Singapore’s new National Approach Against Trafficking In Persons (2016-2026) is finally ready. Presented at a closed door session with stakeholders on 10th March 2016, four key areas were delineated: prevention of human trafficking, prosecution of offenders, protection of victims, and working in partnership with stakeholders domestically and internationally (See Annex for details).
While the news may not be too exciting, the NGOs did achieve a breakthrough in one key aspect of victim protection and support. All potential trafficking victims will now be afforded the same victim care as proven cases of trafficking. This is a significant departure from the Taskforce’s earlier position to grant victim support on a “case-by-case basis”.
This important news needs to reach all potential victims in Singapore. Victims are often torn between seeking justice for themselves and the worry that they would have to fend for themselves if they did. Reporting a crime committed against them is not a straightforward matter.
The Taskforce gave the assurance that all cases referred are thoroughly investigated, first for trafficking offences, and then for other offences, by the “best” Criminal Investigation Department (CID). They also explained that the threshold for someone to be charged for trafficking is high considering the stiff penalties.
Victim may be reassured on this front, but they continue to face difficulties with the long period of case assessment and the lack of transparency on how the outcomes of cases are decided. None of the 11 cases HOME has referred since the enactment of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act is closed. Some cases that had been rejected in the past were said to have no element of forced labour but little further information was otherwise provided, not just to HOME but also to the victims.
A few questions were also raised about the definition of trafficking and if the Taskforce adhere to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicators (physical coercion, psychological coercion, deception, etc.) when assessing a case. These are old questions but few clear answers have been given to date.
The questions are more urgent now with Singapore’s recent accession to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol) and the ratification of the ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (ACTIP).
Our attention on that day was diverted to the difficulties in proving a case of trafficking. The need to prove the intent [of exploitation] as pivotal was repeatedly emphasized by the Taskforce which also vaguely stated that “all elements have to be met”.
Narrowing down to intent alone not as comprehensive as the ILO indicators, which are meant to determine if there have been the act and means of trafficking as well.
One good news is the announcement that the TIP Public Awareness Grant will continue to receive funding applications from NGOs and other groups for public awareness projects. When asked if the government would launch its own awareness efforts, the Taskforce would only say that they will share about their work if invited.
What impact the funding has in raising awareness of human trafficking in Singapore will be of great interest to NGOs and the public, not least the Taskforce as we can imagine. We hope to see the Taskforce publish their evaluations and leading the discussion on what works and what do not.
The National Approach is a positive move but remains the first critical step we have achieved in combating human trafficking in Singapore. Aligning ourselves with international protocols will significantly boost our anti-trafficking efforts. What remains to be done is to draw up a clear timeline and actions to implement these international protocols.
Anti-trafficking NGOs like HOME and TWC2 are keen to collaborate with the Taskforce to develop a roadmap to implement these initiatives by 2026. We will continue to make referrals and monitor the situation.
Below is an outline of the initiatives that the Taskforce aims to implement:
|Prevention||· Building Awareness
· Develop regular and more targeted outreach programmes
· Enhance the TIP Public Awareness Grant
· Reach out to prospective migrant workers locally and in source countries
· Study and research on evolving trends in human trafficking, especially in the local context
· Reporting TIP Cases
· Enforcing against TIP
· Enforce against suspected sex TIP activities and labour violations while enhancing intelligence efforts
· Publicise concluded TIP cases
|Prosecution||· Reviewing legislative framework periodically
· Improving investigation and prosecution processes
· Enhancing competency development
· Supporting TIP victims in obtaining remedies
|Protection||· Maintaining a support system to assist victims
· Monitor and enhance victim care arrangement for trafficked victims
· Enhance rehabilitation for trafficked victims
· Facilitate victims’ stay in Singapore and smooth return in their home countries
· Protecting trafficked victims and informers
· Building capacity of frontline officers and victim care providers
|Partnership||· Strengthening international and regional cooperation
· Contribute to the global dialogue in combating TIP
· Facilitate coordination and cooperation in solving TIP crimes
· Engage foreign embassies to reach out to migrant workers
· Partnering CSOs and Businesses
· Increase public-private partnerships to support TIP victims
· Encourage business communities to adopt measures to prevent TIP in supply chains
· Conducting regular dialogues with stakeholders