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Characteristics of Human Trafficking in Hong Kong


Officially known as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong is located off of China’s most southern coast. It is divided into three separate territories. Hong Kong itself is a major point of destination for people who are trafficked from Southeast Asia. Whether being transported into mainland China or elsewhere, this city serves as a very large transportation hub. It is the second biggest market, after India, for Southeast Asian women being trafficked outside of their own country.(1) With the massive amount of people migrating throughout the Asia Pacific Region comes higher rates of victims entering into the sex industry. Hong Kong itself is also a large base for sex workers coming from Mainland China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia. Many sex workers fall victim to abusive and exploitative situations.

Hong Kong is considered to be both a transit and destination location. As a leading economic city, Hong Kong is one of the foremost places for trafficking activity and the transportation of forced labour victims. Trafficking takes place mostly in industries with limited protection for workers. In many cases, victims are not aware of the potential for exploitation before migrating.

The principles of an open and free market have long been an important basis for the economy of Hong Kong, and there are four main industries, including trading and logistics, financial services, professional and producer services, and tourism (which is often divided into inbound and outbound tourism). The government has historically maintained a low tax system and free trade regime.


Currently, there are over 11.7 million people in forced labour conditions in the Asia-Pacific region.(2) Victims are mostly domestic workers from places such as Bangladesh, Nepal, and Myanmar, and they tend to be mostly women and young girls. Many victims cross the border into Hong Kong looking for work or a place to live. There is a massive amount of racial micro-aggression experienced by victims.(3) Since many exploiters come from different civilian workforce sectors, it is easy to take advantage of those simply looking for employment. 1 in 6 migrant workers are in forced labour, working around 71 hours a week, some for upwards of 15 hours every day.(4) Trafficking victims are most vulnerable at their recruitment stage, and are taken advantage of due to their need for survival.


Aside from sex slavery, forced labour is also prevalent. Trafficking usually involves practices such as illegal recruiting, abductions, and leaving the country by illegal means. One in particular is debt bondage, or “bonded labour”. This happens when people enter slave-like employment conditions as security against a loan or when they inherit a debt from a relative. It can be made to look like an employment agreement in which the worker starts with a debt to repay – usually in brutal conditions – only to find that repayment of the loan is impossible. Their enslavement later becomes permanent. Perpetrators offer loans to entice workers, and later trap their victims into forced labour conditions.

Another common form of forced labour is involuntary domestic servitude. This is when domestic workers become enslaved in exploitative situations with little to no pay. The biggest difference between this type of servitude and other forms of forced labour is that this often takes place in the exploiter’s home. Victims do not stay or work at camps, but rather on the property of those enslaving them.


Hong Kong’s legislation around trafficking is highly criticised. Anti-trafficking policies prohibit only certain forms of trafficking, and primarily reference prostitution. There are very few protection measures for non-residents in the city itself, and there are no specific crimes under the law that refer to slavery, sex tourism, forced marriage or trafficking.(5) The small bits of legislation that exist are scattered over many different ordinances, and lead to gaps and difficulty in enforcement. Hong Kong has adopted many different protection policies, but the government has been criticised for ineffective implementation.(6) The United Nations have called on Hong Kong to enact more legislation to safeguard victims. As well as other governments, the push has been for the development of a comprehensive policy in the prevention of human trafficking.


  1. ECPAT. Stop Sex Trafficking of Children & Young People. Available at:

  2. Justice Centre. (2014). "How many more years a slave? Trafficking for forced labour in Hong Kong." Available at:

  3. Mok, K.Y. (2019). Foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong: Identifying risk factors, resilience, and psychological well-being. Unpublished Dissertation. Brigham Young University.

  4. Justice Centre. (2014). "How many more years a slave? Trafficking for forced labour in Hong Kong." Available at:

  5. Kwok, D. (2020). Legislation and other tactics. Combatting human trafficking in Hong Kong. The Newsletter 87, pp. 35.

  6. Emerton, R., Laidler, K., and Petersen, C. (2007). Trafficking of mainland Chinese women into Hong Kong's sex industry: Problems of identification and response. Asia Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law 8(2), pp. 35-84.

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