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TONGA (Tier 2)

The Government of Tonga does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.  The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Tonga was upgraded to Tier 2.  These efforts included initiating a trafficking investigation for the first time since 2018, developing victim identification and referral guidelines for police, issuing instructions to police on investigating trafficking crimes, and forming a task force to draft a NAP.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The government did not identify any victims, initiate any trafficking prosecutions, systematically screen vulnerable populations for trafficking, or provide training to its officials.  Tonga has not convicted a trafficker since 2011.

  • 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 trafficking crimes lacking cross-border movement.
  • Develop, adopt, fund, and implement a NAP.
  • 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 increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts.  The Counter Terrorism and Transnational Organized Crime Act of 2013 did not criminalize all forms of trafficking because it required transnationality to constitute a trafficking offense.  In addition, 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 police initiated one investigation of possible labor trafficking among People’s Republic of China (PRC) nationals, which represented the first trafficking investigation since 2018.  Since convicting its first trafficker in April 2011, the government has not prosecuted or convicted any traffickers.  In March 2023, the Office of the Commissioner of Police issued instructions to all police officers to cooperate with other agencies to investigate trafficking and provide guidance on the responsibilities of officers investigating potential trafficking crimes.  The Serious Organized Transnational Crimes Unit of the Police Force was responsible for investigating trafficking crimes.  Law enforcement reported language barriers and resource limitations impeded their ability to investigate trafficking.  In addition, law enforcement did not consistently prioritize anti-trafficking efforts and assumed trafficking was not present in the country.  The government did not report providing anti-trafficking training for law enforcement personnel.  The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes.

The government maintained victim protection efforts.  Since the government’s identification of four potential trafficking victims in 2015, the government has not identified any confirmed trafficking victims.  Through the instructions issued by the police commissioner, the government developed and issued screening guidelines for police officers to identify trafficking victims and refer them to services.  After the implementation of an amnesty program for foreign nationals who had overstayed their visas, the government screened approximately 300 individuals for trafficking indicators but did not identify any confirmed victims.  The government had procedures to refer victims of crime, including potential trafficking victims, to an NGO but did not use these procedures during the year.  Due to a lack of formal victim identification procedures, authorities possibly 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 12 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.  The government could grant asylum to victims if they feared retribution or hardship in their country of origin, although no trafficking victim has ever benefited from this assistance.

The government slightly increased efforts to prevent trafficking.  The Ministry of Police was responsible for leading anti-trafficking efforts.  The government formed a task force to create and implement an anti-trafficking NAP; although the government produced an executive summary, the plan was not completed by the end of the reporting period.  The government did not conduct campaigns to raise public awareness of trafficking.  The Ministry of Labor released radio advertisements on workers’ rights, informing workers of their right to access their passports.  The government did not maintain a hotline to report trafficking crimes.  Authorities provided briefings to Tongans participating in seasonal worker programs overseas, which included information on workers’ rights.  Under Tongan labor law, 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 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.  However, border closures implemented in 2021 decreased the number of migrants arriving in Tonga.  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 withholding of wages and excessive work hours.  Some Tongan seasonal workers unable to leave Australia because of 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