The US State Department has accused Taiwan of failing to stem the tide or help the thousands of foreign women and children who are brought to the country from Southeast Asia each year to face a life of prostitution, forced labor or slavery, and has indicated that things are getting worse, not better.
In an annual report on global trafficking in persons, the department rated Taiwan as one of the world's worst performers in the global sex trade, on a par with China and other countries like Russia, Cambodia, Equatorial Guinea and Libya.
The report says that a "significant share" of the foreign workers, mainly from Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines, who are lured to the country for low-skilled jobs, end up in forced labor or slavery by labor agencies and employers.
The recruitment of foreign brides, mainly from Vietnam, has also become a "major conduit for the trafficking of girls and women into the Taiwanese sex trade" with children also being forced into the sex trade, the report adds.
"Taiwan authorities do not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking," the report says.
As a result, the department put Taiwan on the so-called "Tier 2 Watch List" -- a demotion from its status last year as a Tier 2 nation, a category that includes most of the nations included in the list.
The department demoted Taiwan "for its failure to show evidence of increasing efforts over the past year to address trafficking, despite ample resources to do so," adding that Taiwanese authorities "need to demonstrate political will in tacking the trafficking in persons problem on the island."
Taiwan should also develop a clear policy and action plan that adequately covers "the problem," the report says.
"Comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation that criminalizes all forms of trafficking is critical to punishing traffickers who currently operate with relative impunity," it says.
On the positive side, the report said Taiwan has improved collaboration with local and international groups working to help victims of trafficking, and that some legislators are attempting to pass comprehensive laws against trafficking.
However, it also found several disturbing developments.
The fate of foreign "brides," especially from Vietnam, is poorly monitored, and nearly half of such brides are not living with their Taiwanese husbands.
Moreover, of the 350,000 foreign workers in Taiwan, 20,000 are "run-aways," who have fled their jobs to escape abuse, slavery or sexual servitude. The authorities treat these runaways as law-breakers and deport them immediately on capture.
The report notes that the Council of Labor Affairs last month boosted fines for businesses caught hiring illegal labor to US$23,000.
However, none of the cases referred to law enforcement officials by the CLA were investigated or prosecuted. In addition, no company has been held criminally responsible for any trafficking-related violation.
The report also takes Taiwan to task for its lack of protection for women and children victimized by the sex trade. Care for victims is uneven and Taiwanese authorities "continue to punish victims of trafficking for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being trafficked," the report said.
The authorities fail to offer the victims alternatives to deportation to countries "in which they face hardship and retribution." Such victims include women from China, as well as Southeast Asia.