Published: 02 October 2018
Assoc Prof Fatimah Lateef: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) to update the number of prosecutions, convictions and investigations carried out against cases of human trafficking; and (b) what is the Government’s response to Singapore’s position in Tier 2 of the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report published by the U.S. Department of State.
1. Since the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA) was enacted in 2015, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) have received information on and investigated 177 cases of alleged sex and labour trafficking. Eight were found to be substantiated as trafficking cases, while the other 169 were not. Of the eight trafficking cases, four cases have been concluded with four persons convicted under the PHTA, fined up to $30,000, and sentenced to imprisonment terms ranging from 38 to 80 months. The remaining four cases are still undergoing court proceedings.
2. The United States (U.S.) Department of State’s ranking of Singapore in Tier 2 of the 2018 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report means that, in their view, we do not fully meet the “minimum standards” for the Elimination of Trafficking in Persons under the U.S. Trafficking Victims Protection Act 2000, but we are making “significant efforts”.
3. We do not share the U.S.’ view. Our laws are tough and fair, and our approach to human trafficking is, like our approach to any other crime, uncompromising. The report misrepresents ground realities.
4. For example, the report alleges that “large numbers” of migrant workers experience conditions indicative of labour trafficking in Singapore, but provides no statistics to back this claim. On the contrary, MOM surveyed about 1,000 foreign domestic workers in 2015, and found that approximately 97% of them were satisfied with working in Singapore, and approximately 80% said that they would recommend Singapore to their friends and relatives as a place to work. The results were similar to an earlier survey done in 2014.
5. The report also claims that Police did not consistently screen for trafficking indicators among women apprehended in law enforcement operations. On the contrary, all persons found to have been engaging in vice activities are interviewed and assessed by the Police to ascertain if they might be TIP victims. Frontline officers from MOM, SPF and Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) are issued with a ‘TIP awareness card’ containing the key elements and indicators of TIP to aid their identification of possible victims. They are then referred to specialised TIP units in MOM or SPF for follow-up investigations.
6. Singapore takes a serious view of TIP. We have in place robust laws and processes, as well as a committed and competent law enforcement system, to ensure that we are not a destination for human traffickers. We have achieved several significant milestones in our efforts against TIP, such as the enactment of PHTA in 2015, which prescribes severe penalties for such crimes. This includes a mandatory prison sentence of up to 10 years. For first-time offenders, the court may also impose a fine of up to S$100,000 and caning of up to six strokes. For recalcitrant offenders, the law prescribes mandatory caning of up to nine strokes.
7. In addition to investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases under the PHTA, Singapore also adopts a proactive approach to detect and deal early with cases that have the potential to become TIP cases. Our wider legal framework comprises various pieces of legislation to protect women and workers in Singapore, such as the Women’s Charter and Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Under this framework, enforcement agencies like SPF and MOM conduct regular operations to detect and deter illegal activities that may be indicative of human trafficking, such as vice activities and illegal labour. Our pre-emptive enforcement stance has helped to keep the number of TIP cases low.
8. The PHTA also provides measures for the care of TIP victims to encourage the reporting of trafficking activities. These include mandatory in-camera court proceedings for child victims, media gag-order for all proceedings involving sexual exploitation, and protection for informers to incentivise the reporting of TIP activity.
9. In addition to the enactment of PHTA, Singapore acceded to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (“UN TIP Protocol”) in 2015. The UN TIP Protocol lays out international standards for the elimination of TIP, and seeks to prevent, suppress and punish TIP perpetrators while protecting victims and promoting cooperation among State Parties to meet these objectives. Singapore is fully in compliance with the Protocol.
10. The Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons (“TIP Taskforce”), formed in 2010 and comprising six ministries, the Police, ICA, and Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), actively engages various stakeholders, including Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), embassies and academics, to co-develop our strategy to combat TIP. The TIP Taskforce conducted its annual stakeholder engagement session in July 2018, which was attended by over 40 stakeholders.
11. The TIP Taskforce also regularly engages the U.S. on TIP-related matters. We have consistently clarified the misrepresentations set out in this and previous annual reports, but regrettably, the misconceptions remain. We strongly urge the U.S. to seek clarification and better understand Singapore’s actual ground situation and approach to combat TIP, and not make unsubstantiated claims.