What is human trafficking?

The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates that there are around 29,500 people enslaved in domestic labour, commercial sex, and other services in Hong Kong, although most local frontline organisations estimate a much higher number.  In Hong Kong, there is still no comprehensive definition or legislation on human trafficking.  In the Crimes Ordinance Cap.200 Sec.129, it only refers to trafficking in persons as the cross-border movement of a person for the purpose of prostitution.  As such, it excludes the many other forms and methods in which human trafficking can exist.  100storiesHK, therefore, prefers to use the international definition adopted by the UN.

The Palermo Protocol, adopted by the UN in 2000, defines human trafficking as:

The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, or 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.

Forced labour, as defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), is:

Work for which a person has not offered him or herself voluntarily and which is performed under the menace of any penalty.  (ILO Forced Labour Convention, 1930 [No. 29])


Recognise the Signs

Recognising the red flags or indicators of human trafficking is a key step in identifying victims and helping them get the assistance they need.  The following is a helpful list from the Polaris Project (www.polarisproject.org/recognize-signs).  If you or someone you know is being exploited in Hong Kong and are looking for assistance, please contact us at connect@100storiesHK.org.  If there is a threat of immediate danger, please call 999.

Common Work and Living Conditions: The individual(s) in question

  • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
  • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
  • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp / manager
  • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
  • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
  • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
  • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
  • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
  • High security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behaviour

  • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
  • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behaviour after bringing up law enforcement
  • Avoids eye contact

Poor Physical Health

  • Lacks health care
  • Appears malnourished
  • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

Lack of Control

  • Has few or no personal possessions
  • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
  • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
  • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


  • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
  • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
  • Loss of sense of time
  • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

This list is not exhaustive and represents only a selection of possible indicators. Also, the red flags in this list may not be present in all trafficking cases and are not cumulative. Learn more at www.humantraffickinghotline.org.