Fiji govt told to address ‘huge gap in the system’ to tackle human trafficking

Children going missing in Fiji is becoming a regular occurrence, according to a human rights lawyer who says the Fijian government has neglected the issue of human trafficking.

With Fiji having established its reputation as a key transit point for transnational crime and drug smuggling, Susan Serukai said the smuggling of people went hand-in-hand.

“It’s one of the biggest businesses in the whole world – drugs and human trafficking,” she said.

She pointed to the lack of funding dedicated to tackling human trafficking and urged the government to tackle the issue with the same veracity and resourcing as they do drug trafficking.

Since 2021, only FJ$10,000 annually was allocated to fund a Human Trafficking Unit made up of two officers who work alongside the Immigration Department.

Serukai said it was “nowhere near enough”.

The funding call comes fresh off the heels of a newly-released report by the US Department of State: 2023 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Fiji, highlighting Fiji’s issue of child sex tourism.

The report stated the Fijian government “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”, and neither does New Zealand, which also for a third year in a row, found itself on the Tier 2 list in The Trafficking in Persons Report 2023.

It also raised dozens of cases where traffickers exploit high school-aged children as well as homeless and unemployed youth in sex trafficking.

In a statement, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) said between 2023 to 2024, Fiji has prosecuted several cases of human trafficking – and domestic trafficking was the most predominant type of trafficking in the country.

“So far the ODPP has prosecuted three cases between 2023- 2024. There were two cases prosecuted by ODPP involving locals. A married couple of Nausori was convicted and sentenced for trafficking their daughter to conduct sexual [acts] to a European man Shane Nolan,” it said.

“[An] international trafficking case involved a Fijian local that trafficked six Bangladeshi nationals into Fiji on the pretext of better life in Australia. He was sentenced to a lengthy imprisonment term. He was charged for Trafficking in Persons.”

However, the ODPP said it was important to note the number of investigations and prosecutions on human trafficking in Fiji had a direct correlation to the amount of reports the police receive specifically for all forms of trafficking.

Deputy PM puts blame on ‘previous government’

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Biman Prasad admitted the Human Trafficking Unit had been neglected and blamed the low funding allocation on being “inherited by the previous government”.

He promised more funding in the next budget come July.

“Of course, we will be providing adequate funding which means more than what was there. We will be working with our international partners including New Zealand and Australia.”

However, he could not provide a new figure until the release of their upcoming budget.

Meanwhile, the Women’s Crisis Centre director Shamima Ali declined to be interviewed on the subject, saying domestic violence was a more pressing issue for the women’s group – despite being referenced in the latest US government report.

Serukai said Ali’s response was surprising, but perhaps an example of how many NGO’s were “having to pick their battles”.


Lack of awareness and weak legislation were two of the biggest challenges in Fiji’s fight against human trafficking, she said.

Serukai said government funding needed to cover public consultation, a law change and a 5-10 year programme, to make a real impact to address the issue.

“The approach to address human trafficking has to be vast. It is government, private sector, civil society [working together] in order to prevent, protect victims.”

According to the US State report, traffickers in Fiji were both nationals and foreigners.

It stated local perpetrators were business owners and managers and pimps, while foreign perpetrators included business people and tourists.

Fijians have been trafficked into Australia and New Zealand for forced labour and/or sexual exploitation. Fijians have also been trafficked into Tonga for exploitation in the construction or agriculture sector.

Migrants trafficked into Fiji were usually exploited in the sex work sector, fishing sector or construction sector.

The report also highlighted past cases where Chinese women have been trafficked for exploitation in Chinese-operated massage parlours and brothels.

Migrants from South Asian countries (such as Bangladesh) have been trafficked into Fiji for exploitation in farms, factories and construction sites.

Children missing

At least two children in Fiji went missing in late April.

The latest US government report noted 32 cases of child sexual abuse reported to the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre in August of last year, with the issue prevalent in Nadi (western division) and Savusavu (Vanua Levu).

Information on Fiji cases indicated traffickers exploit high school-aged children as well as homeless and unemployed youth in sex trafficking.

Instances of child sex trafficking involved family members, taxi drivers, foreign tourists, businessmen and crew members on foreign fishing vessels.

‘Gap in the system’

The only government agencies that recorded data on trafficking in persons cases in the country were the Human Trafficking Unit and the Immigration Department.

The relevant agencies did not have databases, and there was no centralised database either for recording and sharing data.

Perpetrators also exploit the region because there was no standardised trafficking in persons screening tool which was why Fiji was a hub for perpetrators.

The ODPP said Fiji has human trafficking laws combating all forms of trafficking under its Crimes Act 2009 provisions.

“There has been significant efforts made since 2009 to combat trafficking, through proper investigations, public awareness, training and prosecutions. There however is room for more effort. That is why Fiji remains on Tier 2.”

Serukai said people lack knowledge regarding what trafficking in persons was and the key indicators of trafficking, which was backed by the report findings highlighted a lack of knowledge among employers and businesspersons regarding the rights of local and migrant workers and trafficking indicators.

The result of this lack of knowledge meant human trafficking cases may not be reported by victims or the public to the authorities for investigation.

Serukai said there needed to be a national campaign to raise awareness to educate Fijians including “police officers and the judiciary” on the issue.

“There is a huge gap in the system. There needs to be widespread advocacy on forced labour, forced migration, human smuggling. We fall short of that.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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