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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 providing funding to an NGO available to assist trafficking victims. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government did not identify any victims, develop procedures to identify them, or investigate any cases of trafficking. Therefore Tonga remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.

  • 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 such crimes lacking cross-border movement.
  • Develop, adopt, fund, 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 anti-trafficking information and education campaigns.
  • Accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government continued to make negligible anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts; however, natural disasters and the pandemic significantly impacted the capacity of the government to implement anti-trafficking activities during the reporting period. 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 third consecutive year. Since convicting its first trafficker in April 2011, the government has not prosecuted or convicted any traffickers. Law enforcement reported language barriers and resource limitations impacted their ability to investigate trafficking. The government did not report if the Tongan police force continued to provide anti-trafficking training for new police recruits. Government officials participated in a foreign government-funded training on collecting and reporting trafficking data. 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. The government had procedures to refer victims of crime, including potential trafficking victims, to an NGO, but did not use the procedures during the year. Due to a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities likely detained, arrested, or deported some unidentified trafficking victims. The public’s distrust of Tongan courts, as well as low levels of understanding of human trafficking, 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 authorities did not identify any victims during the year, adult female and child victims of trafficking were eligible for these services. There were no shelter facilities available to male victims older than 14; 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 permits to victims 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, though no trafficking victim has ever requested asylum.

The government maintained minimal efforts to prevent trafficking. The Ministry of Police’s trafficking task force was responsible for leading anti-trafficking efforts. The government did not have 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. East Asian women, especially those from the People’s Republic of China (PRC), 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 were vulnerable to sex trafficking. Reports indicate Fijians working in the domestic service industry in Tonga experience mistreatment indicative of labor trafficking. PRC nationals working in construction on government infrastructure projects in Tonga were 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. Some Tongan seasonal workers unable to leave Australia due to pandemic-related border closures subsequently become vulnerable to exploitation. 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

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future