Member of Parliament Mr Christopher de Souza introduced the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill ("the Bill") for First Reading in Parliament today.
2. In November 2013, Mr Christopher de Souza announced in Parliament his intention to introduce a Private Member's Bill to criminalise the trafficking of persons for the purpose of exploitation. The Government supported the initiative. The inter-agency TIP Taskforce, co-led by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower, has worked closely with the MP to develop the Bill.
3. Trafficking-In-Persons (TIP) is a transnational crime where vulnerable individuals are recruited and conveyed, often through coercive or deceitful means, for the purpose of exploitation. Through our criminal laws and active enforcement, the TIP situation in Singapore has been kept under control. Notwithstanding this, Singapore remains vulnerable to TIP activities due to our status as a regional economic and transport hub.
4. The Bill, as a dedicated anti-TIP legislation, supplements our current legislative framework by dealing with TIP and related activities in a more targeted manner, and sends a strong signal on Singapore's commitment against these crimes.
Key Provisions in the Bill
5. The key provisions of the Bill are as follows:
The Bill creates a formal definition of TIP as set out in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, Supplementing the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime ("The UN TIP Protocol"). The TIP offence is gender-neutral and the consent of a trafficked victim to the intended exploitation will not be a valid defence.
Besides traffickers, the Bill sets out acts which constitute abetment of the TIP offence. In addition, it will also be an offence for a person to receive any payment in connection with the exploitation of another person with the knowledge that he or she has been trafficked.
As TIP is a serious crime, deterrent penalties in the form of mandatory imprisonment terms and fines are prescribed. The penalty for the TIP offence is imprisonment for up to 10 years and a maximum fine of $100,000. Convicted persons may also face up to six strokes of the cane. For repeat offenders, the penalties will be imprisonment for up to 15 years and a maximum fine of $150,000. Caning of up to nine strokes will also be mandatory for repeat offenders.
c. Protection of vulnerable persons
The Bill defines a person under 18 years old as a child, as aligned with international standards, and stipulates lower legal requirements for the TIP offence to be made out for child victims. In addition, the abuse of a victim's vulnerability (such as his or her physical or mental incapacity) is an aggravating factor which may warrant heavier punishment within the range of penalties.
d. Enforcement powers
The Bill provides powers for specialised officers from the Ministry of Manpower, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Home Affairs to investigate persons involved in TIP or suspected TIP cases. The provisions are adapted from existing legislation and include powers of search and seizure, investigation, and arrest without warrant.
e. Victim protection and support measures
The Bill adapts relevant legal provisions with regard to in camera proceedings. The Court can order proceedings involving sexual exploitation offences to be held in camera to protect the identity of victims and encourage them to testify in confidence. In camera proceedings are mandatory where the victim is a child. In addition, a publication gag order will be in force for all sexual exploitation cases.
The Bill also empowers the Director of Social Welfare to provide trafficked victims with such assistance as he considers practicable and necessary, including temporary shelter and counselling services. A consequential amendment is made to the Children and Young Person's Act (Cap. 38) to allow trafficked child victims to be committed to a place of safety to ensure they receive the necessary care.
6. Mr de Souza and the TIP Taskforce thank all persons and organisations for their invaluable feedback and assistance in making this Bill come to fruition. It has been an intense but fulfilling eleven-month consultation exercise with six consultations and the canvassing of views from 300 participants including religious and secular bodies, VWOs, NGOs and well-meaning Singaporeans. We hope that this Bill, when passed, will effectively deter the trafficking of innocent victims on and through our shores.
Mr Christopher de Souza and
Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking-in-Persons