By Kurt W. Tong, Consul General of the United States of America
This article was printed June 25 in Ming Pao
Victims of human trafficking suffer injustices that no person on Earth should have to endure in the 21st Century. When a 17-year-old nanny was trafficked from Nigeria to the United States and repeatedly beaten, that was injustice. When a Pakistani man in Hong Kong was forced to work around the clock while his fraudulent wife’s family took all his wages, that was injustice.
“Human trafficking” means coercing or forcing someone to perform work, sexual or otherwise. At the heart of this phenomenon is the traffickers’ aim to exploit victims using coercive or deceptive practices. These victims, sadly, are often among the most vulnerable people in modern global society. Human trafficking happens in every society in the world, every day.
Fortunately, over the last year or two in Hong Kong, I’ve seen growing determination to stop human trafficking. Hong Kong’s businesses are taking steps to remove human trafficking from their global supply chains. Civil society groups are raising awareness about human trafficking and banding together to push for meaningful policy changes that will help victims. Most recently, the Hong Kong government, under the focused and sincere leadership of Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung, has issued an important new anti-human trafficking action plan, and has dedicated increased resources and attention to stopping human trafficking.
These are good steps, but what more can be done – in the United States, or in Hong Kong? One thing we can do is empower and incentivize law enforcement officers to look for and prosecute human traffickers. I recently read in the Washington Post about a training program in Texas that helps police officers identify the signs of child trafficking. The officer in charge of the program asks all the officers he trains, “how many of you have ever said, ‘I’m going to rescue a child tonight’? The typical answer is no. “Why?” he asks. “Why don’t police make that a goal before their shift?” “I’ll tell you one reason why,” he offered. “Because there’s no box to check.” “There are boxes to check for arrests, confiscated drugs, speeding tickets, drunk drivers, even seat-belt infractions. Those boxes, he argued, invariably reflect and influence any officer’s priorities.”
Passing comprehensive anti-human trafficking legislation would give Hong Kong more powerful leverage to tackle the problem. Hong Kong’s current laws do not directly criminalize all forms of human trafficking. Legislative Assembly members led by Dennis Kwok have recently proposed legislation that would fix that problem. As the Washington Post story points out, laws and policies directly influence how law enforcement officers do their jobs. By giving officers a “box to check,” specific anti-human trafficking legislation would give Hong Kong’s law enforcement officers more tools to catch traffickers, and send the message to both the good guys and the bad guys that catching traffickers is a high government priority.
In the United States, as in any society, laws and policies need to be constantly reviewed and updated to meet evolving social needs. This is why, for example, President Trump recently signed supplementary anti-human trafficking legislation to make it harder for traffickers to use the Internet to lure underage women into prostitution.
I have found that the people of Hong Kong and the United States share a strong sense of compassion for other people. We all feel sad and angry when we hear stories of human trafficking victims.
I have been impressed by Hong Kong’s increasing attention to this issue, and its growing determination to stop human trafficking. If every society works hard on this, I believe we can make it much harder for bad people to abuse vulnerable people. That will bring us closer to the shared global goal of stopping all human trafficking.