KUALA LUMPUR - Less than a year after Malaysia was slapped with the lowest ranking in the United States' annual Trafficking of Person's report, United Nations human rights expert Maria Grazia Giammarinaro has urged Putrajaya to improve its prevention of trafficking and protection of human rights.
"This includes amending the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act and considering implementing my recommendations," she said.
According to Giammarinaro, who is the UN's special rapporteur on trafficking in persons, particularly women and children, there are an estimated two million documented and two million or more undocumented migrant workers in Malaysia.
She was speaking to the press after an official visit to Malaysia to examine trafficking in persons in Malaysia and provide recommendations on how to improve, at the invitation of the Government.
A key concern, she said, was the criminalisation of irregular migrants and the non-recognition of refugees that contributed to the vulnerability of migrants, who are an easy prey for traffickers.
"The vulnerable situation of migrant workers is often exploited for labour trafficking by unscrupulous recruitment agents and employers, through deception of work, poor working conditions and salaries, passport confiscation, payment of excessive fees (to recruitment agents), debt bondage, non-payment of salaries, lack of rest days, contractual breaches, excessive working hours, and physical or sexual abuse or both," she said.
She urged the Government to crack down on wayward agencies, stating that its responsibilities include checking on agencies on a regular basis and punishing them if necessary.
"I urge the Malaysian authorities to address more effectively all forms of trafficking, and prioritise trafficking for forced labour and labour exploitation."
She said a new protection system which gives migrant workers assistance in claiming compensation, temporary residence status and a work permit, should be adopted.
Another area of concern was the trafficking of young women and children for the purpose of sex work, which Giammarinaro claimed was prevalent in Malaysia.
"There is information about women and girls from South Asia entering into brokered marriages with older men in Malaysia, and being forced into domestic servitude and prostitution," she said.
Her full report, with recommendations, would be presented to the UN Human Rights council in June.
The Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons (Mapo) was established under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2007 which came into force on Feb 28, 2008.
Following the Anti-Trafficking in Persons (Amendment) Act 2010, Mapo is now known as the Council for Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants.