In the international human trafficking trade, Malaysia is emerging as a key transit centre – a trend that has raised alarm bells among rights activists, lawyers and United Nations agencies like the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
A UNICEF report, ‘Child Trafficking in East and South-East Asia: Reversing the Trend’, released early this month, has concluded that trafficking in the region is rampant.
"Reported forms of child trafficking involve labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, forced marriage, criminal activities, armed conflict, adoption and begging," said the report.
Trafficking is "considered to be one of the most profitable businesses in the world today," said UNICEF. It "has become so lucrative that it is able to amass profits in the billions of dollars, similar to the trade in illegal drugs and arms."
The report was based on country-level assessments in seven countries, namely, China, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam in early 2008.
Migration experts who monitor the situation say trafficking syndicates prefer Malaysia as an ideal jump-off point because of its long, unguarded and porous border, corrupt officials ever willing to "close an eye" and the presence of nearly four million documented and undocumented migrant workers who act as cover for child traffickers.
They also said Malaysia is a major transit point because of its first-class world air transport and information and communication technologies coupled with a cavalier attitude toward human rights issues and official corruption.
According to UNICEF, Malaysia is also one of five countries in the region that have enacted legislation specific to trafficking. The others are Indonesia, Lao PDR, the Philippines and Thailand.
The UNICEF study calls for new approaches to combat child trafficking and other related forms of abuse and exploitation. Among the solutions the report cites is the creation of national child protection systems similar to national health care systems to protect children from exploitation. UNICEF Malaysia representative Youssouf Omar said the authorities in the region are short of well-trained personnel – a setback, he said, in the fight against child trafficking.
Malaysian Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan said the issues must be addressed at a regional level to effectively stem the trade. The root causes that fuel child trafficking — which he identifies as poverty, broken family and lack of opportunities — have to be tackled at every level.
"These push factors, (compounded by) a growing demand for sex with children, are a driving force behind the trafficking of minors," he told IPS.
IPS News, Malaysia: Gov’t Urged to Stem the Tide of Child Trafficking, 27 Sept 2009, http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48610
Asia One News, Trafficked women too afraid to tell the truth, 27 Sept 2009, http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne%2BNews/Crime/Story/A1Story20090927-...
UNICEF, Despite regional efforts, trafficking continues to take heavy toll on children, 1 Sept 2009, http://www.unicef.org/malaysia/media_11195.html