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Enforcement more important than anti-trafficking court

August 23, 2017

The government must tackle all aspects of trafficking through regional cooperation and networking, border security and the optimum implementation of anti-trafficking laws.

COMMENT

Charles-Santiago-human-traffickingBy Charles Santiago

Now that the Malaysian government has made the announcement about an anti-trafficking court, its cabinet members think they can start cheesing for the camera.

If Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi thinks this can up the country to Tier 1 in the next Trafficking in Persons report, he’d better spend more time contemplating.

In March, local and Indonesian journalists exposed modern-day slavery in a bird’s nest factory in Klang.

The workers worked more than twelve hours a day, didn’t have enough to eat and took home RM200 after deductions.

So it was mind-boggling that the country was upgraded to Tier 2 in the annual US State Department’s report in the first place.

We just don’t get it, do we? There are too many loopholes in the amazing stories that the government tries to spin about its initiatives to tackle trafficking issues.

For starters, the graves dug up in the trafficking camps in Wang Kelian continue to haunt us because only four or five Rohingya, Bangladeshi and Thai nationals were arrested.

The twelve policemen who were detained were set free. This is despite eyewitness accounts that some who were held in the camps made their way into town and were whisked off by policemen, clearly showing that they knew about the existence of these torture camps before they were exposed in the media.

An internal report by Malaysia’s elite police force, the Special Branch, said 80% of its officers were corrupt and complicit in trafficking activities by working with traffickers for lucrative sums of money.

Thailand, in direct contrast, convicted a lieutenant-general, a former politician and businessman, a slew of police officers and dozens of smugglers for human trafficking.

Trafficking in persons, human trafficking and modern slavery are used as umbrella terms to refer to both sex trafficking and compelled labour.

Once a person’s labour is exploited through coercion, threats, violence, abuse of power or deception, the person’s prior consent to work for an employer is legally irrelevant: the employer is a trafficker and the employee, a trafficking victim.

Verite, a non-governmental organisation working on supply-chain accountability, says modern-day slavery continues to be rife in Malaysia’s electronics industry.

Its report says a third of migrant workers in the industry are trapped in debt bondage and have their passports illegally withheld.

Some 128,000 workers in Malaysia are held in slave-like conditions and treated like livestock, according to the Global Slavery Index 2016.

And just weeks back, the Star R.AGE’s undercover investigations exposed how thousands of Bangladeshis were trafficked into the country using student visas, only to end up working in restaurants, construction sites and plantations.

There are hundreds of such “visa colleges” that front this million-dollar business and the many agents that work in the industry.

The government has nabbed some college operators and traffickers but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Clearly, there is so much more work that needs to be done.

First, the government must have the political will to tackle trafficking, from the top down. Then, it must look at regional cooperation and networking, border security and the optimum implementation of anti-trafficking laws that exist in the country.

Malaysia is also in a unique position to take the lead against trafficking and modern-day slavery as it will be chair-in-office of the Commonwealth in 2020.

Therefore, a good way to show the government’s commitment to the people is by Prime Minister Najib Razak using his influence to support an anti-trafficking, anti-slavery agenda at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) next year.

And until all this is done, the government can certainly put the setting up of the anti-trafficking court on the back burner.

Charles Santiago is MP for Klang.

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