I refer to the malaysiakini report NBC s grim tale of sexual slavery in Penang,
I am disturbed at the response of the Malaysian media, public and of a number of politicians towards the NBC report. These responses have ranged from being incredulous to actively disputing the credibility of the report. Unfortunately, these reactions appear to be based on the denial that such an illicit industry actually exists in Malaysia.
The sad reality is that Malaysia is both a sending and recipient country in the business of trafficking humans. There have been many documented cases encountered by the Women's Aid Organisation whereupon women from China, Indonesia and the Philippines are recruited on the pretext of an opportunity for better employment in Malaysia but are instead coerced or forced into prostitution. They were forced to service clients in brothels, karaoke bars and saloons; in many cases, they were paid poorly or not at all.
In a series of interviews with women in detention in 2003 and 2004, the Human Rights Commission(Suhakam) also found evidence of human trafficking in Malaysia. There have also been several cases reported in the international media whereupon Malaysians have been trafficked to other countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany. In the past, Malaysians have also been arrested overseas for running human trafficking syndicates.
The nature and dynamics of human trafficking are extremely complex. More often than not, unfortunately, in countries such as Malaysia, the burden of proving to the authorities that a person has been trafficked falls heavily upon the survivor. In fact, in countries such as Thailand and Indonesia where human trafficking is acknowledged as a serious existing problem, refuge and protection for the survivor are arguably easier to obtain.
The current legal requirement for employers to hold on to their employee's passport is one of the many conditions conducive to exploitation and abuse of such individuals, shrouded by the veil of legitimacy. Currently in Malaysia, survivors of sex trafficking escaping from captivity and running to the authorities might not lead towards salvation and justice.
Failure to prove that you have been trafficked could mean being charged with immigration offences (your passport, which is proof that you entered the country legally is held by the recruiter or employer) followed by detention and deportation by immigration authorities or worse, being returned to your legal 'employer'.
In the NBC report, Lannie was also quoted as saying that 'everything was fine' in front of the police officers of the Georgetown police headquarters. This was held against her as proof that she was not held against her will and not trafficked into the country as alleged. However, consider the fact that she was interviewed by the police with the alleged perpetrator sitting right next to her!
Interviewing the victim together with the alleged perpetrator reminds me of the absurd practice whereupon a rape survivor is required to identify her assailant by coming face to face and tapping him on the shoulder. Already having gone through enough psychological trauma and possible threats of physical harm, this is too much to ask a person to do whether the experience is of being trafficked or raped.
It is not surprising that there is little or no evidence in such cases. Often, it is a case of the survivor's word against the perpetrator's. The latter could be an individual or the representative of a crime syndicate with the resources and ability to threaten your life, family and friends whether in Malaysia or back in your home country. The dynamics of this power over another human being cannot be overstated.
Consider the following legal statutes in international law regarding human trafficking. The 1949 Convention for the Suppression of the Trafficking in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others condemns both domestic and international trafficking, eliminates the requirement that recruitment be coercive or abusive, making trafficking possible even with the consent of the victim, and makes profiting from prostitution illegal.
In 1994, the United Nations adopted a resolution on 'Trafficking in Women and Girls' which broadened the definition of trafficking to include exploitation not only for purposes of prostitution but for all types of forced labour. This resolution recognised that often, women knowingly agree to be transported across or within borders, legally or illegally, but are unaware of the exploitation that awaits them.
This resolution states that trafficking be defined by the 'end goal of forcing women and girl children into sexually or economically oppressive and exploitative situations'. Malaysia's 2007 Human Trafficking Act recently passed in Parliament, is an effort to aggressively address the issue and bring the country in line with international conventions on human trafficking.
However, effective enforcement remains necessary to ensure that the law is able to be translated into proper action to protect those most in need and that victimisation of survivors of human trafficking does not occur.