Trafficking in Singapore

National approach against human trafficking needs clear, specific actions

A public consultation to obtain feedback on the national approach against human trafficking in Singapore was organised by the trafficking in persons taskforce on 22 October 2015 . The Stoptraffickingsg team commends the approach for its long term objectives but it lacks specific milestones, actions and corresponding timelines to combat trafficking.

By Stoptraffickingsg

The Public Consultation on the National Approach Against Trafficking in Persons (National Approach) held on 22 October* left us with a feeling of ambivalence. As a general outlining of priorities and areas of concern, the National Approach was certainly a step in the right direction. It touched on important areas that had previously been neglected- notably, research, compensation, as well as prevention efforts in the home countries of potential victims.

Whilst the National Approach is commendable for gearing anti-trafficking efforts towards long term objectives, it lacks specific milestones, actions and corresponding timelines to combat trafficking. It leaves us feeling troubled that the broad outcomes put forward in the National Approach might supplant rather than guide a Plan of Action.

This is worrying given the urgency with which many of us regard the human trafficking tragedy. Without clear, specific goals, it will be challenging to evaluate the effectiveness of the National Approach in combating trafficking.

Regrettably too, the National Approach does not demonstrate a clear commitment to the principle of victim protection. The Taskforce against Trafficking in Persons (Taskforce) continues to take a “case-by-case” approach in addressing the needs of victims. This practice seems to stem from the need to guard against false-reporting by potential victims.

In contrast, a victim-centred approach enshrined in the legislation aims to provide protection for all victims. The right to shelter, to work and legal immunity for infringements committed when trafficked are rights that empower and incentivise victims to report their cases to the authorities. As long as a prima facie case can be established, victims should be accorded the full protection provided.

HOME raised the concern that victims often have to endure a drawn-out period of investigation without being informed of decisions made or where investigations are headed. This concern is echoed by Socio-Legal Studies academic Dennis Galligan(1987), who in his discussion on discretionary power (vs the written rule of law), emphasised the importance of “settled rules” and “stability” to give parties involved an awareness of the process so that they can plan their lives with minimal disruptions.

Similarly, several human rights documents, in particular the European Convention on Human Rights, stress that even when the law grants authorities discretionary power, that it should remain “sufficiently accessible [to parties involved]” and “sufficiently precise in its formulation to be reasonably foreseeable”.

Some participants also asked for clarifications on how the Taskforce assesses cases referred to them by NGOs. A number of cases identified by NGOs as trafficking have not been accepted by the Taskforce even though both parties use the UN indicators of trafficking in their assessment. The question is how we can address the gap in interpretation between both parties.

Overall, we are struck by how the National Approach does not provide a clear plan to address the urgency of victim predicaments. We believe that given the injustice faced by victims, false-reporting should be treated as the exception rather than the rule.

*Taskforce representatives present:

  • Zhang Wei Han. Deputy Director, Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA)
  • Marvin Sim. Senior Director, MHA
  • Alvin Lim. Divisional Director, Ministry of Manpower (MOM) ; Co-chair, Interagency Taskforce
  • Tan Fang Qun, Deputy Director, MOM #stoptraffickingsg



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