#minorsextrafficking | A Violation Of Human Rights: Trafficking In Persons And Smuggling Of Migrants – Government, Public Sector


All human beings are born free and equal, and are entitled to
human rights, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity,
language, religion or any other status. The Universal Declaration
of Human Rights is an important milestone in the history of human
rights, wherein the fundamental human rights to be universally
protected are set out.

Violations of human rights come in various forms of denying a
human being from one or more of the human rights he or she is
entitled to. Some violations may be considered acts atypical to
crimes against humanity. Two examples of such human rights
violations are trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants.
While these two forms of human rights violations are, sometimes,
intertwined, they are, in fact, distinct crimes.

Although it is almost impossible to accurately ascertain the
number of victims of these two crimes, it is estimated that
globally, millions of men, women and children fall victim to the
crimes of trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants.
Traffickers and smugglers are known to employ violent, manipulative
and deceptive methods and tactics to lure vulnerable targets into
situations of exploitation. These crimes are serious offences that
have tremendously affected the lives and safety of millions of
families across the globe.

Trafficking in Persons

The act of trafficking in persons, which is also commonly
referred to as human trafficking and modern slavery, is defined by
the United Nations in Article 3(a) of the Protocol to Prevent,
Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and
Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against
Transnational Organized Crime (“UNTIP
) 1 as follows:

“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring
or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or
other forms or coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of
the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the
giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent
of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of
exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the
exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual
exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices
similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Article 5 of the UNTIP Protocol requires that the conduct of
trafficking of persons be criminalized in domestic legislation and
a further criminalization of attempts to commit a trafficking
offence, participation as an accomplice in such an offence, and
organizing or directing others to commit trafficking. The adoption
of the UNTIP Protocol by the United Nations General Assembly
signifies the international efforts to interrupt, prevent and
combat the crime of trafficking in persons.

Trafficking in persons allows traffickers to earn a large amount
of money through the trade and exploitation of human beings for
personal benefit. The crime can be divided into three elements,
being the act, the means and the purpose. 3 The act
involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or
receipt of persons. The means involves threat or the use of force,
coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or
vulnerability, or giving payments or benefits to a person in
control of the victim. The purpose involves the exploitation of the
victim for prostitution, forced labour, slavery or similar
practices and the removal of organs.

Trafficking in persons is an umbrella for many different forms
of exploitation. Regardless of its form, the crime results in the
abuse, and sometimes deaths, of many victims. Here are some of the
most common forms of trafficking in persons:

Forced Labour

In accordance to the International Labour Organization Forced
Labour Convention 1930 (No. 29), forced or compulsory labour is
defined as follows:

“… all work or service which is exacted from any
person under the threat of a penalty and for which the person has
not offered himself or herself voluntarily.”

This form of human trafficking refers to situations where
victims are forced, often by way of intimindation or violence, or
retention of identification documents, to work for little to no
remuneration. Although victims may sometimes receive remuneration
in consideration of their work, traffickers may demand the victims
to pay a portion, if not all, of such remuneration to the
traffickers. Forced labour covers a wide range of work, and does
not take into consideration the legality of the activity. Victims
are often found in industries such as construction, mining,
prostitution and domestic work.

One surviving victim from Rwanda was offered a chance by a
wealthy family to move to the United States of America with them,
and as she was the only surviving member of her own family in the
genocide in her country, she gladly accepted the offer. However,
upon her arrival in America, she was imprisoned in their home,
forced to work long hours and made to sleep on the kitchen floor.
On a fortunate visit to the church, she was approached by a kind
man who learnt of her situation and assisted in her escape. For the
full-length testimony, please click here.

Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking occurs where men, women and/or children are
forced, by way of intimidation or violence, to engage in forced
sexual acts for profit. Victims are often treated as sexual
entertainment objects, and are forced to work in dreadful
situations where sex traffickers gain continuous financial profits
from such exploitation. Although men have been victimized, women
and girls are more often targets due to high demands of sexual
favours or services from the customers of sex traffickers.

Sex traffickers are known to keep victims in control by making
false promises of the victim’s release upon repayment of his or
her debt due and owing to the traffickers. Upon reliance of such
false promises, some victims may voluntarily agree to engage in
sexual acts or services in order to expedite their
“release”. In such cases, it is important to recognize
that, although voluntary, such sexual services are obtained from
the victims by the traffickers through the means of deception and
thus does not constitute full and unequivocal consent. They are
still victims of trafficking in persons.

In 2017, a surviving victim in Mexico shared her story of
trafficking in persons and sex trafficking. 5 She was
only 12 years of age when she was targeted and lured away by a
trafficker. The victim estimates that she was raped 43,200 times
during her time as a victim of trafficking in persons, saying that
she was sexually forced upon by “up to 30 men a day, seven
days a week, for the best of four years”. For the full-length
testimony, please click here.

Trafficking for the Purpose of Removal of Organs

Trafficking for organs is not as commonly reported as compared
to the forms of forced labour and sex trafficking due to its lack
of discussion and advocacy. Given the high demand for organ
transplants but low supply of organs, organ trafficking is a
lucrative crime. Although there are legal means to obtain organs,
there is certainly a lack of supply to meet the high demand for
organs. This creates opportunities for traffickers to traffick for
the purpose of removing a person’s organs, which are then sold
for a high profit.

The commission of this form of trafficking in persons has a
special and distinct characteristic, which is the involvement of
doctors and other healthcare professionals and service providers,
such as medical staff, nurses and ambulance drivers. A common
occurrence is where victims are forced or deceived into the removal
of their organs, and thereafter, forced or intimidated into an
agreement to sell their organs but are then either paid less than
what was agreed or not paid at all.

In February 2019, Malaysia was rocked by the death of an 11-year
old Cambodian girl. The victim had been missing for approximately
two weeks, and her body was found with her hands tied behind her
back. She was decapitated and some of her organs had been removed.
6 The police denied any elements of illegal organ

Smuggling of Migrants

The act of smuggling of migrants is defined in Article 3(a) of
the Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and
Air, Supplementing the United Nations Convention against
Transnational Organized Crime (“UNSOM
) 7 as follows:

“The procurement, in order to obtain, directly or
indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal
entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a
national or a permanent resident.”

The crime of smuggling of migrants involves the facilitation of
crossing borders or residing in another country illegally, with the
purpose of making a financial or other material profit.
9 Migrants, who lack the means to legally cross borders
and are willing to take huge risks in search of a better life and
opportunities abroad, are vulnerable targets for smugglers.
Smugglers offer their services to their targets by providing false
promises of lucrative employment abroad and, more often than not,
these targets incur a great cost in exchange for the services and
promises of the smugglers. As these services are illegal, smugglers
hold power and control over the migrants, who are mistreated and
abused during the course of the smuggling, sometimes resulting in

Although the smuggling of migrants may not be deemed as a
violation of human rights due to the migrants’ consent to
participate in the illegal crossing of borders or residence in
countries, smuggled migrants remain vulnerable to abuse and
trafficking. This is largely due to the fact that smugglers exploit
the migrants into prostitution or forced labour for the repayment
of the migrants’ debts to the smugglers. Such exploitation
amounts to a violation of the migrants’ human rights.

Furthermore, the circumstances surrounding the process of
smuggling of migrants are dangerous. On 5 December 2019, 58
migrants drowned when their smuggler’s boat capsized in the
Atlantic. The boat, reported to have been overcrowded and
unseaworthy, was carrying at least 150 people. For more
information, please click here.

The UNSOM Protocol seeks to protect the rights of migrants and
reduce the power and influence of smugglers. Similar to the UNTIP
Protocol, Article 5 of the UNSOM Protocol requires that the
following conducts be established as criminal offences:

  • The smuggling of migrants;

  • When committed for the purpose of enabling the smuggling of

(i) Producing a fraudulent travel or identity documents;

(ii) Procuring, providing or possessing such a document;

  • Enabling a person who is not a national or a permanent resident
    in the State concerned without complying with the necessary
    requirements for legally remaining in the State by the means
    mentioned in paragraph (b) above or any other illegal means.

Further to the criminalization of the conducts as set out in
paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) above, the UNSOM Protocol requires the
criminalization of the following:

  • Attempting to commit an offence established in paragraphs (a),
    (b) and (c) above;

  • Participating as an accomplice in an offence established in
    paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) above; and

  • Organizing or directing other persons to commit an offence
    established in paragraphs (a), (b) and (c) above.

The adoption of the UNSOM Protocol seeks to assist in the
prevention and combat against the smuggling of migrants by land,
sea and air. Although the UNSOM Protocol has been widely adopted,
and unlike the UNTIP Protocol, many countries including Malaysia
have not signed and ratified the UNSOM Protocol.

Crimes against the Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis

One major incident of trafficking in persons and smuggling of
migrants, which involved Malaysia, was the discovery of mass graves
in 2015. The camps are believed to be transit points along a
structured route used to smuggle migrants from Myanmar and
Bangladesh. This discovery led to the exposé of the crimes
against Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis between 2012 and 2015.
During this period, a transnational criminal syndicate held
Rohingya Muslims and Bangladeshis at sea and in human-trafficking
camps somewhere along the Malaysia-Thailand border.

The severity of the crimes began to unveil when, on 30 April
2015, Thai authorities announced the discovery of a mass grave in a
makeshift camp in a forested area near the Malaysian border which
contained more than 30 bodies of suspected victims of trafficking
in persons. Thereafter, on 25 May 2015, the Royal Malaysian Police
announced the discovery of 139 graves and 28 camps suspected to be
in connection with trafficking in persons in Wang Kelian, which is
located in the state of Perlis in Malaysia. These crimes were
covered in a joint report prepared and released by the Human Rights
Commission of Malaysia (“SUHAKAM”) and
Fortify Rights (“Joint Report”). The
Joint Report said that it had found “reasonable grounds”
to believe that a human-trafficking syndicate committed crimes
against humanity in Malaysia and Thailand against Rohingya men,
women and children from 2012 to 2015. 10

According to the Joint Report, the traffickers often denied
their captives access to adequate food, water and space, which then
sometimes resulted in illnesses, injuries and/or deaths of their
captives. Furthermore, these captives are subjected to
mistreatments and/or harsh conditions when they are unable to pay
sums of money to their traffickers upon demand. Even if the
demanded sums of money are paid to the traffickers, the captives
are sold into further exploitation, such as prostitution, or die in
the camps. A surviving Rohingya victim recounted that traffickers
poured boiling water on his head and body when he was unable to pay
the demanded money to his traffickers. The traffickers abused him
with violent and degrading methods on a daily basis until he could
no longer feel anything in his legs.

Other incidents recounted by surviving victims and eyewitnesses
included multiple killings at sea, where captives were denied
access to proper food or water and, when the captives reacted with
anger, the traffickers stabbed these captives and threw them into
the sea. The Joint Report further states that several survivors
witnessed numerous deaths occurring in the camp at Wang Kelian, and
the camp guard would then take the corpses outside of the camps. A
witness testified to SUHAKAM that he saw an estimate of 200
captives die in the Wang Kelian camp as a result of starvation,
injuries from beatings and untreated illnesses.

Trials in Thailand and Malaysia

Upon the discovery of the mass grave at the site containing 30
bodies believed to be Rohingya Muslim and Bangladeshi victims, Thai
authorities began their criminal investigation into the crimes on 1
May 2015. Their investigation led to the commencement of the
largest human-trafficking trial in Thailand. A total of 103
defendants were tried for trafficking-related crimes, some of whom
were government officials. On 19 July 2017, a special
human-trafficking court in Bangkok convicted 62 defendants,
including nine Thai government officials for trafficking-related

In contrast to the actions taken by the Thai authorities, the
Malaysian courts have convicted only 4 individuals for
trafficking-related offences connected to the crimes at Wang
Kelian, three of whom were sentenced to jail terms of three to 10
years each. The convicted were two individuals from Myanmar, one
Thai national and one Bangladeshi national. Although the Royal
Malaysian Police had reportedly arrested 12 police officers for
their alleged involvement in the crimes at Wang Kelian, all of the
policemen were released due to a lack of strong evidence.

Tier Placement of Countries for Trafficking in Persons

The Trafficking in Persons Report (“TIP
) is an annual report issued by the U.S.
Department of State. The TIP Report provides an insight into
countries’ governmental efforts against trafficking in persons.
In the annual TIP Report, countries are divided into different
tiers based on the respective country’s compliance with the
minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons
under the TVPA. The tiers are as follows:

Countries are placed in Tier 1 when their governments fully
comply with the minimum standards to eliminate trafficking in
persons imposed by the TVPA. Tier 1 countries in the TIP 2009
Report include, but are not limited to, Australia, Canada, France,
Japan, Netherlands, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan,
United Kingdom and the United States of America.

Countries are placed in Tier 2 when their governments do not
fully comply with the minimum standards imposed by the TVPA, but
are making significant efforts to comply with those standards. Tier
2 countries in the TIP 2009 Report include, but are not limited to,
Brazil, Croatia, Germany, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Italy, Kenya,
Madagascar, Nepal, Rwanda, Singapore, Thailand, Uruguay and

  • Tier 2 watchlist countries

Countries are placed in Tier 2 when their governments do not
fully comply with the minimum standards imposed by the TVPA, but
are making significant efforts to comply with those standards, and
(i) the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking
is very significant or is significantly increasing, or (ii) there
is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat
severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, or
(iii) the determination that the country is making significant
efforts to bring themselves into compliance with minimum standards
was based on commitments by the country to take additional future
steps over the next year.

Countries placed in the Tier 2 watchlist by the TIP 2019 Report
include, but are not limited to, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Hungary,
Iraq, Liberia, Malaysia, the Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, South
Africa, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.

Countries are placed in Tier 3 when their governments do not
fully comply with the minimum standards imposed by the TVPA and are
not making significant efforts for compliance with the minimum
standards. Countries placed in Tier 3 include, but are not limited
to, Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Russia,
Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkmenistan and Venezuela.

In the TIP Report, there is also a tier known as Special Cases,
where the civil conflict and humanitarian crisis in the countries
make it difficult for information to be gained. Countries
categorized as Special Cases in the TIP 2019 Report are Libya,
Somalia and Yemen.

Malaysia: Tier 2 Watch List

Malaysia is in the Tier 2 Watch List as the TIP 2019 Report
states that the country’s government did not fully meet the
minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking imposed by
Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000
(“TVPA”), but was given due recognition
for contributing significant efforts to do so. However, there were
concerns outlined in the TIP 2019 Report, which include, but are
not limited to the government’s failure to demonstrate overall
increasing efforts as compared to the previous year and to report
initiating new prosecutions or convicting any complicit officials,
and the decrease in the numbers of investigations into cases of
trafficking and prosecutions against alleged traffickers. Another
major concern noted in the TIP 2019 Report is that despite the
continuous operation of a special court with two judges with
expertise in trying cases of trafficking, the Malaysian government
has yet to implement plans to expand special trafficking courts in
and around the country.

The TIP 2019 Report highlighted that, over the past five years,
human traffickers often exploit domestic and foreign victims in
Malaysia, and there are large organized crime syndicates who are
responsible for a number of cases in relation to trafficking in
persons. In addition, smuggled migrants are usually exploited to
forced labour on agricultural and oil palm plantations, at
construction sites, and in homes as domestic workers. Young foreign
women are also often recruited by way of false promises of
legitimate and luxurious employment, but are ultimately deceived
and exploited to prostitution. These victims are left in vulnerable
positions and forced to remain in their allocated illegal
employments, as their traffickers and smugglers retain their

As Malaysia has yet to meet the necessary minimum standards to
eliminate trafficking, and its failure to convict the responsible
traffickers for the crimes against Rohingya Muslims and
Bangladeshis between 2012 and 2015, SUHAKAM and Fortify Rights
have, in the Joint Report, urged the Malaysian authorities to
identify and prosecute all offenders, traffickers and perpetrators
responsible for the said crimes.

Statistics of Trafficking in Persons in Malaysia

In 2017, the Royal Malaysian Police recorded a total of 410
cases related to trafficking in persons and a total of 648 persons
were arrested whereby approximately three-fourths of whom were
reported to be from Malaysia. Out of the said arrested persons, 68
offenders were convicted. 12

The Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia: Evolution,
Growth and Impact (2019) (“TOCSA 2019
) 13 issued by the United Nations
Office on Drugs and Crime reported that a majority of victims of
trafficking in persons in Southeast Asia and neighbouring East Asia
are trafficked from less-than-developed countries to more developed
countries, such as Malaysia. The TOCSA 2019 Report further
highlights that, between 2013 and 2017, Malaysia had detected a
total of 2,034 victims of trafficking in person which, on average,
is approximately 340 victims per year. During the said period,
approximately 34% of these victims were located and found in forced
labour conditions, of which women and girls accounted for 81% of
the victims. The largest share of these victims were nationals of
Indonesia (30%), Vietnam (25%), the Philippines (10%), Thailand
(8%) and the remaining were from Myanmar, Cambodia, Malaysia and

Statistics of Smuggling of Migrants in Malaysia

It was reported that, between 2013 and 2018, more than half of
all smuggled migrants detected in Malaysia were nationals of
Indonesia, while the remaining were nationals of Myanmar (28%),
Bangladesh (8.5%) and the Philippines (6%). The TOCSA 2019 Report
provided that men accounted for more than 77% of all smuggled
migrants detected in Malaysia during the said five-year period.
Furthermore, as collectable data were only available for 2017,
smuggled migrants who were underage accounted for 7.6% of the total
number of smuggled migrants in the country during the said year

A Violation of Human Rights

Millions of men, women and children have fallen victim, and
millions more will fall victim to human traffickers and migrant
smugglers if nothing is done to stop them. Victims of these crimes
are exposed to a traumatizing and perilous experience, and they
often remain in silence in fear of abuse, blackmail and
mistreatment by their offenders. Trafficking in persons and
smuggling of migrants are grave offences and serious violations of
human rights, including but not limited to, the following:

  • The right to life, liberty and security of person (Article 2 of
    the Universal Declaration of Human Rights);

  • The right to not be held in slavery or servitude (Article 3 of
    the Universal Declaration of Human Rights);

  • The right to not be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman
    or degrading treatment or punishment (Article 4 of the Universal
    Declaration of Human Rights);

  • The right to freedom of movement and residence (Article 13 of
    the Universal Declaration of Human Rights);

  • The right to marriage and to found a family (Article 16 of the
    Universal Declaration of Human Rights);

  • The right to freedom of opinion and expression (Article 19 of
    the Universal Declaration of Human Rights);

  • The right to a standard of living adequate for the health and
    well-being of himself and of his family (Article 25 of the
    Universal Declaration of Human Rights); and

  • The right to education (Article 26 of the Universal Declaration
    of Human Rights).

These are some of the fundamental human rights that all human
beings are entitled to upon their birth without discrimination.
Human rights reflect the minimum standard necessary for human
beings to live with dignity, and no human being should ever be
denied from his or her human rights for any reason whatsoever,
especially not for financial gain or power.


Despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and
governmental efforts to combat human rights violations both
nationally and internationally, crimes against humanity remain a
major challenge in our world today. There are still many countries
who have yet to implement fundamental human rights regimes into
local legislation. It is not uncommon that surviving victims are
not provided with adequate protection, guidance and support upon
their reintegration into society. It is fundamental for surviving
victims to be encouraged to provide their experiences, which may
prove to be of assistance in the national and international quests
to implement proper practices to prevent, combat and advocate human
rights violations.

Human rights are fundamental and there should be a great sense
of urgency to protect such rights and freedoms across the globe.
More often than not, we overlook the importance and privilege of
having and enjoying basic human rights. However, awareness is key
to encourage others to be aware of the millions of people who are
and were forcefully denied their human rights. The prevention and
combat against human rights violations were, are, and will always
be a challenge, but it is only through awareness and working
together, can justice truly be served.


1 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish
Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children,
Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational
Organized Crime

2 Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish
Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children,
Supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational
Organized Crime, Article 3(a)

3 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,
“Human Trafficking” https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html?ref=menuside

4 Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29),
Article 2(1)

5 CNN, “Human trafficking survivors: I
was raped 43,200 times” https://edition.cnn.com/2015/11/10/americas/freedom-project-mexico-trafficking-survivor/index.html

6 The ASEAN Post, “Sinister ASEAN:
Trading in human organs” https://theaseanpost.com/article/sinister-asean-trading-human-organs

7 Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants
by Land, Sea and Air, Supplementing the United Nations Convention
against Transnational Organized Crime

8 Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants
by Land, Sea and Air, Supplementing the United Nations Convention
against Transnational Organized Crime, Article 5(a)

9 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime,
Transnational Organized Crime, “Smuggling of Migrants: The
Harsh Search for a Better Life” https://www.unodc.org/toc/en/crimes/migrant-smuggling.html

10 Al Jazeera, “Groups urge Malaysia
ensure accountability for 2015 mass graves” https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/03/groups-urge-malaysia-ensure-accountability-2015-mass-graves-190327131552825.html

11 Free Malaysia Today, “12 cops held
over Wang Kelian human trafficking case freed” https://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2017/03/20/12-cops-held-over-wang-kelian-human-trafficking-case-freed/

12 Royal Malaysia Police, “Human
Trafficking & People Smuggling in Malaysia”, presented at
the UNODC Workshop for Developing a New Transnational Organized
Crime Threat ASsessment Report, Bangkok, March 2018

13 The United Nations Office on Drugs and
Crime, “Transnational Organized Crime in Southeast Asia:
Evolution, Growth and Impact” (2019)

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