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A web resource for combating human trafficking


The Situation
Malaysia is a destination, and to a lesser extent, a source and transit country for men, women, and children who are subjected to conditions of forced labor, and women and children subjected to sex trafficking.  

A small number of Malaysian citizens are reportedly trafficked internally and abroad to Singapore, China, and Japan for commercial sexual exploitation. Malaysians from rural and indigenous communities tend to be more vulnerable to trafficking.1

The overwhelming majority of trafficking victims are among the two million documented and 1.9 million undocumented foreign workers in Malaysia from various countries including Indonesia, Nepal, India, Thailand, China, the Philippines, Burma, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Vietnam. Many victims migrate willingly to Malaysia seeking employment opportunities in plantations, construction sites, textile factories, and as domestic workers but subsequently encounter forced labor or debt bondage at the hands of their employers, employment agents, or informal labor recruiters. While many of Malaysia’s trafficking offenders are individual business people, large organized crime syndicates are also behind trafficking.2 

A significant number of young foreign women are recruited for work in Malaysian restaurants and hotels, some of whom migrate through the use of “Guest Relations Officer” visas, but subsequently are coerced into Malaysia’s commercial sex trade.3

Domestic workers are particularly vulnerable. Local NGOs estimate that for every domestic servant legally employed in Malaysia there is one working in the country illegally and many may be trafficked.  

Ninety percent of these domestic servants are from Indonesia. This is concerning, as a 2006 MOU between Indonesia and Malaysia allows for Malaysian employers to confiscate passports of domestic employees, which is widely recognized as increasing a migrant’s vulnerability.4 

Internal Trafficking
Statelessness, a recognized human trafficking vulnerability factor, remains an issue in Malaysia. Citizenship is derived from one's parents; however, many children are stateless because the government refuses to register their birth due to inadequate proof of their parents' marriage. Interfaith marriages are also not recognized by the government which sometimes results in undocumented, de facto stateless children. One NGO estimates that the number of stateless persons ranges from several thousand to as many as 30,000. Without birth certificates, government officials deny stateless persons access to education, health care, and the right to own property.5 This puts them at risk of seeking unofficial employment opportunities, thus putting these people at risk of trafficking. 

The Malaysian Government
The Malaysian Government was placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a second consecutive year in the 2011 U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report for not fully complying with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. However, the US Government recognizes that the Malaysian Government is making significant efforts to do so. 

The government has increased the number of convictions obtained under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Anti-Smuggling of Migrants Act during 2010 and continues public awareness efforts on trafficking. However, it has not effectively investigated and prosecuted labor trafficking cases, has failed to address problems of government complicity in trafficking, and lacks provision of effective victim care and counseling by authorities. There remain many serious concerns regarding trafficking in Malaysia, including the detention of trafficking victims in government facilities.6 

Malaysian law prohibits all forms of human trafficking through its Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act, which was amended in November 2010 to broaden the definition of trafficking to include all actions involved in acquiring or maintaining the labor or services of a person through coercion.7 

Authorities reported initiating 174 charges against 51 individuals under the anti-trafficking law in 2010. The government convicted 11 sex trafficking offenders and three individuals involved in labor trafficking, sentencing them to three to eight years’ imprisonment; this is compared to seven trafficking offenders convicted during the previous year. The government also reported that 141 trafficking cases remain pending in Malaysian courts.8 

The acquittal rate of alleged trafficking offenders was 68 percent during 2010, a rate attributed by observers to the lack of adequate victim-witness protection, victim assistance incentives, and poor judicial training on human trafficking.9

NGOs have reported that the police often fail or refuse to investigate complaints of confiscation of passports and travel documents or withholding of wages – especially with regards to domestic workers – as possible trafficking offenses. The government did not report in 2010 any criminal prosecutions of employers who subjected workers to conditions of forced labor or labor recruiters who used deceptive practices and debt bondage to compel migrant workers into involuntary servitude. Nor were any government officials convicted of trafficking-related complicity in 2010, even though there are reports of collusion between police and trafficking offenders.10

Victim protection efforts remain inadequate in Malaysia. Victims identified by Malaysian authorities are adjudicated under a “protective order” that triggers their forcible detention in “shelters,” where some are isolated, unable to work or earn income, and have little or no access to legal or psychological assistance provided by the government or NGOs.11

Furthermore, the government treats victims of trafficking as illegal aliens and turns them over to immigration authorities for deportation after they provide evidence to prosecutors, usually after a 90-day stay at a trafficking in persons “shelter.” While the government reports that it encourages victims to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers, it does not make available any alternatives to repatriation for victims who may face harm or retribution upon return to their home country. Nor does it provide any incentives for victim cooperation. In fact, during trial proceedings, authorities often do not make adequate efforts to separate victims from their traffickers, which may result in threats to the victims and their families if they cooperate with police and prosecutors.12

The November 2010, amendments to the anti-trafficking law included the Labor Department within the Ministry of Human Resources as an enforcement agency. The Ministry has since reported that it now requires foreign domestic workers and their employers to attend a compulsory half-day seminar on workers’ rights and that a portion of a domestic worker’s salary must be placed into a bank account in the employee’s name in order to provide a record of payment.13 

The Malaysian Home Ministry reported investigating the 277 outsourcing companies that recruit foreign workers into Malaysia and placed 42 on a watchlist for engaging in suspicious activities. The Women’s Ministry continues to produce pamphlets about indicators of trafficking, which are distributed at border checkpoints. The government also continues to implement an anti-trafficking public awareness campaign in print media, on the radio, and on television.14

However, international organizations and NGOs report that the lack of understanding of human trafficking by many Malaysian front-line officers, such as police and immigration officers, continue to hinder the identification and proper investigation of trafficking cases and identification and assistance to trafficking victims.15

International Cooperation
The Indonesian Government has been negotiating with the Malaysian Government to amend the 2006 MOU which allows employers to confiscate passports from migrant workers. However, talks were stalled in 2010 reportedly due to an impasse on the issue of a minimum wage and a weekly day off, which the government of Indonesia is demanding for domestic workers.16

The U.S. Department of State recommends that the Malay Government enact the following measures in its 2011 TIP Report: 

  • Increase law enforcement actions under the anti-trafficking law, particularly labor trafficking cases;
  • Apply stringent criminal penalties to those involved in fraudulent labor recruitment or forced labor;
  • Increase efforts to prosecute and convict public officials who profit from or are involved in trafficking, or who exploit victims; 
  • Develop and implement procedures to identify labor trafficking victims among vulnerable groups such as migrant workers and refer them to available protection services; 
  • Improve victim protection in government facilities by providing victims legal assistance, and providing effective counseling and care to the victims of trafficking; 
  • Develop and implement mechanisms to allow adult foreign trafficking victims to travel, work, and reside outside of government shelters; 
  • Provide legal alternatives to the removal of trafficking victims to countries in which they would face retribution or hardship; ensure that victims of trafficking are not threatened or punished for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked; 
  • Make greater efforts to educate migrant workers on their rights, legal recourses available, and how to seek remedies against traffickers or employers who fail to meet their legal obligations; 
  • Re-negotiate MOUs with source countries to incorporate victim protection and remove authorizations for employers to confiscate passports or travel documents; 
  • Continue to train officials on the effective handling of sex and labor trafficking cases, with a particular emphasis on victim protection and the identification of labor trafficking victims; 
  • Make efforts to reduce the demand for both sex and labor trafficking; and 
  • Expand the anti-trafficking awareness campaign to encompass both labor and sex trafficking.17


1 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
2 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
3 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
4 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
5 2010 US Department of State Human Rights Report
6 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
7 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
8 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
9 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
10 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
11 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
12 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
13 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
14 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
15 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
16 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 
17 2011 US Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report 



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