[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

HONG KONG (TIER 2)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People's Republic of China is a destination and transit territory for men and women from mainland China, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Hong Kong is primarily a transit point for illegal migrants, some of whom are subject to conditions of debt bondage, forced commercial sexual exploitation, and forced labor. Hong Kong is also a destination for women from the Chinese mainland and Southeast Asia who travel to Hong Kong voluntarily for legal employment in restaurants, bars, and hotels, but upon arrival are coerced into prostitution under conditions of debt bondage. Some of the women in Hong Kong’s commercial sex trade are believed to be trafficking victims. Some were lured by criminal syndicates or acquaintances with promises of financial rewards, and deceived about the nature of their future jobs, but faced conditions of debt bondage and had their passports and travel documents confiscated upon their arrival in Hong Kong.

Some foreign domestic workers in the territory, particularly those from Indonesia and the Philippines, face high levels of indebtedness assumed as part of the terms of employment, which can in some cases lead to situations of debt bondage if unlawfully exploited by recruiters or employers. Many Indonesian domestic workers earning the minimum wage or less enter into contracts requiring them to pay their Indonesian recruitment agency as much as $2,700 within their first seven months of employment, amounting to roughly 90 percent of a worker's monthly salary if they are making minimum wage; though these fees are lawful, reports indicate they may make some workers more vulnerable to labor trafficking. While these fees are imposed by Indonesia-based recruitment agencies, some Hong Kong-licensed recruitment agencies reportedly are involved. Some Hong Kong agencies reportedly confiscate passports, employment contracts, and ATM cards of domestic workers upon arrival and withhold them until the debt has been completely repaid; factors which also may facilitate labor trafficking. Additionally, the confiscation of passports by some Hong Kong employment agencies restricts the ability of migrant workers to leave their employer in cases of abuse, and places them under further control of their employment agency, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking. Some Indonesian domestic workers are confined to the residence and not given the opportunity to leave for non-work-related reasons, preventing them from complaining about possible exploitation to authorities.

The Government of Hong Kong does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government makes efforts to prevent trafficking among domestic workers and inform them of their rights. However, during the reporting period, Hong Kong authorities did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any trafficking offenders as defined in U.S. law, nor did it identify any trafficking victims.

Recommendations for Hong Kong: Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including any cases involving the involuntary servitude of Indonesian domestic workers; enforce existing Hong Kong laws on holding travel documents and other identification as collateral on debts; create and implement formal procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as women and girls in the commercial sex industry and persons arrested for immigration violations; and conduct a public awareness campaign aimed at reducing demand for commercial sex acts.

The Government of Hong Kong did not make progress in its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Hong Kong does not have specific anti-trafficking laws, but its Immigration Ordinance, Crimes Ordinance, and other relevant laws adequately prohibit trafficking offenses. Labor trafficking is criminalized through the Employment Ordinance. Penalties for trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation are commensurate with those for rape, and penalties for all forms of trafficking are sufficiently stringent. While Hong Kong authorities pursued charges against a criminal syndicate that sent women abroad for prostitution, authorities did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any trafficking offenders as defined in U.S. law during the reporting period; the case against the syndicate lacked the necessary element of force, fraud, or coercion. Hong Kong police reportedly assisted some foreign domestic workers in retrieving their passports from recruitment agencies. There were no reports of trafficking complicity by Hong Kong officials during the reporting period.

The Hong Kong government did not demonstrate sufficient tangible progress in protecting and assisting trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government did not identify any victims of trafficking in 2008. One foreign consulate reported identifying seven trafficking victims during the reporting period who were recruited to work as waitresses in Hong Kong, but were subsequently forced into prostitution. When victims are identified by the government, they are provided with government-sponsored assistance including shelter, financial and legal assistance, counseling, and psychological support. Authorities encourage victim participation in the investigation of traffickers, although in practice many are reluctant to do so because of the likelihood of a long trial with no ability to work or earn money. The Hong Kong government does not ensure that victims are not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked. Authorities grant immunity to female victims who agree to act as a witness for the prosecution. Hong Kong law requires the deportation of foreign trafficking victims, and does not automatically provide foreign victims of trafficking with legal alternatives to their removal to a country where they may face hardship or retribution. Victims can lodge an appeal, and the Department of Justice will make a final decision on a case-by-case basis, though this has never been done in the case of a trafficking victim. Hong Kong authorities can refer victims of trafficking to existing social service programs at government-subsidized NGO shelters or Social Welfare Department shelters.

Hong Kong continued to demonstrate efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the reporting period. The government continued to fund a local NGO to meet and provide information kits to incoming foreign domestic workers and potential sex trafficking victims who arrive from Indonesia and Philippines. To prevent trafficking among foreign domestic workers, the Labor Department continued to publish "guidebooks" in several languages that explain workers' rights, the role of employment agencies, and services provided by the government. Although these guidebooks are distributed to foreign domestic workers upon arrival at Hong Kong International Airport, a labor NGO reported that the guidebooks were sometimes taken away by Hong Kong employment agencies shortly after workers received them. Information kiosks and exhibitions were set up at locations frequented by foreign domestic workers, and advertisements about rights guaranteed by the Employment Ordinance were placed in local newspapers. The Hong Kong government did not take any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the reporting period