US: Macau needs to step up against human trafficking

Thursday, June 18, 2009
Issue 736, Page 3
Word count: 904
Published in: Macau Daily Times

By Poyi (Natalie) Leung

Macau was able to remain on the second best Tier 2 list for the second consecutive year in the United States’ 2009 Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report, after having been placed on the special watch list in 2006 and 2007.

Yet, the US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the same time pinpointed the problems, such as corruption and inadequate efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers, that might have made Macau fail to upgrade its rating to the top of Tier 1.

In this year’s TIP Report, 173 countries and regions were placed onto one of the three tier lists as mandated by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

Governments that fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking are placed on Tier 1, while those that are making significant efforts to meet the requirements are placed on Tier 2.

For government that are placed on the bottom Tier 3, it indicates that they neither comply with the minimum standards nor are making substantial efforts to do so.

A special Tier 2 Watch List is also applied, and governments which are being placed onto that meet one of the following three criteria: “The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous years; or the determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year”.

After having successfully upgraded itself to avoid possible economic sanctions by the US in 2008, Macau this year again was placed on Tier 2 as the Sate Department recognised the territory’s progress in enforcing the anti trafficking law and other related measures.

According to the annual report, Macau is primarily a destination for the trafficking of women and girls from mainland China, Mongolia, Russia, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Burma, and Central Asia for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation in massage parlous or illegal but “widely tolerated” brothels.

“Most victims are from inland Chinese provinces who migrate to the border province of Guangdong in search of employment, where they fall prey to false advertisements for jobs in Macau,” the report said.

“Foreign and mainland Chinese women and girls are deceived into migrating voluntarily to the Macau SAR for employment opportunities in casinos, as dancers, or other types of legitimate employment; upon arrival in Macau, some of the victims are passed to local organised crime groups, held captive, and forced into sexual servitude,” it continued.

The State Department pointed out that during the reporting period, the SAR government passed a “comprehensive” anti-trafficking law and began to provide shelters, counselling, and medical and financial assistance to trafficking victims.

Nevertheless, the report deemed Macau’s overall efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers, particularly those involved in organised crime, showed no improvement and remained inadequate.

In addition, the TIP Report said “Foreign victims found it extremely difficult to escape their state of servitude given the lack of services in their native language and the lack of their government’s diplomatic representation in Macau”.

Hence, the US recommended Macau to push for greater investigations and prosecutions of traffickers under the new anti-trafficking law which was passed in June last year.

Macau was also advised to reinforce cooperation with source country governments on cross-border trafficking cases, increase efforts to identify victims among vulnerable groups, provide specialised training to Social Welfare Bureau social workers in providing assistance to victims, and also to support a visible anti trafficking awareness campaign directed at employers and clients of the legalised sex trade.

“Macau authorities have yet to obtain a conviction of a trafficking offender,” the TIP Report said.

In October 2008, two Macau female sex trafficking victims were rescued in Japan. Macau police apprehended one trafficker involved, who has not yet been prosecuted.

“Corruption is a significant problem in Macau, and is often closely linked to the gambling industry and organised crime networks,” the report suggested.

“The control of Macau, Chinese, Russian, and Thai criminal syndicates over Macau’s lucrative sex trade continued to challenge the effectiveness of prosecution efforts in Macau,” it added.

The Women’s General Association of Macau (AGMM) has been receiving the SAR government’s funding to operate a 24-hour trafficking victim assistance hotline.

“Although the Macau police also ran a trafficking hotline, the public appeared to lack awareness about the hotline’s existence, and no trafficking cases were identified from hotline calls during the reporting period,” the report claimed.

Yet, according to AGMM president Chio Ngai Ieng, the association had received requests for assistance from 24 females aged 16 to early 20s transferred from the government.

Of them, one was a Vietnamese while the others were all from the mainland who got arranged to work in the local sex trade.

Among the 173 countries and regions having been rated in the TIP Report, 28 were placed on Tier 1 such ass Australia, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, along Macau on Tier 2 were other 75 places including Hong Kong, Japan, Portugal, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand.

China, India, the Philippines, and other 49 places were therefore put on Tier 2 Watch List, whilst the bottom tier consisted of 17 places namely Malaysia, North Korea, Cuba and Burma.

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