Malaysia needs to wake up to its human trafficking problem

  • Letters
  • Monday, 29 Jun 2020

Photo: UN

For the third consecutive year, Malaysia remains on the “Tier 2” Watchlist of the Trafficking In Persons Report. The report was released by the US State Department on June 25, 2020. The tier rankings are based on an assessment of a country’s efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, to prosecute traffickers and to protect survivors of trafficking through a combination of legislative acts, collaboration with civil society, funding, and other proactive measures to identify and protect victims of trafficking.

Malaysia’s position on Tier 2 reflects a lack of political will on the part of the Malaysian government to collectively, systematically and holistically combat modern day slavery and human trafficking.

There appears to be confusion about what exactly human trafficking is. Each enforcement unit, the ministries, the National Council on Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (Mapo) as well as civil societies and non-governmental organisations have different ideas about and interpretations of human trafficking. We are still grappling with understand what constitutes human trafficking without basing these efforts on the protection of the victim/survivor.

We are constantly giving excuses and justifications for our failure to identify victims based on the misconception that migrants and trafficked victims are “bad people” and therefore deported without delay. What is even worse is that many victims/survivors of human trafficking are charged with offences under the Immigration Act and penalised instead of being protected. As long as the authorities and the Attorney General’s Chambers continue to labour under these misconceptions, stopping human trafficking will not be a priority in Malaysia. And it does not help when other countries in the region move up to tier two and one.

The most immediate step is for Malaysia to have the fortitude to buck up to fight corruption – if we fail at this, we will be in the same position or pushed down to Tier 3 next year. Many efforts and initiatives in the past to combat human trafficking have failed simply because of the corruption embedded in all our systems. Malaysia continues to be a hub for human trafficking for that very reason, so there is a burning need for all to come together to fight corruption without fear or favour.

We must put corrupt people behind bars, not just fine them, seize all their assets and their bank accounts, and take all the actions provided for in the Anti-Trafficking Act to cripple their operations.

Furthermore, it is of utmost importance that the government invests in strengthening the competencies of prosecutors and enforcement officers, and demonstrates increased transparency in case management and prosecutions of human trafficking cases. This can be carried out with the establishment of a review committee Mapo to review all human trafficking cases handled by the authorities. This is crucial in moving forward in the right direction because transparency is critical – especially where corrupt officials may work hand-in-glove with human traffickers.

Tenaganita is aware that Mapo is trying very hard to bring about changes by putting together the National Action Plan on Anti-Trafficking of Persons, and we appreciate the collaboration but it is also high time that different ministries and authorities start listening to survivors/victims, civil society and non-government organisatons. We cannot just talk about victim-centred approaches without placing the victim/survivors’ needs at the centre of the discussions, debates and actions. Until and unless the key players in the different government agencies and departments are prepared to listen, to sit together, to debate and change the style of working, we will continue to languish on Tier 2 and maybe even slip down to Tier 3. There is no other way, we cannot hoodwink ourselves and the global community with national action plans.

Let us have the courage to take a stand against the perpetrators of human trafficking rather than choosing to prosecute and punish innocent victims. So let’s stop simply having diplomatic handshakes and sit together seriously with other stakeholders to discuss critical issues that concerns the heinous crime against humanity, human trafficking, once and for all.


Executive director, Tenaganita Women’s Force

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