The road to slavery runs through Hong Kong

A map that captures human trafficking and migration routes suggests Hong Kong plays a role in the crime on a global scale. (Photo credit: Liberty Global | Asia)


Known as the Victim Journey Map, the map records the source, transit, and destination points within and across countries. Different parties around the globe can submit data, entering source and destination routes to visualise the global human trafficking network.

“The map shows Hong Kong not only as destination country, but also as a transit point for migrants from Latin America and Africa that make their way to China, through Hong Kong, and then all the way to Thailand,” says Ms Julia Macher, Director of Freedom Collaborative.

Freedom Collaborative is an online platform founded by Liberty Asia, an organisation that fights against human trafficking jointly through legal advocacy and technology.

“The map currently displays 284 routes to or from Asia that has been submitted by 23 organisations from the region, and there are six routes that relate to Hong Kong as transit and as destination country,” she notes.

Hong Kong is primarily a transit point for illegal migrants, some of whom fall victim to debt bondage, sexual exploitation, and forced labour.

There are also cases that women from China and Southeast Asia who travel to the city voluntarily for legal employment are coerced into prostitution under conditions of debt bondage upon arrival.

Last month, a civil society umbrella group said there were more than 60 human trafficking cases in Hong Kong over the past year. And in 2016, the Global Slavery Index estimated that there were 29,500 victims of human trafficking in the city.

Liberty Global | Asia recently launched the Victim Journey Map to encourage data sharing and gathering. So far, 40 groups have taken part in creating the map, drawing 366 routes across different continents.

Through the map, the human rights advocate group hopes to create a surveying instrument for data capture that is quick to complete, readily accessible and applicable to civil society, law enforcement, authorities, regulators, and industry governance.

“The map may be used as a basis for setting priorities for international cooperation and for gaining a deeper understanding of the profile of a given country,” explains Ms Macher.

While the NGOs are actively providing the tools to tackle human trafficking, the Hong Kong government is also taking steps to address the issue.

In March, the government implemented the Action Plan to Tackle Trafficking in Persons & Enhance Protection of Foreign Domestic Helpers.

The plan includes measures such as extending the victim screening mechanism, appointing dedicated teams or officers, and setting up a dedicated hotline with interpretation services.

But these are measures and not laws yet. Currently, there is no specific law against human trafficking in Hong Kong. Definition of human trafficking is also narrow in Hong Kong laws.

Ms Claudia Yip, a representative of legislator Dennis Kwok, says there is a delay in legislating against human trafficking.

“The current laws may be applicable to certain acts, but they cannot reflect the severity of human trafficking as they usually entail lenient punishment, causing further connivance and even encouraging trafficking in Hong Kong,” says Ms Yip.

In June, Hong Kong was placed for the third consecutive year on the Tier 2 Watch List. just one rank from the worst offenders of human trafficking, in the U.S. State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons report, as the U.S. said the city has not shown increased efforts to tackle the problem.

If Hong Kong is downgraded to Tier 3, the city may face sanctions.

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