Adequate victim assistance and protection serve the interest both of the victim and of prosecution of the offenders. From a law enforcement perspective, poor victim assistance and protection may discourage victims from seeking assistance from law enforcement officials for fear of mistreatment, deportation or potential risks to their personal safety.”
– UNODC, Model Law on Trafficking in Persons, p.44
At first glance, the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill currently being debated in Parliament may appear to finally end Singapore’s inability to deal with trafficking effectively. On closer inspection however there are some glaring oversights and a disproportionate focus on enforcement, while victim support is woefully understated. Of the 19-page long Bill introduced by MP Christopher de Souza in October, six full pages were dedicated to a section on “Enforcement” while only two pages were dedicated to “Victim Protection and Assistance”. In percentage terms the “Enforcement” section takes up 30% of the Bill, while the “Victim Protection and Assistance” section takes up only 10% of the bill. This disparity is something that we are particularly concerned about, and what this article will go on to examine.
StopTraffickingSg is a campaign initiated by AWARE, HOME, Maruah, Project X, the Singapore Committee for UN Women, and TWC2. It advocates the inclusion of victims’ rights in the proposed Bill. Since the release of the draft, the six organizations have collectively agreed on a set of amendments that MP Christopher de Souza should take into serious consideration. Amongst these urgent recommendations, one of which calls for the removal of Part 3 of the Bill—the section on Enforcement, as the current provisions under the Criminal Procedures Code of Singapore would suffice.
The United Nations Office for Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has put together a model law for States to take into consideration when drafting national laws against human trafficking. In the model law, great emphasis is given to victim protection and assistance and how to right the wrongs done to them by traffickers; there is not a section on enforcement. It states that “it is of particular importance that any legislation on trafficking in persons be in line with a State’s constitutional principles, the basic concepts of its legal system, its existing legal structure and enforcement arrangements, and that definitions used in such legislation on trafficking in persons be consistent with similar definitions used in other laws.” (emphasis added)
Much of the current section on enforcement by de Souza is based on the Criminal Procedures Code (CPC), and the Police Force Act. For example, Section 9 on “Power to arrest without warrant” is based on Article 64 of the CPC; Sections 10 and 11 on “Arrest how made” and “No unnecessary restraint” are based on Articles 75 and 76 of the CPC; and Section 15 on “Enforcement officers to be armed” is based on Article 22 of the Police Force Act. This list is not exhaustive. As such, it is not clear as to why there is a need for an enforcement section.
There are two things that are particularly worrying about Part 3 of the Bill.
Firstly, de Souza’s Bill extends the current powers granted to police officers under the CPC to non-police officers. In Section 7 of the Bill, he extends traditional police powers such as the authority to arrest without warrant, forcibly gain entry into premises, and to be armed to:
- “public officers appointed as employment inspectors under section 3(2) of the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act”;
- “public officers appointed as inspectors under section 15F(1) of the Human Organ Transplant Act”; and
- unnamed “public officers appointed by the Minister as enforcement officers for the purposes of this Act”.
Furthermore, Article 8(3) of the draft Bill enables all these officers to “break open any outer or inner door or window leading to the premises; forcibly enter the premises; or remove by force any obstruction to such entry”. This article finds its precedent in Article 77(4) of the CPC. However, under the CPC, only “a police officer with authority to arrest or a person acting under an arrest warrant” (emphasis added) has the power to forcibly gain entry to premises. By removing this line, the Bill not only gives non-police officers extraordinary new powers, but it also effectively removes the mechanism that ensures accountability.
Secondly, the undue emphasis of enforcement over victim protection reveals a worrying approach that this Bill is taking. Victim protection is of utmost importance because it encourages and empowers victims to come forward to report crimes against them. Without victims to report, testify and stand witness against their perpetrators, this Bill will not be effective at all. Without legal guarantees to work while on trial, to not be prosecuted for crimes they commit under duress, and to be provided basic care and protection such as medical treatment and legal aid, victims will most likely not come forward.
Not only is this part of the Bill severely lacking, there is also an implicit promotion of raids to presumably seek out or “rescue” victims of trafficking. This deduction was also made because the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons has championed raids of sex spaces as a strategy to combat trafficking. A critique of this position and the harmful implications of it has been delineated by Project X. Of particular concern and something worth reiterating is how violent raids by nature are. Officers come in a pack, armed with batons, tasers, and sticks against a group of people who will be unarmed. They surround the premises so that people are trapped, breaking doors and shouting—sometimes even shouting vulgarities. Furthermore, such raids result in the arrest, detention, and deportation of most, if not everyone, in the premises. If police raids becomes an anti-trafficking strategy and not just a (horrible) anti-vice strategy, it will no doubt result in secondary traumatisation and even secondary victimisation of people who have been trafficked.
In addition, it is hard to imagine such raids occurring in a foreign worker dormitory or in the house of an employer of a domestic worker. As such, there seems to be a reduction of human trafficking to merely sex trafficking and the resulting “over-sexualizing” of the discourse on trafficking.
In India, organized groups of sex workers have educated and empowered sex workers to identify trafficked persons in brothels and to provide them with resources for help. This is something we should learn from for anti-trafficking work in all industries. It involves outreach and empowering workers with knowledge about their rights and responsibilities, and where to seek resources for help. We should be wary of “saviour” mentality as this further reduces the agency of victim-survivors—people who already have had their agency robbed from them.
As such, we call from the removal of Part 3 of the draft Bill, and for enforcement officers to adhere strictly to the provisions under the Criminal Procedures Code and related existing statutes. Finally, this article merely addresses one part of our critique of the Bill. This should not be taken as a standalone critique. The effectiveness of the Bill can only be enhanced if all our interdependent recommendations are taken into consideration.