KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — On June 20, 2014, Malaysia, along with Venezuela, Thailand and The Gambia, were demoted to Tier 3 status for the 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report. Also on this list are Iran, Zimbabwe, North Korea and 16 other countries. This report published by the United States evaluates the efficiency and effectiveness of each country’s response to combating modern-day slavery in their own country.
Malaysia acts as a destination for human trafficking, meaning that many victims are trafficked from surrounding countries and taken to Malaysia for forced labor or sex work. The most recent statistics state that there are two million documented and nearly 1.9 million undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia from countries such as Nepal, India, Thailand, China, Cambodia, Pakistan, Vietnam and more.
Although there are many individual business people or small businesses that organize forced labor, there are also countless large organized crime circuits that target victims for sex trafficking.
Many young foreign women are attracted to Malaysia for restaurant or hotel work, but are consequently coerced into the sex industry. However, as outstanding as the numbers of foreign victims are, domestic workers are particularly vulnerable. Reports show that “for every domestic servant legally employed in Malaysia, there is one working in the country illegally and many may be trafficked.”
Citizenship remains a vital concern regarding human trafficking in Malaysia. NGO research in the country reported that there might be as many as 30,000 undocumented residents due to a lack of documentation. This often occurs because Malaysia does not recognize interfaith marriages. Since citizenship is derived from one’s parents, this results in a child’s inability to be registered at birth. Without proper documentation, these citizens are not able to access proper education, medical assistance and other public services, leaving them out of work and vulnerable to trafficking.
Malaysia has been quick to protest this new standing, claiming that the government has been active in combating human trafficking in the region. The government has launched an amnesty program for undocumented workers and become more transparent about information regarding migrant workers. However, these steps, as the State Department has pointed out, are more helpful in addressing illegal immigration rather than human trafficking.
The State Department has also noted a decline in prosecutions for trafficking allegations from 2012 to 2013 and again in 2014. This leaves little room for consequences for traffickers, encouraging the illusion that there is little risk in the trafficking industry. With great benefit and little risk, this situation encourages trafficking instead of combating it.
Luis CdeBaca, Ambassador-At-Large to Combat Trafficking in Persons, said that Malaysia and the others were automatically demoted due to four years on the Tier-2 watch list and failing to demonstrate any real progress and large measures to combat human trafficking issues.
Penalties of being listed as Tier-3 could include sanctions from the United States. The U.S. feels confident in taking drastic measures against countries such as Malaysia that have not seen a lot of progress because so many other countries have taken strides in the fight against human trafficking. Many of the 188 countries listed on the report have made a lot of progress and have moved to Tier-2 or even Tier-1 status this past year.
China moved to Tier-2 status for the 2014 report and Chile and Switzerland were elevated to Tier-1.
Secretary of State John Kerry noted in a speech the United States’ intentions with this list and sanctions. He expressed that “it’s a call to conscience… a reminder of what happens in many dark places that need light.”
Kerry stressed that more than 20 million people “are victims of human trafficking…and no government anywhere yet is doing enough.”
– Cambria Arvizo