In the US State Department's 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report released on June 12, Taiwan was upgraded from the "Tier 2 Watch List" to "Tier 2 Status."
That is no reason to be complacent, however. Although the public is by now used to evening news stories about illegal immigrants discovered slaving under deplorable conditions, most Taiwanese remain blissfully unaware of the true extent of the problem.
For much of this privileged public, "human trafficking" may conjure images of underdeveloped, "backward" countries. Surely a wealthy, developed country such as Taiwan, which prides itself on its democratic accomplishments and concern for human rights, can't be the setting for a flourishing trafficking scene. But human trafficking plagues Taiwan, as it does many other developed countries, including some of the EU's wealthiest.
The trafficking scene in Taiwan revolves largely around Southeast Asian and Chinese workers. In addition, legal immigrants can end up illegals susceptible to rights abuses.
As a result of the rising cost of labor, the government has allowed the import of workers such as factory workers and domestic household workers. In these cases, there is a measure of control over the employers to protect the health and labor rights of their employees. (It must be noted, however, that employers often ignore government regulations and subject foreign workers to conditions far below the legally mandated standards.)
Many foreigners take up legal employment, but leave their jobs for various reasons, including mistreatment by employers who ignore contracts and labor rights, the promise of earning better wages, and trickery by criminal rings.
As a result, many foreign workers end up in deplorable and inhuman working conditions, of which forced prostitution is perhaps the most widely known and condemned.
The stories of many Chinese brides are similar to the fates of foreign workers. After arriving as the bride of a Taiwanese, some end up victims of human trafficking. Others flee bad marriages in search of self-sufficiency. Still others come in search of a better standard of living, aided by criminal rings who arrange fake marriages.
Many of these women become trapped in the grip of crime rings, who force them into prostitution.
Because the Taiwan Strait is relatively narrow, smuggling individuals from China aboard fishing boats is fairly easy. Therefore, many Chinese are shuttled back and forth on small boats. Incidentally, wanted criminals have also escaped Taiwan's authorities through this manner.
But it would be unfair to discuss trafficking without mentioning the disturbing context that allows it to flourish. The tragic reality of poverty abroad, combined with the vast market here for cheap labor and prostitution, is what drives human trafficking. Each and everyone in a privileged land who for his or her own comfort and economic benefit takes advantage of cheap labor at the cost of human rights, contributes to the victimization of workers not protected by the same rights we take for granted.
Taiwan is not an orphan nation in need of someone to adopt it. Taiwan is not a foundling nation wandering the streets of the world looking for a home. It is not even a poor waif of a nation unable to take care of itself in that same big, bad world. Finally, Taiwan is certainly not terra nullius, a nationless land that is open and waiting to be explored and possessed by those who dare. Taiwan is a mid-sized, democratic nation that by GDP, profitability, location and even microchip production punches far above its weight in its region and in international commerce.
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