Human Trafficking in Malaysia
Malaysia currently has over 212,000 people trapped in human trafficking. The government has vowed to do something about it, but as of 2020, efforts to control trafficking were not tremendously successful. According to Reuters, only 140 convictions concerning human trafficking in Malaysia have occurred out of 1,600 investigations between 2014 to 2018. People come from Indonesia and Bangladesh in hopes of a promising future but end up experiencing exploitation in unpaid labor or sex trafficking. Often, traffickers tell victims that they will receive decent-paying jobs such as a maid and then the traffickers force them into sex trafficking.

Prosecution of Traffickers

Malaysia launched its separate trafficking court in 2018 to help reduce this crime. However, as of March 2018, it cleared only 26 cases within the first 15 months. However, a 2017 court addressing sex trafficking cases with children saw a total of over 300 cases in one year.

In 2020, a significant increase in efforts to stop human trafficking in Malaysia occurred. These efforts included numerous changes, including finding two volunteer victim assistance specialists that helped work with over 100 victims. The Prime Minister, Muhyiddin Yassin, even hosted the first-ever national conference on anti-trafficking in 2019. There was also a higher effort on identifying more victims than previous years, increasing the level of traffic specialist prosecutors and the creation of a victim processing standard. Overall, in 2020, Malaysia saw an increase in identifying victims, with 2,229 potential victims and 82 confirmed victims—55 of whom were adult women.

Malaysia and TVPA Recommendations

Even with the significant improvement, the government’s efforts are still lacking, resulting in the conviction of fewer traffickers in 2020. The number of investigations that authorities in Malaysia pursue is significantly low in comparison to the scale of the problem. The government has failed to prosecute those complicit with human trafficking and instead, chose to allow for release due to corruption in the government. Malaysia did not make it public that it was investigating this problem. Additionally, inadequate victim services resulted in victims not staying in Malaysia for court proceedings, causing authorities to drop their cases.

 Through the Trafficking in Persons Report, Malaysia received a ranking on the Tier 2 Watchlist. This means that while it has not successfully eliminated human trafficking, it is making significant strides to do so. If a country shows that it is making significant efforts to meet a minimum standard for TVPA (Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of The 2000s), it will be allowed to stay at the tier it is currently at. These tiers indicate how much effort a country puts toward stopping human trafficking.

Tier one countries are countries with governments that fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards. Tier one countries are ones that make a continuous effort to prevent human trafficking. Meanwhile, in Tier two countries, governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance. Finally, Tier three are countries that do not comply with TVPA’s standards and are not making an effort to do so.

Tiers can negatively affect countries. For example, Tier 3 countries often do not receive aid and other support that can better the country. Instead, they do not receive any help until they can achieve a better tier. As a result, it is important for countries to strive to a better tier.

Malaysia’s Standing

Malaysia is currently on the Tier 2 Watchlist on TVPA’s scales because it is continuing to prove that it is willing to work on the issue. According to TVPA standards and the U.S. State Department, the Malaysian government should take various steps to help reduce human trafficking in Malaysia.

The Malaysian government needs to provide the funding and training necessary to have more government-sanctioned officials available. If Malaysia has more government officials, it should be able to lower victim counts. More work is necessary regarding victim identification and Malaysia should better emphasize the need to locate potential traffickers.

It is also important for victims to be able to leave special housing promptly. Malaysia implemented the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants (ATISOM) Act which allows victims court-ordered protection where they end up receiving a placement for 21 to 90 days depending on their situation. Malaysia is working on allowing victims to leave shelters unchaperoned and contact others outside shelters through telephone. This should allow victims the opportunity to slowly integrate back into their normal lives.

Several steps are occurring to stop human trafficking in Malaysia. Crackdowns on corrupt officials will allow Malaysia to help protect victims. Hopefully, it will also help find more potential victims and bring them to safety.

– Claire Olmstead
Photo: Flickr