By Charles Santiago
I read Deputy Prime Minister, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s frustration with amusement. He was lashing out at the US for keeping Malaysia in the “Watch List” in the annual Trafficking in Persons report.
Maybe he is oblivious to the ground reality.
On Monday I received a request to help a Nigerian girl, who was trafficked into Malaysia under the pretext of safety, a job and a place to stay.
She and her sister lost their entire family to the Boko Haram rebels. When fleeing she met a man in Lagos, who promised to help her. He got her a passport and a Malaysian visa. A few days after coming to KL, she was held in a room with five other girls.
He took her passport away and warned her against leaving the room, saying she would be arrested by the police.
Three days later, he bought her a dress and make up, forced her to doll up and sent her with another guy.
She was raped that day. Then she was forced into sex work. Her pimp rents her out to cheap hotels. One day, she managed to escape from the hotel where she had entertained a client. Now she is pregnant and in a limbo.
This is not an isolated case.
According to the recently released Global Slavery Index 2016, over 128,000 workers in Malaysia are employed in slave-like conditions and treated like livestock.
The survey ranked Malaysia 50th out of 167 countries measured. And nearly a half per cent of the over 30 million-population work in exploitative conditions described as “modern slavery”.
Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have brought these issues up to the attention of the police, but nothing has changed.
Hundreds of poor, vulnerable people continue to fall prey to traffickers, who make big money.
So Zahid’s anger is not justified. And while I hate to disappoint him, it’s also not a conspiracy against Malaysia to keep the country at the same ranking.
In fact the upping of Malaysia from Tier 3 just to facilitate the Transpacific Partnership Agreement is the real crafty manoeuvre here.
Could the DPM spell the efforts by the government to combat trafficking? And is there a measurable output that warrants Malaysia being taken out of the watch list?
The government has failed to prosecute anyone following the unearthing of 139 graves and 28 human trafficking camps along the Thai-Malaysia border in May 2015.
It has also done very little to nip corruption, the element singled out by the New Straits Times, as the main reason that allowed such camps to operate for years without detection.
Zahid’s vision of clinching the Tier 1 status by 2020 is welcome, but he must know, by now, that we don’t need another national plan to do so.
Instead, what we really need is for the government to have the political will to show commitment to measurable outputs in preventing trafficking, conduct impartial investigations to nab violators of the anti-trafficking laws, protect the victims, increase monitoring efforts, form a regional enforcement network to thwart trafficking and regulate the recruitment process of migrant workers besides pressing for prosecution of those involved in the human trafficking camps.
Mere chest thumping slogans would certainly not cut it.
Charles Santiago is MP for Klang.
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