Singapore ‘still not meeting minimum standards to curb human trafficking’

Foreign prostitutes plying their trade along Geylang Road. Advocates say human trafficking remains a worrying problem, contributing to estimated annual profits in Asia of US$10 billion (S$12.9 billion). -- ST FILE PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Foreign prostitutes plying their trade along Geylang Road. Advocates say human trafficking remains a worrying problem, contributing to estimated annual profits in Asia of US$10 billion (S$12.9 billion). — ST FILE PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE — The Republic still falls short of the minimum international standards for the elimination of human trafficking, although it has made significant efforts in this area, said the latest Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report released yesterday by the United States Department of State.

Singapore remains in Tier 2 of a four-tier system, where Tier 1 represents countries whose governments fully comply with the minimum international standards of protecting migrant workers from forced labour or other forms of human trafficking.

The report — which has drawn forceful rebuttals from the Singapore Government in the past for “misrepresentation” — noted that stringent sentences were imposed on two convicted sex traffickers, but no labour traffickers were prosecuted or convicted.

While the Government has developed an improved mechanism for case referral among government, civil society and foreign embassies, it “continued to face difficulties” in identifying and building evidence in cases. “After investigating 294 new labour cases and 53 sex-trafficking cases, the Government substantiated 24 sex-trafficking cases and one labour-trafficking case,” the report stated.

It said the authorities here might have “failed to recognise the elements of trafficking among individuals who reportedly migrated to Singapore willingly or who did not experience physical confinement or abuse” and that the Government and civil societies continued to disagree on whether specific cases amounted to trafficking.

And while the new case referral process introduced in August last year has improved coordination between stakeholders, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and foreign embassies said “a lack of transparency regarding ongoing cases remained a problem”. The Government also did not “consistently ensure” social-service professionals were present during screening interviews with victims, although NGOs reported an improvement in this area.

Singapore has mostly been placed in Tier 2 since the US began publishing the annual report in 2001 but, in 2010, it slipped into the Tier 2 Watchlist category for countries that have a significant number of trafficking victims and which failed to show efforts to combat the situation. That year, the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons was formed. The task force — comprising several government agencies — launched a National Plan of Action in 2012.

In November, Member of Parliament Christopher de Souza is expected to table draft legislation to prevent human trafficking in Parliament.

Article first published in TODAY, June 21, 2014.

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