The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) agrees with the US State Department’s Tier 2 ranking of Singapore’s anti-trafficking efforts. We are glad that the issues we raised in our submission have been reflected in the State Department’s report.
Even though the Singapore government has taken steps to tackle the problem, its measures still fall short of international standards. The Prevention of Human Trafficking Act fails to deliver basic rights to trafficked victims, even though research supports the view that successful identification and prosecution of trafficking cases depends on an approach which provides adequate victim support measures. For instance, the right to shelter is not guaranteed to adult trafficked victims, nor is the right to work. Those who become undocumented or have violated work pass regulations while in a trafficked situation are not protected against prosecution.
These limitations discourage trafficked victims from cooperating with the authorities. The Act is also severely limited by the lack of clear definitions of elements of trafficking in persons, a failure to explicitly cover attempted exploitation, a distinct lack of a victim-centric approach, and inadequate victim support measures.
The myth of the ‘perfect victim’– a woman locked and chained up in a room and forced into prostitution, needs to be dispelled. Reality is much more complicated. Psychological coercion, deception about the nature and conditions of work, crippling recruitment debts and a policy which forbids switching employers are some of the factors that lead to workers being trafficked. However, the Act does not reflect this reality.
The Inter-AgencyTaskforce to combat Trafficking in Persons also does not have clear and readily available guidelines on how cases are handled. Of the 18 victims referred to the Taskforce by HOME from August 2013 to December 2014, 6 were accepted as TIP cases, 8 were rejected, and 4 are still pending. The 6 cases were accepted without any explanation, and 8 rejected cases were deemed to be cases where deception and abuse were inflicted ‘not for the purposes of forced labour’. No further elaboration was given.
Cases may take two years or more to investigate, and HOME remains the only shelter dedicated to trafficking victims. Due to the non-transferability of work permits, and the fact that the Temporary Jobs Scheme only allows victims from ‘approved source countries’ to find employment, victims may be left in shelters with limited sources of income.
In order to tackle trafficking in persons effectively, it is vital for the inter-agency task force to address the problems which result in workers being abused and exploited in the first place. When workers have employment protections through progressive labour laws which are consistently enforced, it is more difficult for traffickers to conduct their activities.
HOME leads the Stoptraffickingsg Campaign.