Handcuffs. Photo: Victor, Attribution License, Creative Commons.
Handcuffs. Photo: Victor, Attribution License, Creative Commons.

What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is an umbrella term for the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion. This includes forced labour, involuntary domestic servitude, child sex trafficking and debt bondage.

Why is Malaysia’s human trafficking in the news now?

Malaysia was recently downgraded to Tier 3 by the US state department, whose Trafficking in Persons (TiP) Report ranks countries according to how badly or well they are trying to prevent human trafficking. Malaysia had previously been on the Tier 2 Watch List for four years. It is also the third time in seven years that the country has sunk to the lowest ranking.

What does Tier 3 signify?

It is the lowest rank in the annual  released by the US. Being in Tier 3 means that the country has not been meeting the international minimum required standards to help prevent human trafficking. The report states that “the government made limited efforts to improve its flawed victim protection regime” while providing “minimal basic services to those staying in its shelters.”

Which other countries are in Tier 3?

Thailand, Venezuela and The Gambia were also downgraded to Tier 3. Other Tier 3 countries include Zimbabwe, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.

How will the ranking affect the country?

It will be a blow to the country’s international image. Possible economic sanctions and direct interference or opposition from the US might happen if the country seeks development aid from international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Foreign financial assistance could possibly be withheld as well, unless related to trade or humanitarian aid.

What’s the reaction from Malaysia?

Abdul Aziz Ismail of the Selangor Anti-Human Trafficking Council (Mapmas) says that the “Tier 3 rank was long overdue”. He cites that the government has not been fair to the exploited migrant workers and treats them as criminals.

However, Andika Wahab who is an activist and PhD student in the National University of Malaysia (UKM) disagrees. Giving examples of the government providing shelters for the victims, he states that the TiP’s way of evaluating human trafficking might not show the whole picture. For example, the TiP uses number of prosecutions against traffickers as one of the main indicators.

What are the numbers?

The TiP reports that  the vast majority of Malaysia’s estimated 2 million illegal migrant labourers may be victims of human trafficking, who arrive from Indonesia, Burma, Cambodia and Bangladesh. The Guardian reports that although many arrive in search of work, they may then be coerced into forced labour in agriculture, construction, sex, textile or domestic labour industries.

Lyn Ong