Paulina Quintao – The National Parliament has approved proposed law no. 26/III/2015 on the prevention and fight against human trafficking. Of the 64 MPs, 34 were present, with 32 voting in favor, two abstentions and none against.
Deputy President of Commission A (responsible for constitution, justice, public administration, local authorities and anti-corruption) Arao Noel de Jesus Amaral said the law would provide a legal basis to fight against human trafficking in the country.
"So far we have no law and so it is hard for the judges in court and the prosecution to take preventive action in human trafficking cases," he told parliament.
He said the law would criminalize the trafficking of people in and out of Timor for the purpose of sexual exploitation and forced labor.
He said the law contained 39 articles, including a significant one which officially categorizes those under 18 years old as a child. This means that offenders involved in the trafficking of minors will face two separate charges.
The minimum sentence for those found to be involved in human trafficking is two years, with the maximum being 10 years, although that could be increased depending on the severity of the offence.
The law was approved on October 25 and the government is now raising awareness among communities before it comes into force.
However, member of the Timor-Leste Parliamentary Women's Group (GMPTL) Josefa Alvares Pereira Soares said the law was still not complete, although it would at least partly respond to some of the issues linked to human trafficking.
"We do not want our young people to fall victim to drugs and we also do not want our sisters and children to become victims of human trafficking, therefore the two laws are very important for our country," she said.
She said the content of the law places a high value on human life and provides protection for victims without discrimination as is everyone's right in Timor.
Under the new law, the Timor-Leste government will be responsible for coordinating with embassies to return foreign victims of trafficking to their country of origin with dignity. "We must implement this law effectively," she said.
She said organized crime occurred as a result of economic conditions, which forced some people to engage in human exploitation. She hoped that Timorese people would protect each other from such crimes in the future.
Meanwhile, Justice Minister Ivo Jorge Valente said the government is planning to establish the Commission to Fight Against Human Trafficking, which will be responsible for devising a strategic plan for the implementation of the law in order to protect vulnerable groups.
"It is a new law so it will take time to implement," he said. He said the commission will consist of representatives from the ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Social Solidarity and Interior Ministry, and will also involve the Immigration department and civil society.
He said the main role of the commission was to raise awareness among communities about the content of the law and the different characteristics of human trafficking.