively coordinate to investigate potential trafficking cases. INZ and New Zealand Police (NZP) completed a protocol in October 2021 aimed to improve coordination between the agencies during joint investigations, including on trafficking cases. Police reportedly did not proactively pursue trafficking cases due to capacity constraints, indicating that police did not understand the gravity of the crime and failed to hold traffickers accountable. In addition, the government did not adequately train police officers to identify indicators of trafficking among victims of domestic or family violence, including in cases where traffickers forced adult victims into commercial sex, and therefore the crime often went unnoticed by authorities. Some experts previously noted that the lack of efforts by law enforcement to treat sex trafficking cases appropriately minimized the prevalence of the crime and resulted in weak efforts to hold traffickers accountable and protect victims.
The Ministry of Business, Immigration, and Employment (MBIE) finalized new training modules for immigration officers, labor inspectors, and other frontline officials on identifying and investigating trafficking, interviewing victims, and processing visas for victims; the government delivered the training to INZ staff during the reporting period. NZP continued to require anti-trafficking training for all detectives and included a trafficking and smuggling chapter in its police manual. The government also provided anti-trafficking training to police child protection specialist teams and criminal investigations branch managers; Employment New Zealand conducted “train the trainer” sessions for six officials. The government did not report training prosecutors or judiciary officials, and one observer reported the government did not adequately train labor inspectors to investigate potential trafficking crimes. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.