04 Nov 2014

Second Reading of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill - Speech by Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs

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Introduction – Support for the Bill

Mr Deputy Speaker, the Ministry of Home Affairs supports the Bill. The Member’s initiative is a significant effort given the complex and multi-faceted nature of trafficking in persons, or TIP in short. We thank him for advocating more measures to combat TIP, and for the inclusive approach that he has adopted in developing the Bill. Not only did the Member engage extensively with various Government agencies, he also mobilised and consulted a wide spectrum of groups such as civil society, businesses, residents and students to canvass for ideas and suggestions. Through the process, the Member has raised considerable public awareness on TIP.

Government Efforts against TIP

2. The Government takes the threat of TIP seriously. The Inter-Agency Taskforce, which my Ministry co-leads with the Ministry of Manpower, was established in 2010 to develop a coordinated strategy to combat TIP. As part of its effort, a National Plan of Action, comprising 31 initiatives, was launched in 2012. The Taskforce is also active in regional efforts, as TIP is transnational and close cooperation between countries is necessary to eliminate trafficking at the source as well as the destination.

3. Today, in terms of legislation, we have several laws that contain provisions to criminalise various aspects of human trafficking. These include the Penal Code, Women’s Charter, Children and Young Persons Act, and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. We have refined these laws progressively and will continue to do so to ensure that they are updated, relevant and support the proposed Bill in dealing with TIP cases.

4. But the government’s approach against TIP is not just about having effective and deterrent laws. The Taskforce has worked on increasing public awareness, removing barriers that may impede victims from approaching authorities for assistance, improving triage protocols used by investigators to identify victims, enhancing capabilities of frontline officers and enhancing partnerships with civil society. Strong laws, effective enforcement and an appropriate victim protection framework have enabled us to keep the TIP situation in Singapore under control.

Benefits of the Bill

5. The Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill, when implemented, will add on to our arsenal against TIP, and help us deal with the many facets of TIP more comprehensively. It will give Singapore a clear signature on this issue while enhancing the operational effectiveness of the Police and other enforcement agencies.

6. First, it provides a comprehensive definition for the offence of trafficking in persons. This ensures that we can act firmly against different forms of human trafficking. Take, for example, a lady who was told she would be waitressing in Singapore, only to be forced into prostitution upon arrival. In the past, the perpetrators would have been taken to task under acombination of labour and penal laws, such as the offence of “Procuring Women for Prostitution” under the Women’s Charter. Now, such cases can be investigated and prosecuted under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill, in a holistic manner. All elements of the offence – the recruitment of a person through coercion and for the purpose of exploitation – will be investigated and taken into consideration during prosecution. Perpetrators will be liable for a mandatory prison sentence of up to 10 years and fine of up to $100,000 for the first offence. The court may also levy caning of up to six strokes for the first offence, and mandatory caning of up to nine strokes is prescribed for recalcitrant offenders. We support these stiff penalties, as they will serve as a strong deterrent against an exploitative and serious crime.

7. For children, the Bill also lowers the threshold of proof so that we are able to initiate investigations more easily and provide better protection. If the victim is a child, the perpetrator will be considered to have trafficked the child even if he does not use coercive means to do so; it is enough that the perpetrator recruits, conveys or harbours the child with the intention to exploit the child.

8. Second, the Bill supports our collaboration with external law enforcement agencies when looking into cases where persons are trafficked to, or through, Singapore. Local enforcement officers will also have powers to go after intermediaries involved in the trafficking chain.

9. Third, the Bill will encourage the reporting of TIP crimes. This is achieved through provisions to protect informers. For instance, information provided by informers cannot be admitted as evidence in any civil or criminal proceeding. In addition, no witness shall be obliged or permitted to disclose particulars of any informer which might lead to the informer’s discovery. Together with the increased public awareness from campaigns by the Taskforce and our partners, we hope that such measures can encourage persons, whether witnesses or victims, to step forward and work with authorities to eradicate TIP in Singapore.

PHT Bill – Part of a Framework against Transnational Crime

10. Coupled with other developments, such as the recent amendments to the Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Serious Crimes (Confiscation of Benefits) Act in July 2014, and the upcoming Organised Crime Bill to be introduced in 2015, the Bill will strengthen our ability to go after syndicated crimes. This Bill also aligns us with standards in the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, which we intend to ratify soon.

Managing Cases, Supporting Victims

11. Mr Deputy Speaker, several Members have spoken about victim care and protection. Let me assure the House that the protection of trafficked victims is a priority. Mr de Souza himself contemplated long on this when drafting the Bill. Their safety and wellbeing is key, especially when such persons may have been subject to abuse and exploitation. Essential victim care is also critical to ensure that victims are emotionally and physically able to assist in investigations, which in turn allows us to go after the perpetrators of crime. Allow me to elaborate on how we manage cases and support victims, from the time victims are identified, to the time their cases are concluded.

12. Under the Police’s Standard Operating Procedure for the investigation and handling of TIP cases, combating TIP begins with our front line officers. These officers play a crucial role in detecting potential TIP cases. Any officer who may come into contact with victims of trafficking, including Police and MOM officers doing inspections, and ICA officers at the checkpoints, are given a card with trafficking indicators and regular training to help them identify potential victims. Besides proactive efforts by officers, victims may be referred to the Police by NGOs or concerned members of the public. There are also multiple channels for victims to approach Police or other relevant authorities.

13. Once alerted to a potential trafficking case, the case will be handed over to specialist investigators who are trained in techniques to pick up behavioural indicators, while easing the trauma faced by victims. This comprehensive triaging process is applied to anyone who might be a potential victim. Investigations into crimes such as sexual assault or abuse follow the same process. To ensure that trafficked victims do not have to stay in Singapore for long periods unnecessarily, the Police works closely with AGC to fast track the investigation and prosecution of such cases so that victims can return home as soon as possible.

14. The Taskforce believes in empowering and working closely with Voluntary Welfare Organisations, NGOs and other strategic partners to provide the necessary care and protection to needy victims. Each TIP case is unique, and careful consideration is required to determine the needs of each victim. Upon their identification, all adult victims connected with the case are offered the option to be sheltered at a Government-funded facility. Victims will receive food and, if necessary, counselling services, medical care, consular support, and the choice to work. They may also be provided with basic conversational English lessons taught by volunteers, and job skills training, in the shelter. Some adult victims take up the offer to stay in the shelter, but others prefer to stay with friends or relatives in Singapore. These victims may still approach the Government for help at any point in time. For child victims, who are likely to be more vulnerable, our approach is slightly different. We require that they stay in shelters so that their safety can be ensured and they can be provided with specialised care as soon as possible.

15. All these are consistent with international benchmark including the UK Department of Justice’s working arrangements for victim welfare which Mr Yam alluded to.

16. During the trial, trafficked victims are accorded privacy and dignity. Besides the provisions in the Bill, the courts are vested with the discretion, through the Supreme Court of Judicature Act and the State Courts Act, to issue media gag orders or orders that trials be held in camera, for any case.

17. Dr Janil Puthucheary has raised points about whether the handling of the victims is left to a Police or MOM officer’s discretion on the ground. I would like to assure him that this too falls within the protocols and guidelines, co-developed by MSF, MOM and the Police, to ensure that every victim gets the help that he or she needs, and is treated with care and dignity.

18. The current model of victim care and support makes a careful individual assessment of each case and delivers the required support services to victims promptly and reliably, based on unique needs and circumstances. It is for these reasons that it is neither helpful nor necessary to exhaustively hardwire all the measures that can be accorded in law. This may in fact complicate the process by making it more rigid. Beyond baseline victim care measures, additional help can also be rendered on a needs basis, to support each victim who comes forward to seek help. While doing this, we need to ensure that the protection given to TIP victims is not disproportionate to the protection accorded to victims of other serious crimes in Singapore.

19. Let me assure all Members that we see victim care and protection as an integral part of our enforcement strategy, and are committed to supporting each victim and ensuring his or her safety and wellbeing. We will continually monitor the situation and supplement our existing protection measures, which will now include the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act, where necessary.

20. With respect to Mr Yam and Dr Intan’s point about the capacity in our shelters, we will also continue to work with experienced service providers to ensure that our shelters are sufficient to support the needs of the trafficked victims.

Partnerships

21. Mr Deputy Speaker, given the cross-border nature of TIP crimes, even as destination countries such as Singapore play their part to combat TIP, source and transit countries must also work to eliminate factors, such as poverty and unemployment, that could lure vulnerable and unsuspecting persons to undertake risky ventures. All countries in the trafficking chain need strong laws that are rigorously enforced to eradicate syndicates that prey on such victims. Indeed, we would like to see and hear how intensively these source countries have arrested traffickers, brought them to justice, and broken up the syndicates that organised them. With respect to Mr Giam’s question on ensuring a victim’s safe return to their home countries, the Taskforce agencies agree that this is an important aspect of victim care. We are not there yet. We are working with suitable partners both locally, and in foreign jurisdictions, to ensure that, when a victim is identified and returns home, the victim is properly rehabilitated and reintegrated, in order to prevent the victim from re-entering the trafficking cycle.

22. To combat TIP in the region, we work with other ASEAN Member States through platforms such as the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting on Transnational Crime, as well as the ASEAN Senior Officials Meeting on Transnational Crime and its Working Group on Trafficking in Persons. Beyond ASEAN, we work with partners such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Group of Friends United against Human Trafficking.

23. The Police have also been working through INTERPOL to share information on trafficking, as well as offer assistance to investigate into potential TIP cases. With the establishment of the INTERPOL Global Complex for Innovation in Singapore, we will have a cutting-edge research and development facility for the identification of crimes and criminals, training, operational support and partnerships, for better enforcement against transnational and syndicated crimes such as human trafficking.

24. We will continue to forge strong partnerships with our regional neighbours and international partners so that we can cooperate effectively against transnational syndicates, keep ahead of global criminal trends and activities, and stem TIP upstream.

Conclusion

25. I thank Mr de Souza for initiating this Private Member’s Bill. This exemplifies the kind of partnership with stakeholders that the Government needs against the scourge of TIP. I urge Members to give your fullest support to the Bill.

Annex

Christopher de Souza's response speech.pdf
SMS MOM TIP Bill Speech.pdf


 

Last Updated on 13 Aug 2015
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