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S’pore’s anti-trafficking norms must evolve

This article is written in response to Singapore’s accession to the UN TIP Protoccol on 29 September 2015. It was first published by TODAY, Voices, on 6 October 2015.

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By Tam Peck Hoon, Campaign Manager, Stoptraffickingsg Campaign, Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics

The Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) welcomes Singapore’s accession to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (“Singapore accedes to UN protocol against trafficking in persons”; Sept 29, online).

How significant this will be in fighting human trafficking here depends, however, on the extent to which our policies and practices comply with the protocol’s provisions.

For example, while Article 6, sub-article 1 of the protocol requires that privacy and identity protection be extended to victims of trafficking in persons, Singapore’s new Prevention of Human Trafficking Act extends this only to sex-trafficked victims.

Shelter and rehabilitation of victims is guaranteed only for victims below the age of 16, whereas the majority of trafficking cases affect those above that age.

The StopTraffickingSG campaign, led by HOME and launched last year, urges the Government to guarantee the rights of victims to work, rehabilitation and to not be prosecuted if they are found to be undocumented.

These rights are important for obtaining victims’ co-operation in reporting and testifying against their traffickers. Research has shown that to tackle trafficking effectively, adopting a victim-centric approach is important.

HOME’s experience has shown that the fear of reprisal and the pressure to support their families discourage victims from filing complaints to the authorities. The Prevention of Human Trafficking Act does not recognise this reality.

It is also unclear if the definition of trafficking adopted by the Government to identify and prosecute trafficked victims is in line with the provisions of the protocol.

For instance, important trafficking indicators such as ‘deception’, ‘fraud’ and ‘forced labour’ are not defined in the law.

HOME has identified and submitted more than 20 cases for investigations. Most were not assessed to be trafficking, however, and the reasons not disclosed because the authorities are not required by law to do so.

Efforts to make Singapore safe from traffickers will rely on close collaboration and dialogue with civil society. As a signatory of the protocol, Singapore is obliged to take the necessary steps to comply with international anti-trafficking norms.

We are hopeful the law here will eventually evolve into one that will reflect these standards.

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