Malaysia has found itself topping yet another list, but this time the news is anything but good. The United States government has downgraded Malaysia in its annual human trafficking report, and the Malaysian government has found itself on a list with other “prestigious” luminaries, such as Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and North Korea.
While the Malaysian government does have strong laws written up to protect people who are being trafficked, these laws offer little protection. Enforcement of laws are lax and Malaysian police officers are notoriously easy (& cheap) to bribe. As a South East Asian hub located at the cross roads of Asia, Malaysia is not becoming a favorite for people looking to transport people across the region.
Indeed, the U.S. government’s report indicates that most of the people being trafficked are not Malaysians themselves, but instead people from other countries who are being transported to or through Malaysia.
Malaysia’s category three rating signals that the country has failed to uphold even the most basic rights of human traffickers, and has also failed to take any significant measures to curb trafficking.
Defining Human Trafficking
It is important to distinguish human trafficking from other forms of illegal transportation of people. Victims of trafficking are not willing illegal immigrants looking to start a new life, and human traffickers shouldn’t be confused with the “coyotes” and other smugglers who transport illegal immigrants (and sometimes refugees).
Trafficking involves the use of force, coercion, or sometimes trickery to force people into servitude. Often “debt-bonds” are used to entrap victims. More or less the “employer” charges the person who has been trafficked fees for being trafficked and other costs, and then forces this person to pay off said costs.
Malaysia Blows Second Chance
Malaysia has been on the verge of being downgraded for the last two years. Each year, however, the American government issued the country a waiver due to Malaysia’s submission of a written plan to combat human trafficking. The American government will grant only two of such waivers before downgrading a country. Malaysia’s time had simply run out.
Unfortunately, the Malaysian government’s submitted plan turned out to be little more than words on paper. The government took only limited steps to try to combat its human trafficking problem and to provide victims with legal protection and resources. Most resources provided to traffic victims has been through NGO’s, whom themselves receive no support from the government.
People Being Tricked Into Slavery
Many of the people being trafficked into or through Malaysia are essentially be tricked, rather than forced, into what essentially amounts as indentured service. As Malaysia generally pays higher wages than neighboring countries, such as Bangladesh and the Philippines, workers can easily be lured to the country with the promise of high wages and good working conditions.
For example, a young woman might be promised an office or retail job, only to arrive in Malaysia and be forced into sex trafficking. Or a young man from Bangladesh might be promised construction work and a good wage, but upon arrival he might learn that he has to pay for his plane ticket, rent, visa, and other costs. Once these costs are subtracted from his wage he might find himself left with almost no money.
Enslaved People Has Access To Little Help
So why don’t more people try to escape from slavery? Often, enslaved people could easily escape from the brothels, plantations, and other places where they are being exploited. Yet once they escape these physical prisons they lack access to the legal protection and resources needed to escape from slavery all-together.
Often, victims will have their passports confiscated (if they ever had one at all), making it difficult for individuals to simply hop on a plane/train/bus to leave at all. If a trafficked person turns to the police or other authorities they’ll likely be prosecuted as illegal immigrants, or possibly returned to human traffickers by corrupt police forces.
Sadly, until local governments make a concerted effort to combat human trafficking and slavery, the problem will persist.