The Government of Malaysia must increase its efforts in addressing all forms of human trafficking while also protecting the rights of its victims, a United Nations human rights expert said today.
“The institutional and legal framework to prevent and combat trafficking is in place in Malaysia,” Maria Grazia Giammarinaro, the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, explained in a press release following her six-day visit to the country.
“The challenge is now to make the whole mechanism more effective and able to deal with the ever changing features of trafficking, especially concerning its labour dimension, and its connection with migration policies,” she added.
According to the UN rights office (OHCHR), there are an estimated 2 million documented migrants workers and another 2 million or more undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia where they are often exploited for cheap labour by unscrupulous recruitment agents and employers through breach of contract, payment of excessive recruitment fees, debt bondage, non-payment of salary, withholding of passports, excessive working hours, lack of rest days and abuse, both physical and sexual.
In addition, the trafficking of young foreign women and children from the purpose of sexual exploitation is also prevalent in the country, where they are mostly forced into the commercial sex trade following deceptive practices for legal work in Malaysia. Many victims of trafficking are often detained and subsequently deported and not provided with adequate specialist support for recovery and social inclusion, the press release continued.
As a result, Ms. Giammarinaro called for the country’s Government to adopt a new system of protection that provides exploited workers immediate assistance to claim compensation as well as temporary residence status and a work permit.
“No victim of trafficking should be prosecuted for crimes linked with their situation of trafficked persons, and be detained,” the expert stressed. “Shelters must be open places, preferably run by NGOs, which should be adequately funded for this purpose. Psychological, medical and legal assistance should aim to promote rehabilitation, reintegration and social inclusion of trafficked persons.”
Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry which has trapped some 21 million men, women and children in forced labour. According to 2005 estimates released by the International Labour Organization (ILO), profits generated in the sex industry alone are as high as $32 billion a year. Furthermore, nearly one-third of all victims of human trafficking officially detected around the world between 2007 and 2010 were children, according to a report released in December 2012 by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) citing data from 132 countries.
Despite encouraging progress – 90 per cent of countries now have legislation criminalizing human trafficking – convictions reported globally remain extremely low. According to UNODC’s 2014 Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, some 15 per cent of countries did not record a single conviction between 2010 and 2012, while 25 per cent only recorded between one and 10 convictions.