T JOSEPH BENZIGER
… the ground realities seem to suggest otherwise. Malaysia continues to be a hotbed of human trafficking, in the absence of a sincere and determined effort by its government to check this crime against humanity.
Malaysia, a federation of 13 states, is a constitutional monarchy in South-east Asia. It gained independence from the UK in 1948 under the leadership of Tunku Abdul Rahman, who became its first Prime Minister. Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah joined this federation in 1963; but Singapore withdrew and became an independent republic in 1965.
Malaysia is rich in natural resources. Rubber and palm oil are its major products. It also exports pepper and timber in large quantities. In the last few decades, this country has been greatly industrialized. Especially after 1970, Malaysia has been developing as a multi-sector economy. Industries relating to food products, petroleum, tobacco, chemical products, construction goods, and transport equipment are flourishing.
Human Trafficking in Malaysia1
Malaysia has also become famous for a wrong reason. Its vast plantations have attracted labor population from the countries in neighborhood even during the British times. Even now, men, women and children are trafficked to Malaysia for forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation. The people who migrate from Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, Burma, Philippines, India and Vietnam are drawn into the vortex of involuntary servitude. Nowadays, not only the plantations but also the industrial sectors like food service, construction, fisheries, agriculture and so on have become beneficiaries of sinful human trafficking.
The migrants are converted into slaves by fraudulent means of debt bondage and various methods of blackmail. They are made totally helpless and forced into slavery and prostitution. Their wages are not paid; they are subjected to threats, confinement; they are forced to surrender their travel documents.
The Malaysian government does not recognize the legal status of refugees. The Burmese registered with the United Nations as refugees are brought in for forced labor. After entering Malaysia, they find themselves absolutely at the mercy of the trafficking agents.
Malaysia also serves as a conduit for trafficking women to Singapore, Hong Kong, and European countries.
The connivance of the Malaysian immigration authorities has become an open secret. It is deplorable that some of them are engaged in selling refugees to traffickers!
There are a few things that make the injustices perpetrated upon the migrants legal! For example, the Malaysian and Indonesian governments have signed a MOU in 2006; according to which, the Malaysian employers are authorized to keep the passport of the domestic servants with them, throughout the term of employment. To make it worse for the migrant-employees, the employers pay the wages not directly to them but to the recruiting agencies. The employees, who are forced to work for 14 to 18 hours a day and subjected to untold miseries, are treated like beggars by the recruiting agencies.
The Malaysian government does next to nothing for the elimination of human trafficking. In spite of credible reports about human trafficking offences and involvement of the Malaysian immigration officials, no concrete action has been taken in the matter; no culprit has been punished.
The widespread corruption in the country makes human trafficking in Malaysia a risk-free affair. The pleas of some of the NGOs and some pertinent media reports have not been able to persuade the government to take any substantial action against the human traffickers.
An investigative new report appeared in August 2008, highlighting the pathetic condition of more than a thousand foreign workers at a Malaysian factory. The factory was engaged in production of apparel for a US company.
The US company conducted its own investigation and stated that it found major labor violations against the labor. But the findings did not impress the Malaysian government. It simply closed the case saying that the Malaysian factor had not breached any labor law.
There was another report by a Malaysian newspaper in February 2009 that revealed the illegal confinement of 140 Bangladesh workers in a small apartment. The poor employees had paid the recruiters $5000 to $13000 to find them jobs in Malaysia; in return what they got was confiscation of passports, non-payment of wages for several months and illegal confinement! And, for Malaysian government this was not a human trafficking case; it was treated as a labor dispute! And, no action has been finalized so far!
The Malaysian government does not also encourage any action taken by the local NGOs to help the migrant-workers.
Gangs forcing Indian girls into prostitution2
C Sivarajha, Youth Secretary, Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC), has stated that some local syndicates in Malaysia have been forcing Indian girls into prostitution after luring them to take pictures or videos of themselves in the nude and then blackmailing them.
He has said that the party's youth wing had found that some groups were targeting schoolgirls as young as 16, as well as girls working at factories and supermarkets; they promise them love and marriage before duping them into posing naked. They then blackmail the gullible girls saying that they would upload the nude photos on the internet and force them to do what they say.
Sivarajah has stated that the youth wing usually try to help the victims by approaching and negotiating with the blackmailers. He has said, "But by the time the victims came to us for help, it would have been too late and their pictures would already be circulating via MMS.”
Malaysian Government’s Claim
Recently an official of the Malaysian government has claimed that it is taking stern action to curtail human trafficking.
Isa Murni, coordinator of the Malaysian marine police, who was speaking in Malaysia’s federal administration center on November 19, 2010 has said that Malaysia's firm and continuous efforts to tackle human trafficking activities have removed the country from the list of transit points; and that Phuket Island of Thailand was now a preferred transit point in the region. However, he admitted that some still chose Malaysia as a transit point but added that the number of human trades was very small following close surveillance by the relevant Malaysian authorities.
But the ground realities seem to suggest otherwise. Malaysia continues to be a hotbed of human trafficking, in the absence of a sincere and determined effort by its government to check this crime against humanity.