Clampdown on slavery in new-look bill

Local | Cindy Wan 6 Jun 2018

Two lawmakers have proposed introducing a "Modern Slavery Bill" to combat human trafficking.

The bill, put forward by Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang and Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong of Professional Commons, aims to modernize and criminalize all forms of slavery and the slave trade itself.

This is due to the absence of specific offenses under Hong Kong's law against slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labor, sex tourism, human trafficking and forced marriage.

Barrister Azan Marwah, the drafter of the bill, said it will clearly define the crimes of human trafficking in serious and organized offenses to empower law enforcers to prosecute offenders.

The proposed bill will amend the Crimes Ordinance by introducing offenses related to slavery, servitude and forced or compulsory labor.

The bill also proposes introducing a new section, where a single human trafficking offense, which will cover sexual and non-sexual exploitation, will replace the existing offense in section 129 of the Crimes Ordinance. Currently, the section simply relates to human trafficking for prostitution.

The proposed amendment will also give prosecutors grounds to arrest Hong Kong residents who commit human trafficking in any part of the world and non-Hong Kong residents who plot to or commit the crimes in Hong Kong.

Marwah also said prosecutors will be permitted to charge offenders with another offence - intent to commit human trafficking.

He said accomplices are well aware of the lenient sanctions in human trafficking. A separate offense aimed at accomplices, with stricter punishments, is necessary. Patricia Ho Pui-chi, who also helped in drafting the bill, said its implementation is necessary since related laws in Hong Kong are fragmented and the legislation of human trafficking falls behind the Asia-Pacific region.

"There are four countries and regions in Asia that do not have specific criminal offenses for human trafficking - North Korea, Bhutan, Maldives and, regrettably. Hong Kong," she said.

"Moreover, in our experience, police have had to release suspects and let them leave Hong Kong because there's currently no specific criminal ordinance to detain them."

Former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan said his unions reported 36 cases of human trafficking related to domestic helpers last year. More than 80 percent of the cases involved deduction of salary and unreasonably high agent fees.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung announced in March that the government will launch measures to combat human trafficking, including the expansion of victim screening mechanisms and appointing dedicated teams to handle cases of exploitation. In the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report this month, Hong Kong was on its Tier Two watch list in 2016 and 2017.

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