World Day against Trafficking in Persons: Shedding Light on the Shadows

Imagine a world where human beings are traded like commodities, robbed of their freedom, and subjected to unspeakable horrors. It is a reality that exists in the shadows, hidden from the prying eyes of society. But today, we vow to bring this hidden world into the light, reach every victim of trafficking, and leave no one behind.

In this battle against human trafficking, education is the greatest weapon. Through awareness and understanding, we can empower ourselves and others to recognize the signs, break the silence, and take action. It’s about choosing to open our eyes, coming together, and saying, “Enough is enough!”

Is Forced Labour Human Trafficking?

Forced labour represents[1] a grim reality where victims are compelled or involuntarily made to work under harsh and exploitative circumstances. This distressing outcome often arises from human trafficking, where victims become vulnerable and controlled, leading to their exploitation in forced labour, resembling modern-day slavery. It is deeply intertwined with this insidious crime.

Like two sides of the same coin, they share a connection that cannot be ignored. In the minds of many, the terms “forced labour” and “trafficking in persons” are used interchangeably although they’re very distinct. It is a stark reminder that even within the intricate web of human trafficking, forced labour stands tall as a distinct but closely related manifestation of one of the most severe forms of exploitation that needs to be prohibited.

The Stories of Survivors[2]

Back in 2015, the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) and Fortify Rights had published a report entitled “Sold Like Fish”. This report was based on investigations carried out over a number of years involving large numbers of human trafficking victims from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Thailand and Malaysia from 2012 to 2015. The report contains stories and experiences of brave souls who have endured unimaginable pain and suffering.


“We only had skin and bones.” – Rohingya woman, 25, from Aung Mingalar, Sittwe


“Every day, someone died.” – “Rahim Ullah”, 16, Rohingya trafficking survivor, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 2014 


Their resilience inspires us to fight for justice and to create a world where no one is forced into modern-day slavery.

The traffickers did not spare children from the beatings.  A Rohingya widow, 27, and her five children from Sittwe Township in Myanmar’s Rakhine State boarded a ship operated by human traffickers in March 2015, she shared that:

Sometimes, the crew would beat the children. My children were beaten. Whenever the children cried, they would be beaten. At lunchtime, when the children started to get hungry, they’d cry; at this time, the crew would beat them. The beating wasn’t very forceful, but the children would be in pain for a couple of days. Their skin bruised and became swollen.”

The survivor’s story is a powerful reminder of the resilience and determination that can arise in the face of unimaginable adversity. Their experience underscores the critical need to support and empower survivors, raise awareness, and hold traffickers accountable.


Twenty-year-old Foyas said he witnessed dozens of deaths during his three-week period of confinement in a makeshift human-trafficking camp on the Malaysia – Thailand border in early 2014:

“The rain caused many problems. Many people died. Many people were swelling. At least 30 people died.”


“Fatima”, 20, said traffickers beat her husband while they were at sea:

The dallals beat people who asked for more food or water, including my husband. The dallals beat my husband at least five times. They hit him with a stick, and he suffered some bleeding and injuries. Some people were so thirsty, they started drinking seawater.


We must remember that human trafficking knows no boundaries, it happens on the land and on the sea. It transcends borders, cultures, and social classes. It infiltrates our communities, preying on vulnerability and desperation.

Climate Change is the New Threat[3]

Climate change significantly amplifies the risk of human trafficking, especially among marginalized communities. Environmental fluctuations exacerbate factors like economic challenges, gender and identity discrimination, inadequate legal safeguards, and ongoing conflicts, thereby increasing the vulnerability to human trafficking. Additionally, as climate change induces migration, the likelihood of human trafficking escalates, further impacting more severely certain groups, including migrants, women, children, and minority populations, who are more exposed to exploitation due to these circumstances.

Climate change increases the risk of natural disasters, exacerbates poverty, and creates conditions for conflict and instability. Combined with labour demand-supply mismatches and unscrupulous recruitment agencies, vulnerable populations resort to risky behaviours, falling prey to human trafficking and exploitation. Sadly, this climate-trafficking nexus remains overlooked in global discussions and policy frameworks.

Unwavering Hope: Malaysia’s Journey in Combating Human Trafficking

Even in the face of challenges, there is hope. Malaysia’s journey through the United States’ Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, is a tale of resilience and progress.  Over the span of a decade, Malaysia underwent a transformative journey in combating human trafficking.

Initially placed in “Tier 3” in 2013-2014, the nation grappled with significant challenges.  However, progress made in 2015-2016 propelled Malaysia to the “Tier 2 Watch List”, marking a notable improvement in its efforts. Malaysia was in “Tier 2” in 2017, indicating that the Government had made significant commitments to ensure improvement of its compliance.  However, from 2018 to 2020, Malaysia was categorised on the Tier 2 Watch List and in 2021 and 2022 declined to Tier 3.

Yet, the narrative shifts towards hope again in 2023. Malaysia reclaims its position on the “Tier 2 Watch List”, showcasing progress in combating human trafficking.

These placements indicate how Malaysia is assessed by the U.S. Government in meeting the minimum standards for eliminating trafficking, as outlined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). “Tier 3” denotes the lowest compliance level, “Tier 2 Watch List” includes governments striving to meet Tier 2 standards but haven’t achieved full compliance as yet and “Tier 2” represents significant efforts towards compliance.

We can be the change-makers

In the light of this, SUHAKAM, together with Government agencies and supportive stakeholders have played a crucial role in raising awareness and combatting human trafficking in the country. The commission has noted its grave concern over the issue and has openly urged the Government to take effective measures by enhancing legal and regulatory frameworks to address human trafficking.

Education and awareness are emphasized by SUHAKAM as critical tools to tackle human trafficking. To this end, SUHAKAM has provided extensive training for law enforcement officials, civil society organizations, and the general public to increase their understanding of this issue and enhance their ability to combat it. In the realm of justice, SUHAKAM has been urging for full protection and assistance to be provided to trafficked and smuggled victims, aligned with international standards set by the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children.[4]

Bring the voices of hope for the voiceless

This year as we commemorate “World Day Against Trafficking in Persons”, we stand united with a shared purpose, let our commitment be to reach every victim of trafficking, leaving no one behind. From the standpoint of SUHAKAM, we wholeheartedly offer our strong support and unwavering encouragement in the fight against trafficking in persons. Complaints regarding human trafficking have constantly been lodged with SUHAKAM over the years. Although it is not an enforcement agency for transnational crimes, SUHAKAM has been acting as a bridge between complainants and enforcement agencies to ensure that immediate and appropriate action is taken on every complaint. SUHAKAM also regularly inspect shelters for trafficking victims, advocating for heightened awareness and upholding their human rights from rescue to rehabilitation and reintegration into society.

Together, we can protect the rights and dignity of every individual, eradicate trafficking networks, and provide the necessary support for survivors to rebuild their lives. Let’s create a world where no one falls victim to such atrocities, and where human rights are upheld for all.

[1] International Labour Organization (ILO) Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29), Article 2(1) defines forced labour as: “all work or service which is exacted from any person under the menace of any penalty and for which the said person has not offered himself [or herself] voluntarily”.

[2] “Sold Like Fish” Crimes Against Humanity, Mass Graves, and Human Trafficking from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Malaysia from 2012 to 2015 (2019)

[3] United States Department of State: 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP Report)

[4] SUHAKAM Press Statement No.18-2023_ Malaysia’s Improved Ranking in U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report Demonstrates Progress in Combating Human Trafficking,potential%20sanctions%20on%20local%20products.

Tags: No tags

Comments are closed.