An anti-trafficking concern group comprising legal professionals and NGOs has called upon the government to introduce comprehensive local legislation against slavery and human trafficking.

Hong Kong currently sits on a second tier watch list in the Trafficking in Persons Report published by the US Department of State, alongside countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is the second year the city has been ranked as Tier 2, but the Hong Kong government has rejected the criticism.

Dennis Kwok.
Dennis Kwok. File Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

At a press conference on Tuesday, members of the Hong Kong Anti-Trafficking Concern Group, including legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok, solicitor Patricia Ho, barrister Azan Marwah and NGO representatives, presented the Draft Modern Slavery Bill 2017.

According to Marwah, the bill defines and criminalises all internationally recognised forms of slavery and human trafficking via an amendment of the Crimes Ordinance in Hong Kong. Under the bill, the definition of organised crime will also be expanded to cover acts by trafficking syndicates.

Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong Mabel Au said that the current definition of trafficking did not satisfy the international standards set out in the United Nations’ Palermo Protocol. The power of authorities to target criminals is thus limited by loopholes in the law, she said.

See also: Human trafficking: Hong Kong’s hidden crime has no statistics, and no answers

Kwok said that he has written to the security panel requesting a discussion on human trafficking, and intended to bring the bill before the Legislative Council for deliberation.

patricia ho
Patricia Ho. File Photo: The Justice Conference Asia via Youtube.

At the event, Ho also introduced a petition addressed to Chief Executive Carrie Lam. It called upon the government “to take immediate steps to criminalise human trafficking in all forms, and to take further steps to identify and to provide appropriate channels of redress for victims against abusers and exploiters.”

“The point is that this trade… of human trafficking is developing very quickly in Hong Kong in many different forms,” said Ho. “And what we’re seeing is that the government is lagging behind in its efforts to combat and deal with this trade. And so, basically, it’s almost as if we’re inviting this to happen and develop rapidly.”

So far, the petition has been signed by legal professionals Simon Young, Puja Kapai, Gladys Li, as well as a number of pro-democracy lawmakers and politicians.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.