The 2nd reading of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill is scheduled for 3 November 2014. On the eve, Lawyer Ronald JJ Wong lends his voice for a victim-centric anti-trafficking legislation in Singapore.
Below is a summary of his paper “A Critique of International and Singapore Legal Treatments of Trafficking in Persons”. The full article is first published in the July 2014 edition of the Singapore Journal of Legal Studies (http://law.nus.edu.sg/sjls/current.asp)
Ronald Wong graduated with an LLB from the National University of Singapore and is an Associate with Rajah & Tann LLP
First, Wong importantly notes that anti-trafficking legislation as it currently stands in Singapore is scattered across various different statutes. The article goes on to analyse the adequacy of these disparate pieces of legislation in their ability to protect victims of trafficking in persons (TIP). Wong comments that “victim-centred provisions are glaringly absent” from the Penal Code, the Women’s Charter and the Children and Young Persons Act. Instead, the legislation so listed is focused on criminalising various conducts rather than offering specific provisions to address secondary victimisation. Examples of what the latter provisions should look like include: ensuring non-contact between the victim and perpetrator; immunity from prosecution; ensuring the privacy and confidentiality of any subsequent proceedings in court and so forth. There are other aspects of victim care that should not be predicated on witness co-operation by the TIP victim, and certainly should not be predicated on successful prosecution of the trafficker. Wong points out that if a person, for all objective intents and purposes, is considered a TIP victim then they will continue to suffer emotional trauma regardless of the outcome of a court case. Victim-care programs should therefore adopt a holistic approach, helping to empower the victim rather than making them feel like the object of lawyers and the criminal justice system. Such measures include providing welfare services such as shelter, basic necessities, counselling, rehabilitation programs, medical treatment, legal aid, temporary employment and/or vocational training and safe repatriation. Wong also considers wider community measures such as providing immunity to NGOs assisting in tackling TIP, and creating a national hotline for TIP victims.
Moreover, it is important that Wong draws attention to Singapore legislation that perpetuates the image of the “helpless female sexual victim”, while not only ignoring other forms of exploitation but also implying that men cannot be victims of TIP. Highlighting the lack of gender-neutrality in current Singapore legislation is central to the end-goal of a victim-centric law for TIP because it reinforces the idea that protection against human trafficking, and victim care services, should be provided as a basic human right to all victims, regardless of gender (and indeed race, nationality and age). Wong notes, among other things, that a strong victim-centred approach would tailor victim support services to the individual victim and their unique experience, rather than imposing a pre-conceived notion of what a “helpless female” might need.
In his concluding remarks, along with various proposals, Wong states that a victim-centred, victim-welfare approach should be adopted to any omnibus anti-trafficking legislation introduced in Singapore. This, he says, should be complemented by an “intentional collaborative approach with civil society organisations and NGOs”.