In 2015, a 14-year-old girl was told by her mother that she had to work as a prostitute to help feed her family.  Over the next 18 months, the child's mum would post ads to a classified section of the New Zealand Herald and take the girl to motels around Auckland where she would be sold as many as five times a day.  

By the time the child managed to escape, her mother had made more than $100,000 from selling her daughter's teenage body to men in New Zealand more than 1000 times. 

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Slavery happens everywhere, even in New Zealand.


Slavery happens everywhere. No country, no matter its wealth level, is immune to it. 

At Tearfund, we care a lot about fighting the injustice of modern slavery globally. And while we focus most of our efforts overseas (find out how you can get involved here), it is becoming more and more apparent that modern slavery, in the forms of human trafficking, sexual exploitation and forced labour, is being inadequately recognised and approached here in New Zealand. In fact, Kiwis’ lack of awareness has led to modern slavery crimes going unreported for decades. 

The time for ignorance is up. Things have to change now. 

The US recently released its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which ranks global governments into tiers, not based on the size of a country’s problem, but on their efforts to recognise and eliminate human trafficking. Tier 1 includes the UK, US, Australia, France, and many other countries. The report assesses whether the governments are meeting the minimum standards for the protection, prosecution and prevention of trafficking in line with US law, which is generally in line with UN international guidelines. 

While New Zealand has remained at Tier 1 since the report first covered it in 2004, the 2021 report has downgraded it to Tier 2—meaning the New Zealand Government is no longer meeting these minimum standards. 

We know that modern slavery is an issue in New Zealand, with forced labour in the agricultural, dairy, construction, viticulture, food service, technology, hospitality, transport, and domestic service sectors, and sex trafficking in the commercialised sex industry. And when it's not happening right under our noses, it's still in the supply chains of the products we consume daily (this is where our Ethical Fashion Guide comes in handy!) 

The fact of the matter is, there's no escaping the reality of modern slavery. But there are ways to take action to help eliminate it.  

Tearfund has spent the last few months calling on the government to get in line with Australia and the UK and implement a Modern Slavery Act. This would require businesses to report annually on the risks of modern slavery in their operations and supply chains both in New Zealand and globally, as well as the actions they are taking to address those risks and the ways they test the effectiveness of these actions. Now, we're shedding light on how New Zealand compares to other countries in their efforts to eliminate trafficking.

In summary, the report demotes New Zealand to Tier 2 for the following reasons: 


1. Insufficient efforts to acknowledge trafficking: Though the government has made efforts, including initiating trafficking investigations, prosecuting sex trafficking crimes, funding programmes to aid vulnerable migrant workers, working on training modules for government officials, and releasing the plan of action against modern slavery, they were "not serious and sustained compared to the efforts during the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic”. 

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The TIP report says the NZ Government is not doing enough to investigate, prosecute, and prevent modern slavery.

2. Inadequate systems for victim identification and protection: During the reporting period (April 1, 2020 – March 31, 2021) the government investigated cases that involved 39 potential victims; however, they “did not make any new certifications or find reasonable suspicion any were trafficking victims”. In comparison, three labour trafficking victims were certified during the previous reporting period. While the government also convicted more child sex trafficking offenders than in previous years, it did not identify any victims in these cases as trafficking victims. The report claims that many government officials and service providers have a weak understanding of the forms of trafficking, which weakens the ability for victim protection and “may have undermined the ability of the government to recognize current trafficking trends in the country”. 

3. Failure to hold traffickers accountable: The New Zealand Government has never certified a foreign victim of sex trafficking, and “despite evidence that adults, particularly female victims of family violence, were forced into commercial sex in New Zealand, the government has never identified an adult New Zealander as a victim of sex trafficking”. This is also the second year in a row where they have not initiated prosecutions for labour trafficking, even though forced labour is a prevalent form of modern slavery in New Zealand. For the traffickers that were prosecuted, the government failed to imprison the majority, with six child sex traffickers only sentenced to six to 18 months of home detention. This is due to the loopholes in New Zealand laws, which permit trafficking cases to be prosecuted under different statutes, such as non-criminal labour violations or violations of the PRA (Prostitution Reform Act). This allows traffickers to get off on significantly lighter sentences. In a nutshell, traffickers aren’t being held accountable and the punishment is not fitting the crime. 


4. Inconsistencies with international laws on child trafficking: Child sex trafficking cases in New Zealand are currently prosecuted under The Crimes Act of 1961, but section 98D says there must be evidence of deception or coercion for a case to constitute child sex trafficking. This is inconsistent with international law, and as a consequence, does not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. 


In response to the above, the report lays out a series of recommendations for the New Zealand Government, such as proactive screening of vulnerable groups to identify victims of trafficking and creating systems to refer them to the appropriate services, increasing investigations, prosecutions and prison sentences for sex and labour trafficking cases, improving training to front line workers and government officials, and amending the trafficking statute to “explicitly define the sex trafficking of children as not requiring the use of deception or coercion”. 

The message is clear: the government is not doing enough to investigate, prosecute, and prevent modern slavery.  

Here are some ways you can spread awareness and advocate for change: 

  • Educate yourself. We have plenty of resources about modern slavery here. Then make sure to share your knowledge with your friends and family!  

  • Write to your local MP and demand that the government increase efforts to eliminate human trafficking in New Zealand. Request that they amend section 98D of The Crimes Act of 1961 so that it no longer requires deception or coercion to constitute a child trafficking case. 

  • Become a Tearfund Advocate and spread awareness at your church.   

 

How will you decide to take action?  


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