Taiwan authorities increased law enforcement efforts, but they did not sufficiently prioritize the detection, investigation, or prosecution of forced labor crimes in the coastal-offshore or DWF fishing industries. The Human Trafficking Prevention and Control Act (HTPCA) criminalized all forms of trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment and fines up to 5 million New Taiwan Dollars (NT) ($180,460); these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. HTPCA amendments enacted in 2018 increased penalties to a maximum of one year in prison and a possible fine of 300,000 NT ($10,830) for individuals who, “through recruitment, seduction, shelter, arrangement, assistance, exploitation, or other means, cause a child to act as a host or hostess in a bar or club or engage in acts associated with tour escort and singing or dancing companion services that involve sexual activities.” The amendment prescribed a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment and a possible fine of 1.5 million NT ($54,140) for such crimes committed by means of “violence, coercion, drugs, fraud, hypnosis, or other means violating the free will of the child or youth concerned.” Authorities continued to prosecute the majority of trafficking cases under other laws in the criminal code and the Child and Youth Sexual Exploitation Prevention Act (CYSEPA); some penalties prescribed for child sex trafficking crimes under these laws were not sufficiently stringent or commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape, although other laws retained appropriate penalties. Authorities prosecuted and convicted some traffickers under criminal code provisions proscribing crimes outside the standard definition of trafficking, such as Article 231 (forced sexual intercourse or obscene acts), Article 296 (“trading or mortgaging of humans”), and Article 302 (false imprisonment), some of which carried lesser penalties.
Authorities reported initiating 99 new criminal trafficking investigations involving 229 alleged perpetrators, including 62 alleged perpetrators of labor trafficking and 167 alleged perpetrators of sex trafficking, compared with 159 total investigations involving 458 alleged perpetrators in 2020. Officials attributed this decrease to reduced law enforcement staffing, strict border controls, and the long-term closure of businesses that facilitated commercial sex as a health precaution during the pandemic. Authorities also continued ongoing investigations of 143 cases involving 341 alleged sex traffickers and 55 alleged labor traffickers initiated in 2020. They newly prosecuted 73 individuals—25 for alleged forced labor and 48 for alleged sex trafficking—compared with 116 new prosecutions in 2020. This figure included 38 individuals indicted under the CYSEPA, six under the HTPCA, and 29 under other laws and sections of the criminal code (compared with 58 under CYSEPA, 15 under HTPCA, and 43 under other laws in 2020). The six individuals indicted under the HTPCA were all charged with labor trafficking (compared with eight charged with sex trafficking and seven charged with labor trafficking in 2020). Authorities convicted 73 traffickers; this included four individuals convicted for forced labor and 69 for sex trafficking (compared with four for forced labor, 45 for sex trafficking, and one for both in 2020). In prior years, authorities ascribed the tendency to impose lenient penalties to Taiwan’s judicial evaluation and promotion system, which reportedly penalized judges if courts granted convicted individuals’ appeals to overturn or shorten their sentences. However, for the fourth consecutive year, sentences imposed on the majority of convicted traffickers (62, compared with at least 43 in 2020) exceeded one year imprisonment. Taiwan authorities investigated five foreign nationals—one each from Republic of Korea and Japan and three from Indonesia—for suspected CYSEPA violations, but they did not report whether these constituted child sex tourism crimes or other forms of exploitation proscribed under CYSEPA (compared with eight investigations in 2020). Authorities did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in human trafficking crimes. Authorities filed charges in a case referred to prosecutors in 2020 involving a Taiwan-based foreign government official, suspected of colluding with her Taiwan citizen spouse, to recruit three foreign nationals for sex trafficking in Taiwan; the case was awaiting trial at the end of the reporting period. Taiwan’s laws criminalized sexual exploitation of children by Taiwan passport holders traveling abroad. For the first time since 2006, authorities reported indicting one such individual; the case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. As in prior years, law enforcement bodies and court authorities maintained disparate statistical records on anti- trafficking cases; as such, the true number of trafficking indictments, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences—including those processed through appeals in multiple court systems—may have been higher than reported. Pandemic-related challenges, including widespread infection among officers in some areas, significantly impacted law enforcement anti-trafficking capacity in 2021. The Judicial Yuan also ordered courts at all levels to suspend in-person proceedings or switch to virtual conferencing during periods with high infection rates, thereby constraining prosecutions throughout the year.
Authorities and NGOs noted court personnel perceiving cases as labor disputes rather than trafficking crimes continued to hinder effective prosecution of labor trafficking cases. Ambiguities in HTPCA provisions reportedly complicated implementation in cases where victims received some financial compensation. Other HTPCA provisions protected workers from having to remit “unreasonable payments of debt” to brokers or supervisors; observers expressed concern that these provisions were too vague to effectively prevent debt-based coercion. In 2019, authorities formed an interagency working group to seek civil society input for revising the HTPCA; in December 2021, authorities submitted draft amendments that incorporated this input to the Executive Yuan, where they remained pending at the end of the reporting period. In previous years, labor rights groups alleged some low-level corruption among local officials impeded action against forced labor in the fishing industry, although no such allegations were reported in 2021.
Although pandemic-related restrictions on large gatherings curtailed some training activities, authorities again allocated approximately 1 million NT ($36,090) to train more than 1,500 law enforcement officers, prosecutors, and judges through a wide range of virtual workshops, seminars, and conferences (compared with more than 3,000 officials trained at an estimated cost of 1 million NT, or $36,090, in 2020). Despite coordination obstacles to international law enforcement due to Taiwan’s unique diplomatic status, authorities continued to conduct joint anti-trafficking investigations with several countries, including Kosovo, Montenegro, Paraguay, Serbia, Turkey, and Vietnam. Officials at times closed international investigations submitted by foreign counterparts due to perceived lack of evidence.
The Ministry of Labor (MOL) reported conducting 2,363 inspections of recruitment brokers in 2021 (compared with 2,617 in 2020). Unlike in 2020, authorities reported conducting 111 follow-up investigations based on reports of improper withholding of identity documentation and illegal surcharges; this led to the indictment of eight individuals on human trafficking charges, two of which culminated in convictions (compared with no criminal investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of brokers engaged in illegal acts in 2020). The FA reported conducting unannounced inspections on 112 fishing vessels, including 98 at domestic ports, 12 at foreign ports, and two that were Taiwan-owned and foreign- flagged, interviewing a total of 641 crewmembers (compared with 124 inspections—102 at domestic ports, 20 at foreign ports, and two on the high seas, interviewing a total of 658 crew—in 2020). Observers noted DWF vessels—both Taiwan- and foreign-flagged—spent more time docked in Taiwan’s ports due to the pandemic in 2021. Inspectors uncovered 62 violations relating to contract issues, excessive overtime, physical assault of crewmembers, wage discrepancies, and suspected human trafficking (compared with 141 in 2020). Forty-four of these remained under initial investigation. Authorities referred five of the cases to district prosecutors; continued prosecutorial investigation of two cases; and closed one due to perceived lack of evidence (compared with eight referrals in 2020; three in 2019; and three in 2018). Notably, two of the aforementioned referrals were for cases of suspected trafficking aboard Taiwan-owned, foreign-flagged vessels—a first in recent years.
In previous years, judicial officials noted bureaucratic lags generated by complicated reporting hierarchies impeded timely law enforcement response in maritime trafficking cases, allowing some alleged perpetrators to flee long before the competent authorities could begin formal investigations. In an effort to mitigate these delays, in 2020 Taiwan’s interagency anti-trafficking task force worked with the FA to complete and promulgate a policy granting police and prosecutors the authority to initiate maritime forced labor investigations immediately upon receipt of complaints, rather than following lengthier bureaucratic approval processes; however, authorities did not implement the new procedure in 2021. Civil society groups continued to decry systemic shortcomings in Taiwan’s maritime anti-trafficking law enforcement, evidenced by lack of robust investigations into formal complaints filed by NGOs and human rights watchdogs; they noted FA authorities continued to pass very few NGO-reported cases of potential maritime forced labor to prosecutors, and instead closed the vast majority of investigated allegations with no further action. Civil society observers encouraged Taiwanese law enforcement to apply the same universal jurisdiction principles cited in land-based human trafficking investigations to board and inspect maritime vessels where cases of seafarer abandonment or abuse are suspected. In an effort to increase transparency to the process, in 2021 authorities began inviting civil society representatives to observe FA interviews of migrant fishermen onboard some vessels in local ports; while noting this as a positive step, these NGO personnel observed some practices that may have discouraged victims from reporting abuses, including interviews conducted in close proximity to senior vessel crew. Only seven of the 32 international ports authorized for use by Taiwan DWF vessels had assigned FA inspectors (a decrease from nine in 2020), and observers noted these personnel operated under mandates that were largely limited to fish catch inspection and the detection of environmental abuses, rather than labor abuses. Taiwan’s unique diplomatic status and the pandemic reportedly continued to complicate ongoing Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and FA efforts to continue placing additional personnel in resident FA positions abroad. However, civil society groups continued to urge the FA to position more inspectors at all authorized overseas ports, or else to reduce the number of ports authorized to receive Taiwan-flagged vessels; train FA inspectors to detect labor abuses on board these vessels, including forced labor; and ensure inspectors have access to interpretation services in languages common among the primary seafarer demographics, including Tagalog and Bahasa. Division of responsibility for foreign fishermen between MOL and the FA continued to hinder the coordination necessary to prosecute maritime forced labor cases.