Trafficking in Singapore

Examining Singaporean Apathy and Misunderstandings about Human Trafficking

 stoptraffick

On 3 November 2014, the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill was passed in the Singapore Parliament, about a month after it was first introduced by MP Christopher de Souza as a private member’s bill. While many policymakers have praised the initiative, it has received mixed reviews from civil society. Some non-governmental organisations (NGOs), for example, have voiced concerns and urged members of the public to write to their respective MPs, especially regarding the inadequacies of victim protection in the new law. After surveying social media and asking some Singaporeans, I argue that human trafficking, as a public policy issue, has unfortunately not gained much traction among the general public. This non-exhaustive and cursory list aims to understand why. 

6 Reasons Why Human Trafficking is Not Seen as an Issue in Singapore 

  1. Singaporeans generally do not hear much about human trafficking in the news or on social media.

  2. Since it does not appear in their Twitter or Facebook feeds (where we follow a bunch of news stuff), not many Singaporeans know about human trafficking – its different forms, causes and consequences.

  3. The lack of visibility regarding this issue in Singapore also means that the issue is out of sight and out of mind for many Singaporeans. When prompted to express the first thing that comes to mind when we think about human trafficking, many of us are likely to think about sex trafficking since the media seems fixated on stories about how individuals have been tricked into prostitution. This is unfortunate and misleading because labour trafficking is likely far more prevalent in Singapore. 

  4. Singapore is frequently assumed to be safe and clean because laws are strictly enforced. Consequently, one might reasonably ask: How is it possible to have human trafficking here in the first place? Singaporeans understandably apply what they know or assume about certain aspects of Singapore to less familiar areas – such as human trafficking.

  5. Not many Singaporeans know of avenues to help to combat human trafficking. However, more people can be involved as anti-trafficking is a community effort. This includes calling hotlines for someone in need, spreading the anti-trafficking messages and also to encourage businesses not to hire trafficked workers.

  6. There are also grey areas, such as fake or forced marriages and exploitative work contracts that render individuals vulnerable to further exploitation in Singapore.

The country’s first-ever anti-human trafficking law holds much potential in finally addressing this serious problem especially if victim-centered concerns articulated by advocacy groups in civil society are listened to and enacted.

*The guest writer for this blog is Irna Nurlina, who is a graduate student in political science at the National University of Singapore (NUS) with research interests focused on identity and migration. She is a member of the human trafficking group based at NUS, under the direction of Dr. Kevin McGahan, which addresses various aspects of the politics and policies of human trafficking.

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