Washington: The United States has called on Asian governments to slap stiff penalties on labour traffickers, some of whom it said were exploiting loopholes in bilateral agreements in the region.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s senior advisor on human trafficking said smugglers in the region deserved “potent penalties” rather than “mere slaps on the wrist” under agreements aimed at managing rising workers’ migration in the region.
“I would emphasize the need for those who are subject to labour trafficking, to forced labour to be granted justice in the form of traffickers being punished not just through receiving suspended sentences or fines but serious penalties,” Mark Lagon, the U.S envoy to combat human trafficking, told AFP.
Prescribed sentence of 3-4 years for traffickers
The United Nations suggests that prescribed sentences should be at least three to four years for human traffickers.
“But if you look, precious few people in Asia or frankly in the world are receiving serious punishments for that half of human trafficking, which is forced labour -- the other half being sex trafficking,” he said after speaking at an American Society of International Law forum.
He said his office, which blacklists nations considered the worst offenders of human trafficking every year, had noticed a rise in the number of reported cases of labour trafficking.
Some of the cases “are occurring within the context of otherwise legal transnational labour migration, which is itself on the rise,” he said.
East Asia and Middle East serious offenders
Lagon said “very few, if any,” of agreements forged by governments, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, contained provisions explicitly protecting migrant workers from conditions of forced labour or other forms of trafficking in persons.
He said labour destination governments should consider steps to ensure that recruited workers were not victims of “fraudulent work offers” or “conditions of debt bondage” while labour source governments should “prohibit and punish” any such exploitation.
In East Asia, attempts were on to partner with governments in the region to fight these inequities. In Vietnam, for example, the problem of labour recruitment being vulnerable to human trafficking is “compounded by the fact that labour recruiters have a direct connection to the government,” he said.
North Korea, Myanmar and Malaysia are the three East Asian nations included in the State Department human trafficking blacklist last year.
Unlike North Korea and Myanmar, which have been on the list for years, Malaysia was a surprise inclusion last year for failure to show “satisfactory” progress in areas such as punishing acts of trafficking and protecting migrant workers from “involuntary servitude.”
Child labour in China; sex trafficking and bonded child labour in India
On China, he cited issues such as child labour, the “relocation apparently through manipulation and force” of Uighur Muslim women from the Xinjiang region as well as the “victimization” of North Korean refugees.
In India, there are “substantial problems” of sex trafficking, child labour and bonded labour, he said. “While there had been some real efforts at victim protection in the areas of sex trafficking and child labour, efforts at enforcement, punishment of the traffickers have lagged and recognition of the breadth of bonded labour continues to be an area of omission by India,” he said.