Sexual Exploitation in Macau: Business as Usual

Macau is a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) with a territory of 30 km2 and a population of 650,000 inhabitants, known for its wealthy economy, based on the entertainment and gambling industry. With 30 million visitors each year and a high immigrant population (59.3 percent of the population were born outside of Macau and 17 percent of the population are workers without residency), Macau has become home to human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of women and children: as evidenced by the US State Department Report on Human Trafficking in 2017.

Macau has its own jurisdiction under the principle of “One Country, Two Systems”, and the authorities have put in place several laws and mechanisms to prevent, fight and punish human trafficking and sexual exploitation: the Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and of the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others is applicable to Macau since 1998 (Decree of the President of the Republic 30/98 and Chief Executive’s notice 13/2001); and human trafficking and the procurement of prostitutes are crimes punished under the Criminal Code of Macau (articles 153-A and 163).

Additionally, in 2007 Macau authorities created the Human Trafficking Deterrent Measures Concern Committee. This operates under the Security Bureau and aims at coordinating Macau’s anti-trafficking efforts, particularly regarding the study of legal tools to prevent, fight and punish human trafficking and sexual exploitation. There is also significant work being done in raising awareness of trafficking issues, through advertisements, educational projects and the Social Welfare Bureau offering shelter and providing assistance to the victims of abuse.

Despite the Government’s efforts, commercial sexual exploitation remains both prevalent and visible to all. Many sauna and massage parlours advertise pictures of the “masseuses” at the entrances, showing clearly the true intention of their businesses. Interestingly, it also seems as though the law recognises such activities as a problem and has attempted to regulate these businesses, but to no avail. Formally, the admission of minors under 18 years old and the display of “masseuses” are both forbidden by the legal requirements for the licensing of saunas and massage parlours. Likewise, the Commission against Corruption (CCAC) of Macau, in its 2011 Annual Report, stated that “police have been striving to suppress prostitution. They have broken pimping gangs according to the information on the handbills” , which publicise “massage service(s) with pornographic allusion(s)” and are distributed near casinos- this shows that they recognise the link between the saunas, massage parlours and commercial sexual exploitation.

According to the Human Trafficking Deterrent Measures Concern Committee “all cases of human trafficking reported here, including those involving minors, were linked to sexual exploitation”. Victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation are mostly trafficked from Mainland China, but also from Southeast Asia, Russia, Africa and South America. They come to Macau in search of employment opportunities, responding to job advertisements, but upon arrival are forced into prostitution. Traffickers often confiscate their passports and confine them to the sauna and massage parlours or illegal brothels. But only very few cases are investigated and prosecuted. From 2014 to 2017, a total of 17 cases were investigated, 10 of which were confirmed as trafficking and only two were prosecuted. Furthermore, the very few cases which proceed to prosecution and exhibit elements of trafficking are instead met with charges of the “procuring of prostitution”- this is probably due to simpler evidentiary requirements, however these crimes are punished with lighter penalties than trafficking offences.

A serious change of approach has to be taken by the Macau authorities towards anti-trafficking and sexual exploitation law enforcement. Authorities cannot declare, on the one hand that “the government is determined to combat the trafficking in persons crime and has put together relentless efforts” and, on the other hand, close their eyes to the realities of commercial sexual exploitation taking place at illegal brothels, saunas and massage parlours, without any inspections of the sites and any firm and enforced regulation of such businesses to prevent the existence of such exploitative practices.


Statistics and Census Service of the Macau Government, `2016 inter-census global results´, 2017, 46.
US Department of State, `2017 Trafficking in Persons Report´, 2017, 257-258.
Decree of the President of the Republic 30/98, 1998, (Macau SAR) and Chief Executive´s notice 13/2001, 2001, (Macau SAR).
Decree-Law 47/98 from 26 October, 1998 (Macau SAR), article 33.
CCAC is a public entity with dual functions as the corruption fighter and the Ombudsman, it operates independently and is accountable to the Chief Executive of Macau.
Commission against Corruption of Macau, `2011 Annual Report of the Commission against Corruption of Macau´, 2012, 26.
Vitor Quintã, `Government rejects complicity in child sex tourism´, in Macau Business Daily, 2013.
US Department of State, `2017 Trafficking in Persons Report´, 2017, 257-258; Good Shepherd Sisters Macau, ` Press Release on Human Trafficking Awareness Day´, 2012.
US Department of State, `2017 Trafficking in Persons Report´, 2017, 257-258.
Human Trafficking Deterrent Measures Concern Committee, `Data – Human Trafficking Crimes´, 2018.
Human Trafficking Deterrent Measures Concern Committee, `Response to the Trafficking in Persons Report by the U.S. Department of State, 28-06-2017´, 2017.

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