A joint NGO task force to fight human trafficking has published a guidebook and toolset on identifying and assisting victims. They say they have used it to identify 63 victims of trafficking out of 1,037 people in Hong Kong selected for preliminary screening.

The Handbook on Initial Victim Identification and Assistance for Trafficked Persons, the first of its kind, was launched on Monday and included screening tools and a referral directory. The Civil Society Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force said the Handbook will be shared with governmental and non-governmental organisations, public health professionals, social workers and lawyers.

human trafficking launch tools
Photo: STOP, via Twitter.

“In Hong Kong, the discussion on human trafficking has been long. I am therefore glad to see that civil society has come together, to jointly address this issue through the development of this Handbook,” said Task Force member and former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan.

Twenty-seven activist groups and NGOs formed the Task Force in September 2016.

Applying the screening tools of the Handbook, the Task Force identified 63 trafficking victims who were mostly related to labour exploitation cases. Almost half were 18 to 25 years old, and 73 per cent were female.

Civil Society Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.
Graphic: Civil Society Anti-Human Trafficking Task Force.

Debt bondage

The Task Force also released results of a survey conducted among 424 migrant workers from Indonesia and the Philippines. The poll, which was conducted on the basis of self-declaration, found that one-third of Indonesian respondents were asked to sign debt agreements during recruitment.

Three-quarters of Indonesian respondents said they were not allowed to leave their workplace when off duty.

human trafficking task force
A trafficking victim speaking to the Task Force. Photo: Handout.

The Task Force also shared the stories of trafficking victims at Monday’s press event.

“I was not allowed to go downstairs… [My employer] often got upset. She often yelled at me for a minor mistake,” said Novi, a foreign domestic worker from Indonesia. She said her salary was withheld and she was physically abused.

Under Secretary for Security Sonny Au Chi-kwong said at the event that human trafficking was “not widespread or common” in Hong Kong, and that the government was highly concerned about trafficking activity.

The Immigration Department introduced a screening system for trafficking victims in 2015, and nine victims were identified last year, he added.

Sonny Au
Sonny Au Chi-kwong. Photo: GovHK.

Responding to the fact that some domestic workers were confined to their workplaces, Chairperson of the Hong Kong Employers of Domestic Helpers Association Betty Yung Ma Shan-yee claimed on Tuesday that it was not a problem.

“When [foreign domestic workers] come to work in our home, they become part of the family, so of course they would want to rest at home,” Yung said on a radio programme. “Will the [foreign domestic workers] go out and take up illegal employment? Will the employers be responsible for that?” she added.

human trafficking task force
A trafficking victim speaking to the Task Force. Photo: Handout.

Lee responded that domestic workers should have a choice to leave their workplace during off hours, and expressed support for abolishing the “live in” rule.

2018 was the third consecutive year that Hong Kong was put in Tier 2 in the Trafficking in Persons Report compiled by the US Department of State. A Tier 2 ranking means the jurisdiction’s trafficking prevention measures did not fully meet those stipulated by the US’s Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

The Hong Kong government rejected the criticism in the report as “deplorable and unacceptable,” saying that it had always been “fully committed to working with the international community in combatting [trafficking.]”

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.