Current Affairs

Lack of political will hampering fight on human trafficking?

By Charles Santiago, MP for Klang


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Statements by Malaysia’s Home Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi that the country is committed to fight human trafficking is nice to hear.

Without concerted efforts and the political will to carry out the recommendations in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which is based on international standards, gung-ho chest-thumping declarations will remain just that.

Zahid reportedly said that “the issue of human trafficking in fact has been raised several times in the Cabinet and we will further strengthen ATIPSOM (Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act 2007) by making several amendments which will be tabled in Parliament in the upcoming sitting next month.”

In 2013, Malaysia received a waiver from an automatic downgrade to Tier 3 because the UMNO-led government proposed a plan of action to re-look its existing anti-human trafficking strategies through the Council of Anti-trafficking in Persons and Anti-smuggling of Migrants (Mapo).

Last year the US government downgraded Malaysia to Tier 3, the lowest ranking, in its TIP report for “broken promises” over several years and insufficient action against human trafficking.

While the amended Trafficking in Persons Act now include all actions involved in acquiring or maintaining the labor or services of a person through coercion, there are still structural flaws as the victims end up in the shelter for more than 90 days depriving them of livelihood or compensation.

MTUC and NGOs report that victims of trafficking spend at least 12 months in shelters. As such there is no incentive for these victims to cooperate with the prosecution.

In comparison let’s look at Taiwan and the Philippines.

Besides networking with Tier 1 countries and NGOs, Taiwan authorities looked at victims’ protection, gave them work permits and allowed them to go in and out of the shelter. This allows the victims, especially the women, to become empowered and help with the prosecution of their traffickers.

The Philippines, meanwhile, managed to clear its backlog and expedite its human trafficking cases in court. Previously it took them years to get a case to court.

By this time, the victims would have run away or retracted their testimony as they thought they would never get justice.

By expediting cases in court, the prosecutors stood a real chance at convicting the traffickers and more importantly, let the victims know that justice will be served.

Home Minister Zahid said 752 cases had been investigated under ATIPSOM 2007 between February 2008 and end of December, last year.

This is a nominal figure. And the question here is how many were charged in court?

To show it’s serious about combating human trafficking, Malaysia certainly needs to show proof that it is intensifying efforts.

But the number of victims identified and cases solved remain low. The Malaysian government seems to be going around in circles and ending up with nothing to show in terms of results or significant improvement.

For example, Malaysia increased the number of traffickers convicted from 17 to 21 in 2012. This is clearly insignificant.

In 2010, 174 charges were made against 51 individuals under the anti-trafficking law in 2010. The government convicted 11 sex trafficking offenders and three individuals involved in labor trafficking. Seven trafficking offenders convicted in 2009.

Prosecution for forced labor trafficking is also rare in Malaysia. Between 2012 and August 2013, there were a total of 120 cases brought under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, but resulted only in 23 convictions.

Last year, a horrifying tale of modern day slavery shocked Malaysians after reports about Lokesh Sapaliga made the headlines.

An Indian national, Sapaliga worked in sub-human conditions, was forced to eat rotting food and paid a little over twenty ringgit for a 14-20 hour workday.

Therefore, Malaysia must also look at ILO’s feedback suggesting Putrajaya drafts a bill to tighten the regulation of private employment agencies. The ILO also recommended the draft bill be extended to cover outsourcing agencies.

The ILO estimates some 150 billion dollars in profits are generated annually for private businesses from trafficking, of which 99 billion dollars goes to the sex industry.

This is a huge sum of money and Malaysia is playing a big role in this “industry”.

We therefore welcome UN’s special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children Maria Grazia Giammarinaro’s visit to Malaysia and hope she would continue raising issues such as ineffective prosecution of labour-related trafficking cases, the detention of trafficking victims in government facilities, lack of victim care and counseling and problems of complicity of some government officers and enforcement agencies in trafficking.

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