Tue, Jan 23, 2007 - Page 2 News List

Public awareness of rise in human trafficking is low

By Loa Iok-sin  /  STAFF REPORTER

Human trafficking is on the rise in Taiwan, but public awareness of the issue is sadly lacking, a conference on combating human trafficking held in Taipei said yesterday.

Taiwan was placed on the "Tier 2 Watch List" in the US Department of State's 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report for "failure to show evidence of increasing efforts over the past year to address trafficking."

Human trafficking was defined by featured guest speaker Florrie Burke as a "crime or violation against a person," that "contains element of coercion" and leads to "subsequent exploitation or forced labor."

Burke is a senior director at Safe Horizon, a crime and abuse victim support group in New York.

Human-rights activist Reverend Peter Nguyen Van Hung, a 48-year-old priest, told the stories of some of the victims that he had worked with.

There was the case of a 19-year-old Vietnamese man who signed a contract to work in Tai-wan as a caretaker and promised to pay US$5,000 to the broker.

After arriving in Taiwan, however, the Vietnamese man was sent to work in a factory. The broker took his salary each month as payment for his debt. Seven months later, the Vietnamese died in an accident.

"He didn't even get a cent [from his salary]," Nguyen said.

Another girl approached Nguyen once, telling him that her employer had raped her repeatedly.

When Nguyen offered her help, she turned it down because she was afraid of retaliation from her employer.

"She went back, knowing she would be raped again that night," Nguyen said.

Nguyen has run a human trafficking victim shelter in Taoyuan County since 2004. Among the 80,000 Vietnamese migrant workers and 100,000 Vietnamese brides in Taiwan, an average of 8 to 10 of them went to Nguyen for help every month last year.

Participants at the conference sponsored by the Ministry of the Interior emphasized the need for social workers to help the victims.

"Victims deserved to be treated with dignity. They're not criminals," Nguyen said, referring to the fact that most victims are treated like criminals and with prejudice, as there is no law that clearly defines human trafficking in Taiwan.

Burke urged social workers to "be flexible" and "be willing to work in different ways," as international human trafficking usually involves people with different backgrounds.

The forum also discussed problems with work permits in Taiwan.

Most of the victims of human trafficking were people who needed a source of income, Burke said, adding that they would cooperate better if social workers or law enforcement agencies were willing to pursue traffickers.

Nguyen also raised the issue of how current laws in the nation prohibit victims from working while they wait through the long investigation and legal processing of their cases.

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