21 Jun 2012

NZ urged to take action over human trafficking

5:30 am on 21 June 2012

A US report into human trafficking says New Zealand must do more to fix its problem of children being forced into prostitution and adults being subjected to forced labour in foreign-flagged fishing vessels.

The State Department has released its annual Trafficking in Persons report in Washington on Tuesday.

It lists New Zealand as a Tier 1 country which means the Government has acknowledged it has a human trafficking problem and has made efforts to address it, but the report says better legislation is needed.

The report shows New Zealand has become a destination country for Indonesians, Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Thais who are forced into labour on fishing vessels.

The document quotes a ministerial inquiry completed in March into allegations of abuse of Indonesian migrant labourers against the operators of Korean fishing vessels.

It found a small number of Maori and Pacific Island boys and girls are forced into street prostitution, while some are victims of gang-controlled trafficking rings.

Some Asian and Pacific Island workers in the agricultural sector have been forced to do more work and in different conditions to that stipulated in their contracts, without being adequately paid. While they migrate voluntarily to New Zealand, the report says the conditions are indicators of human trafficking.

The report shows the Government has begun looking into how widespread the issue is, but has made no convictions or prosecutions.

It recommends New Zealand expand legislation to prohibit and adequately punish all forms of human trafficking.

Minister says report should be taken in context

Minister of Immigration Nathan Guy is meanwhile downplaying the report criticising New Zealand's performance.

Mr Guy says it is important to put New Zealand's performance in context.

"There are 180 countries and in Tier 1 there's 33 countries. We line up with countries like Australia, Canada, the UK and the US. The overall tone of the report, I thought, was pretty good."

He said if anyone has any issues to do with sex exploitation of people that have been trafficked in New Zealand they should go to the police.

Mr Guy says current legislation is being reviewed.

Denise Ritchie from the Stop Demand Foundation, which lobbies against sexual exploitation believes New Zealand's laws are too soft and must be expanded to come into line with international norms.

Ms Ritchie says in the US anyone aged under 18 who is engaged in the sex trade is deemed to be a trafficked person.

And a lawyer who represents victims of human trafficking says Immigration New Zealand's claim there have been no cases of human trafficking in this country is untrue.

Jeremy Bioletti says there have been at least three cases of trafficking into New Zealand.

He says he has represented victims charged with passport forgery, but those who trafficked them were not dealt with.

"You've got to stand back from a situation and look at the nature of the people who are bringing the women in, and when it involves forgery and fraudulent passports, you know that there's a certain type of person behind it, in the sense that it's like an organised criminal group."