By Sekki Tabasuares
New Zealand has consistently belonged to tier 1 of the U.S. Department’s comprehensive Trafficking in Persons (TiP) Report since its first publication in 2004. This means that it ranks high in terms of the government’s policies to combat trafficking into the country. Its legislation focuses on addressing the international, forcible movement of people into New Zealand, supporting and promoting international cooperation throughout the region surrounding the country, all with the aim of preventing offences as well as investigating them.
On the other hand, domestic cases of exploitation like child prostitution and forced labour of citizens within its borders are handled differently, with references to government legislation including the Prostitution Reform Act of 2003. This act decriminalised prostitution and created provisions to protect the health and safety of both sex workers and clients. Organisations like ECPAT Child Alert work towards the prevention of sexually exploiting children, also assisting victims in the recovery process.
Historically, there has been a prevalent assumption in New Zealand that while some people in the sex industry are inevitably working under an illegal immigration status–therefore making them vulnerable to exploitation–the geography of New Zealand and its effective legal system would more or less ensure that the country is not targeted as a destination by human traffickers. The challenge would be in handling cases where sex workers are illegal immigrants. Despite its legislation on people trafficking, actual prosecution of suspected traffickers is another matter.
Late last year, in November 2015, Immigration New Zealand opened its first case on charges of human trafficking, with 18 Indian nationals who were allegedly promised two-year visas and jobs in New Zealand for the price of $33,000 each. The three suspects were found not guilty of human trafficking, although two were found guilty of providing false statements to a refugee status officer. After the trial, Stand against Slavery’ s CEO Peter Mihaere remarked on both the disappointment of the verdict as well as the more hopeful note of how such a public case could dissuade potential traffickers.
An Auckland-based charity trust called Justice Acts New Zealand also published an independent review in August 2014 to explore concerns over unsuccessful efforts at building prosecutions of trafficking in the country. It was pointed out that it has been difficult for New Zealand to counter acts of human trafficking partly because of the mentality that the relative isolation of the country would make it too difficult for traffickers to transport victims into the country.
The report posited that in order for justice to be carried out, empowering legislation that takes into full consideration employment law themes and adequate training of government officials is absolutely vital. Another necessity put forth by Justice Acts New Zealand is the formation of accessible victim support services to ensure a comprehensive network of rescue, prevention and prosecution of traffickers that operate in New Zealand. Immigration, law enforcement and other government agencies would have to cooperate and make use of all possible resources to tackle both transnational and domestic cases of human trafficking.