The Government has dismissed parts of a high-level report which identified trafficking of underage prostitutes in New Zealand because it believed the findings were based on media reports which were not backed by police evidence.
The US State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report, launched by Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday, said New Zealand was a "destination country for foreign men and women subjected to forced labour and to an extent, a source country for underage girls subjected to sex trafficking within the country".
The State Department criticised the Government's failure to clamp down on human traffickers. It noted a slight increase in investigations of trafficking offences but emphasised that authorities had not convicted anyone on trafficking offences for seven years, and had not identified a victim of trafficking in nine years.
This was despite evidence of exploitation of migrants within New Zealand.
The report referred to forced labour on foreign-flagged boats in New Zealand waters, the recruitment of sex workers from China and Southeast Asia by employment agents, and a small number of mostly Maori and Pacific children involved in street prostitution in South Auckland.
Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said he understood the claims about underage sex workers were based on media reports in New Zealand newspapers, which did not match police reports.
He also stressed that the Government had already moved to tighten human trafficking laws.
Justice Minister Judith Collins this week recommended that the Crimes Act be amended so that trafficking people within New Zealand would be criminalised.
"This provides law enforcement with the appropriate tools to combat domestic people trafficking as well as improve our standing in the United Nations and with respect to the United States' Trafficking In Persons report," Ms Collins said.
The State Department confirmed that the absence of human trafficking convictions could be a result of the "high evidentiary bar" in current legislation.