• The Dark Truth: Human Trafficking in Malaysia

    By: Cigdem Nefret- The MILLA Project’s Country Ambassador to Malaysia

    As a woman, let alone a human being, I have never found justification for the bondage of another.  Whether in the context of religion, commerce, relationships or government, the idea of forced enslavement makes many of us in the free world cringe, especially when you hear it still happens in this day and age.

    As a former citizen of Malaysia, I had never really heard of human trafficking in association to Malaysia until I began this research for The MILLA Project.  It comes with a little shock to find out the country I grew up in is now under the 2011 U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report.  Although the US government concedes that the Malaysian government’s efforts to comply with standards to eliminate trafficking under Trafficking Victims Protection Act, the report places Malaysia on a Tier 2 Watch List for a second consecutive year.  Countries under the “Tier 2 Watch List” are governments who do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards but are making significant efforts to comply with those standards.

    Economic growth and job opportunities in the country are among the reasons why victims are tricked into trafficking. Malaysia’s long borders at sea and its borders with Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia make the country geographically strategic for human trafficking transactions.

    Malaysia seems a source of transit for women and children subject to sex trafficking, as well as forced labor, which includes men.  The bulk of the trafficking victims are foreign workers from Indonesia, Nepal, India, Thailand, China, the Philippines, Burma, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Vietnam.  Domestic workers, such as house maids, are predominantly susceptible, of which ninety percent are from Indonesia.   A 2006 “Memorandum of Understanding” (MOU) between Indonesia and Malaysia allowed Malaysian employers to confiscate passports of domestic employees, raising the vulnerability of migrants.   A significant number of young foreign women work in restaurants and hotels through “Guest Relations Officer” visas, but coerced into Malaysia’s commercial sex trade.

    The victims encounter enslavement or debt bondage from employers, informal labor agents, or large crime syndicates, who promise employment opportunities in plantations, construction sites, textile factories, or domestic workers.

    In addition to foreign victims, vulnerable citizens from aboriginal and rural Malaysia are also trafficked to countries like Singapore, China and Japan for exploitive commerce.  While these are substantially smaller in number, any victim (of any crime) is definitely bonded to their perpetrators by fear, and the actual numbers could be higher.

    Article 4 in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) clearly prohibits slavery of human beings.

    Article 4.

    •No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

    The spirit of this principle is also reflected in other international human rights treaties such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Convention on the Elimination on all forms of Discrimination on Women (CEDAW), where the latter two have been acceded to by Malaysia.

    The Human Rights Commission of Malaysia – SHUHAKAM – has now intensified this issue with embassies, NGOs, government agencies and other enforcement bodies.   A 2004 Forum held in Kuala Lumpur emphasizes the role of the tourism industry in promoting human trafficking and also urges local municipalities to control violations by entertainment outlets.

    Among the recommendations by the US Department of State are greater efforts to educate victims on their rights, increase prosecution of public officials involved in trafficking or who profit from them, revising the MOUs to prevent seizure of the victim’s passport and documents by employers, increase awareness to reduce the demand for sex and labor trafficking, and other enforcement.

    Human trafficking is a global issue and requires direct and rapid awareness with deep research on the human psyche and condition.  A student coalition, One Voice, claims this is now a 10 billion dollar industry.  As we continue seeking solutions among the younger generation, we also need immediate action by governments, enforcement agencies and initiate accountability for such universal violations.

    While there are efforts to combat the global challenge by governments and NGO’s, direct action is needed with law enforcement officials.  The main issue is profit.  How does one remove the profitability of this crime?  Why and how is it profitable in the first place?  Identifying a way to eliminate profit from this modern day slavery would be a big step.  Institutions must work together cohesively to network and exchange information on, trafficking routes, traffickers’ profiles and survivor programs.

    Current solutions in place also need to be more effective.  UN.GIFT (UN-led Global Initiative to Fight Trafficking asks questions like :

    Do laws distinguish victims from criminals?  Are victims being held liable for the offences they may have been forced to commit as a direct result of being trafficked?  Are police, prosecutors and judges trained in fighting trafficking?  Can they identify victims?  How many investigations carried out have led to prosecutions and convictions?   Are systems and staff able to deal with the special needs of victims, especially women and children)?  Are they safe following rescue and is there the possibility of compensation?

    These questions require immediate answers. The answers require immediate action.