The Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (HOME) was established in 2004 to respond to the urgent needs of the migrant community in Singapore. HOME’s founder, Bridget Tan, poured her own CPF money into the creation of HOME. Her work was recognized in 2011 when she received the Hero Acting to End Modern-day Slavery Award from the U.S.
HOME is leading the anti-trafficking efforts in Singapore. We offer the whole spectrum of initiatives against human trafficking which includes victim identification, referral, support & assistance, casework, raising awareness and campaigning. In September 2014, HOME led a group of NGOs to launch the Stoptraffickingsg campaign for a dedicated rights-based, victim-centric, anti-human trafficking law.
We thus welcome the enactment of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act which came into effect on 1 March 2015. Our campaign continues to lobby for further amendments to the the Act to adopt a rights-based and victim-centric stance.
Though the Singapore government has acceded to the Palermo Protocol in September 2015, they have yet to incorporate the spirit of the Protocol into our anti-trafficking initiatives. Current initiatives are heavy on prosecution but weak on protection, prevention and partnership. But the more critical issue is the fact that few cases are recognised as trafficking by the Trafficking in Persons Taskforce (Taskforce). Only a total of 2 cases filed by HOME have been accepted as trafficking since 2013.
For 2015, none of the 11 cases that HOME has filed has been assessed as TIP yet. We are still waiting for written confirmation of the status of all the cases. There is no fixed timeline for assessing a case at the moment. There are also 7 outstanding cases awaiting assessment since 2014.
HOME welcomes this opportunity to provide information on Singapore’s fulfillment of the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons.
INVESTIGATION, PROSECUTION, CONVICTION, AND SENTENCING OF TRAFFICKING CASES:
Please provide observations, particularly on:
- EXISTING LAWS AGAINST TIP
Singapore introduced its first dedicated anti-human trafficking legislation on 29 December 2014, namely, the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (henceforth known as the ‘PHTA’). The Government engaged in public consultation before introducing the bill, but the text of the draft bill was not available during the consultations. The bill was passed without any amendments on 3 November 2014.
The PHTA criminalises human trafficking and adopts the Palermo Protocol’s definition of human trafficking. Cases of human trafficking should be referred to the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons (hereafter ‘the taskforce’), which is co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Social & Family and the Ministry of Manpower.
However, HOME identified four main weaknesses in the Act in the 2015 US TIP Shadow Report, which remain pertinent:
- A lack of clear definitions of elements of trafficking in persons, or definitions that markedly vary from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Model Law;
A.1 The PHTA does not specify that the concept of “deception” should include conditions of work, not just the nature of work.
A.2 The PHTA does not define the terms “coercion” and abuse of “a position of vulnerability” following the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Model Law definitions;
A.3 The PHTA does not have a definition of “exploitation” that follows the Protocol. Neither does it clearly define the forms of exploitation involved. In particular, “forced labour or services” should be defined in order to criminalize all involuntary work or services extracted by the use of threats or penalties; include “practices similar to slavery” and define these practices to include debt bondage, serfdom, servile forms of marriage and the exploitation of children and adolescents; and include “servitude”;
A.4 The PHTA may not apply when the exploitative purpose has not yet materialized.
A failure to explicitly cover attempted exploitation of victims. The legislation should explicitly criminalize attempted trafficking, being an accomplice to trafficking or organizing others to commit trafficking.
- The lack of a victim-centric approach and victim support measures
The PHTA does not;
C.1 Legislate for the production of a transparent system of victim identification, support and protection measures;
C.2. Ensure that the system of victim support and protection entitles victims of trafficking to:
Protection measures, including:
C.3 the right to be treated as victim during the identification process,
C.4 immediate authorization of temporary residency upon reporting to the authorities,
- not be prosecuted for legal infractions committed while trafficked,
- give informed consent to participation in investigations,
- protection and privacy, and
- legal assistance at no cost; and
- Support measures, including:
- the right to decent work opportunity,
- a recovery period after reporting,
- access to physical and psycho-social recovery services/facilities, and
- return to country of origin; and
- Special support for victims who are minors.
The victims’ rights framework in the Act does not align with law of countries in the region, including that of Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Australia. HOME has undertaken a comparison of victims’ rights frameworks across Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and Australia, as well as the USA. This comparison is at Appendix A.
- A failure to extend liability for human trafficking across the supply chain,
The Act does not extend liability for human trafficking across the supply chain, or consider introducing supply chain transparency obligations for large companies doing business in Singapore.
2. The Act is strong on prosecution but weak in victim support and protection. The absence of victims’ rights does not incentivise victims to report their cases due to fear that they may be prosecuted for legal infractions committed while trafficked or the fear of being deported.
3. The Act makes no provision to identify victims of domestic servitude. The emphasis on enhancing the powers of enforcers to break down doors to rescue victims does not extend to private residences.
In addition to these weaknesses inherent in the PHTA, the past year has caused HOME growing concern over the enforcement of the PHTA. This is primarily due to the following 4 problems:
- Obstacles to the referral of TIP victims by victims and non-victims alike.
There is no mean for a victim to report his or her own case as access like a hotline or an online TIP referral form are not available. Moreover, the referral form is only available in English – making it unrealistic for TIP victims to self-report. Information about how to flag cases of human trafficking is also not made known. The Ministry of Manpower’s website has not been updated to reflect the enactment of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill. (http://www.mom.gov.sg/trafficking-in-persons).
HOME is not aware of any major government campaigns or initiatives to raise awareness about human trafficking. Though the Taskforce reported supporting small outreach efforts, there is no evaluation of the effectiveness of these efforts. This is problematic because many TIP victims will be unfamiliar with the term ‘human trafficking’, and may not realise that they are victims of a criminal offence.
The PHTA does not incentivise TIP victims to report their cases due to the inadequate victim support measures provided.
Currently, the waiting period for a decision is indefinite. Cases that HOME has filed since February 2014 have not been assessed. During the period of waiting, victims are not provided any information on their cases. Any assistance they required have to be requested from the Taskforce.
HOME has made requests to the Taskforce to arrange for support such as accomodation, jobs and food for the victims. However, not all the requests have been entertained including the case of one sex trafficked victim who needed health assessment due to the heavy drinking she was expected to do. To date, the Taskforce has not arranged for her assessment. Please see Part II for more detail.
Even individuals accepted as TIP victims receive varying degrees of victim support, without any explanation for the differences.
2. Lack of transparency surrounding the TIP taskforce’s procedures.
HOME has made 11TIP referrals between January and December 2015, of which none has been assessed as TIP. For past cases referred, reasons for rejection of referrals are not given and further follow-ups from HOME only managed to net vague comments like ‘no element of forced labour’ or inconsistencies with the victims’ statements. This is despite the fact that each referral comes with a list of the indicators of trafficking.
3. Ambiguity about what constitutes trafficking.
There is little or no information about the taskforce’s decision-making process, whereby it decides whether or not to classify the case as TIP. The International Labour Office has released operational indicators of TIP, but there is no similar guidance in Singapore. This is problematic because migrant workers in Singapore generally work under exploitative conditions, and a very large number of them legitimately complain to HOME of abuse of their vulnerability or deception. Without further clarity about the point at which such conditions crystallise into a classification of TIP, there is a real risk that genuine TIP victims may be neglected or underestimated because they do not show ‘clear’ or dramatic signs of trafficking. For example, in HOME’s experience, the taskforce seems more willing to accept cases of sexual exploitation than cases of forced labour.
4. Inappropriate treatment of TIP victims.
Some referred individuals have complained to HOME that they are not always appropriately treated at the interviews with the Taskforce. One individual told us that he was given an interpreter who shouted at him irately and did not understand the complexities of his case (for example, accusing the individual of contradicting himself, when the individual was simply clarifying something).
In another case of a sex trafficked case that was referred, she was told that her case does not stand since her employer did not explicitly tell her to sell sex while ignoring her indebtedness, the pressure and demands made on her to entertain customers.
All sex trafficked victims are also interviewed by the anti-vice squad which is responsible for combating sex crimes. It is unclear what the purpose of this interview is and whether cases are treated as victims and not criminals.
HOME is told that one question that the women were asked was if they had sold sex previously. However, it is widely accepted that a victim’s case should not be prejudiced by her occupation or background.
Victims are also not always appropriately treated by other law enforcement bodies. One victim of sexual exploitation was asked to testify in court against her previous employers. However, instead of giving evidence via teleconference from another room (a method often used for victims of domestic violence), she was asked to give her evidence in court. This brought her into proximity with the individuals who had pressurized her into prostitution, and was both traumatising for her and unprofessional on the prosecution’s part.
PENALTIES FOR SEX TRAFFICKING OFFENSES
The PHTA does not impose differentiated penalties for sex trafficking and forced labour. The penalty for any act of human trafficking, according to Section 4 of the PHTA, is as follows:
- In the case of a first offence:
- A fine up to $100,000 and
- An imprisonment term up to 10 years, and
- Optionally, caning not exceeding 6 strokes.
- In the case of a second or subsequent offence:
- A fine up to $150,000 and
- An imprisonment term up to 15 years and
- Caning not exceeding 9 strokes.
The relevant aggravating factors under Section 4(2) of the PHTA include:
- The offence involved serious injury or death to the TIP victim or anyone else;
- The TIP victim was particularly vulnerable due to pregnancy, illness, infirmity, disability or any other reason, and the offender was aware of this;
- The TIP victim was a child;
- The offence exposed the victim to a life-threatening illness;
- The offence involved actual or threatened use of a weapon or drug;
- The offender was a public servant;
- The offender was the victim’s spouse or conjugal partner;
- The offender was abusing a position of trust or authority in relation to the TIP victim.
Singapore’s Penal Code also criminalises sexual acts that may overlap with sex trafficking, namely (in descending order of gravity):
- Sections 372 and 373 of the Penal Code criminalises the purchase, sale or hire of a minor under 21 for the purposes of prostitution. The penalty is an imprisonment term up to 10 years and, optionally, a fine.
- Section 373A of the Penal Code makes it an offence to bring a woman into Singapore to be employed for the purpose of prostitution by means of false pretence, false representation or fraudulent or deceitful means. The penalty is an imprisonment term up to 10 years and, optionally, a fine.
- Section 376D imposes criminal liability on any person who organizes commercial sex tours (specifically, travel arrangements on someone else’s behalf, with the intention of allowing that other person to commit an offence under Section 376C). The penalty is an imprisonment term up to 10 years or a fine or both.
- Section 376B of the Penal Code criminalises commercial sex with a minor under 18. The penalty is an imprisonment term up to 7 years or a fine or both.
- Section 376C extends the criminal liability imposed by Section 376B to commercial sex with a minor under 18 committed outside Singapore, provided the offender is a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident. The penalty is the same as Section 376B.
- Section 146 of the Women’s Charter makes it an offence to live (partly or wholly) on the earnings of the prostitution of another person. The penalty is an imprisonment term up to 5 years and, optionally, a fine up to $10,000.
- Section 376E criminalises sexual grooming of a minor under 16. The penalty is an imprisonment term up to 3 years or a fine or both.
- Section 148 of the Women’s Charter makes it an offence to keep, manage or assist in the management of a brothel. The penalty is an imprisonment term up to 3 years or a fine up to $3,000 or both.
PENALTIES FOR FORCED LABOUR AND RELATED OFFENSES
As mentioned in the preceding answer, the PHTA sets the same penalty parameters for forced labour and sex trafficking, namely:
- In the case of a first offence:
- A fine up to $100,000 and
- An imprisonment term up to 10 years, and
- Optionally, caning not exceeding 6 strokes.
- In the case of a second or subsequent offence:
- A fine up to $150,000 and
- An imprisonment term up to 15 years and
- Caning not exceeding 9 strokes.
Besides the PHTA, there are various provisions dispersed among several pieces of legislation that criminalise trafficking- or labour-related offences. For example, there are several provisions that directly criminalise forced labour, wrongful confinement and slavery (the term ‘slavery’ is not defined by the legislation):
- Under Section 371 of the Penal Code, if someone habitually deals in slaves, the penalty is imprisonment for life or an imprisonment term up to 10 years, and, optionally, a fine.
- Sections 365 and 367 of the Penal Code criminalise the kidnapping or abduction of any person with intent to cause that person to be wrongfully confined, or in order that the person may be subject to grievous hurt or slavery. The penalty is an imprisonment term up to 10 years, and, optionally, a fine or caning.
- Section 370 of the Penal Code criminalises the importation, exportation, removal, purchase, sale and disposal of any person a slave, as well as the acceptance, receipt and detention of him against his will. The penalty is an imprisonment term up to 7 years, and, optionally, a fine.
- Section 374 of the Penal Code makes it an offence to unlawfully compel a person to labour against his or her will. The penalty is an imprisonment up to 1 year or a fine or both.
- Section 342 of the Penal Code criminalises wrongful confinement. The penalty is an imprisonment term up to 1 year or a fine up to $3,000 or both. The maximum imprisonment term increases to 2 years for confinement exceeding 2 days, and 3 years for confinement exceeding 9 days.
- Section 108 of the Employment Act makes it an offence for an employer to wrongfully detain an employee (i.e. to prevent an ex-employee from leaving his service). The penalty is a fine up to $5,000 or an imprisonment term up to 6 months or both.
There are also several provisions governing working conditions and the payment of salary, which may operate as indicators of human trafficking:
- Section 74 of the Employment Act criminalises the employment of a child or young person contrary to the provisions of the Act (or subsidiary regulations). The penalty is a fine up to $5,000 or an imprisonment term up to 2 years or both. If the child or young person suffers serious injury or death, the penalty must comprise both a fine and an imprisonment term (subject to the same respective limits).
- Section 34 of the Employment Act criminalises the under- or non-payment of ordinary salary. According to Section 112, the penalty for a first offence is a fine up to $5,000 or an imprisonment term up to 6 months or both. The penalty for a subsequent offence is a fine up to $10,000 or an imprisonment term up to 12 months or both.
- Section 53 of the same Act makes it an offence to require a worker to work more than 72 overtime hours a week, as well as to underpay or fail to pay the prescribed rate of pay for work done on rest days and overtime. The penalty for a first offence is a fine up to $5,000 (for a first offence). The penalty for a second or subsequent offence is a fine up to $10,000 or an imprisonment term up to 12 months or both.
COMPARISON TO PENALTIES FOR OTHER CRIMES
The PHTA’s prescribed penalty for human trafficking is harsher than almost all the other comparative offences listed under questions B and C. An imprisonment term and a fine are both mandatory, unlike any of the similar offences listed above. Moreover, the parameters for the imprisonment term and fine are also as high or higher than for all the similar offences, save one (that is habitual dealing with slaves, for which the imprisonment term may be for life).
The PHTA prescribes an imprisonment term up to a maximum of 10 years for a first offence, or 15 years for a subsequent offence. The same maximum imprisonment term (i.e. 10 years) applies to the following similar offences:
- Organising a commercial tour for sex with minors under 18 (but for this offence, the imprisonment term is not mandatory)
- Purchasing, selling or hiring a minor under 21 for the purposes of prostitution
- Bringing a woman into Singapore to be employed for the purpose of prostitution by means of false pretence, false representation or fraudulent or deceitful means
- Kidnapping or abducting of any person with intent to cause that person to be wrongfully confined, or in order that the person may be subject to grievous hurt or slavery
All other similar offences have lower maximum imprisonment terms.
Moreover, of all the similar offences which prescribe maximum fine amounts, none exceeds a $10,000 maximum. In comparison, the PHTA prescribes a maximum fine amount of $100,000. This shows that, within this group of trafficking-related offences, the PHTA’s prescribed imprisonment and fine penalties are the most, or among the most, severe.
The PHTA’s penalties are also considered very severe even relative to other criminal offences that do not involve human trafficking. Dissimilar offences which allow for higher penalties (and are hence, impliedly, seen as more severe) include:
- Murder (Section 302 of the Penal Code: death sentence or imprisonment for life, depending on type of murder)
- Voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means (Section 326 of the Penal Code: imprisonment for life or imprisonment for up to 15 years)
- Criminal breach of trust by clerk or servant (Section 408 of the Penal Code: up to 15 years’ imprisonment)
- Lurking house-trespass by night or house-breaking by night after preparation made for causing hurt (Section 458 of the Penal Code: between 2 and 14 years’ imprisonment)
- Voluntarily causing grievous hurt to deter public servant from his duty (Section 333 of the Penal Code: up to 15 years’ imprisonment)
It should also be recalled that the PHTA itself provides for a maximum of 15 years’ imprisonment upon a second conviction of trafficking in persons – thus rendering a second conviction comparable in severity to a voluntary and life-threatening offence.
The PHTA penalty for a first offence is subject to the same maximum imprisonment term (10 years) of the following offences (non-exhaustive list):
- Voluntarily causing grievous hurt (Section 325 of the Penal Code)
- Kidnapping (Section 363 of the Penal Code)
- Making preparation to commit gang-robbery (Section 399 of the Penal Code)
- Extortion by putting a person in fear of death or grievous hurt (Section 386 of the Penal Code)
INVESTIGATIONS, PROSECUTIONS, CONVICTIONS AND SENTENCES, GOVERNMENT COMPLICITY LAW ENFORCEMENT ACTION
As the state has not accepted any of the referrals for this reporting period, we are unable to comment on prosecutions, convictions and sentences.
Lengthy delays are inherent in the investigation process. However, the bigger issue is the fact that victims are not keep updated on the progress. Meanwhile support for their stay in Singapore to assist with investigation is patchy at best, since all services rendered to victims are provided on a discretionary basis. Assistance to victims fall on NGOs like HOME.
In many cases, HOME has to liaise with the Taskforce for these services to be rendered, including making a case for why a certain victim needs to be allowed to work. This is problematic for traumatised victims who are required to remain in Singapore, often without work that is appropriate for them and always without their families.
HOME is concerned that the Taskforce is also not taking all the referrals seriously. HOME had filed 7 cases that took place between February 2014 and January 2015 of which no news regarding their assessment has been given. We pursued the outcomes of these cases with the Taskforce twice in June and August 2015 but did not receive any reply.
There is a lack of transparency in how the Taskforce works with frontline organisations like HOME.
Despite complaints of abuse against foreign domestic workers and two cases of domestic workers recognised as TIP victims in 2013-2014, there has been no significant improvement in protecting these women. They continued to be excluded from the Employment Act in Singapore.
Likewise, the state has not addressed practices such as unilateral rights of employers to fire their workers and the inability of workers to change employers among others which make workers vulnerable to trafficking.
Feedback from the sex trafficked victims filed in 2015 indicate that their interviewers had taken a very narrow definition of trafficking. One told us that the interviewer said that her case is weak as the employer did not explicitly told her to sell sex while ignoring indicators such as indebtedness, coercion and deception.
A member of the anti-vice squad acknowledged that there are issues in the night clubs. When asked why they are not investigating the owners, replied that owners are running a business and they cannot just interrupt their operations.
Please specify if NGOs are involved in or supported anti-TIP training for police, investigators, prosecutors, judges, and/or other law enforcement officials on identifying and assisting victims of trafficking and/or investigating and prosecuting human trafficking cases during the reporting period. Describe the involvement and support NGOs provided (e.g. led training seminars, funded and organized trainings).
HOME understands that Hagar, a charity, has been engaged to provide training for frontline enforcement officers. HOME had also applied to conduct the training but our application was rejected.
Hagar had met with HOME and TWC2 in 2014. They were interested to learn about cases of trafficking in Singapore since they do not work directly with victims here.
HOME has been engaging with the Taskforce and MOM for case referral and advocacy. HOME actively participates in public consultations conducted by the Taskforce. However, it is uncertain to what extent are inputs from NGOs taken into consideration in policy planning since the Taskforce is not obliged to report back to NGOs.
PROTECTION AND ASSISTANCE TO VICTIMS:
VICTIM CARE SERVICES OVERVIEW:
- What types of victim care services were available to trafficking victims? Please specify the kind of assistance, including medical and psychological services, NGOs provided to foreign and domestic TIP victims.
Under Section 19 of the PHTA, the Director of Social Welfare has discretion to provide such assistance as he considers “practicable and necessary in the particular circumstances of the case”. Such assistance includes “temporary shelter” and “counselling services” which is substantively inadequate to address the needs of a victim. There is no provision for services like legal aid, medical care, psychological care and reintegration.
The role of Director of Social Welfare is, however, inappropriate and unclear. The Director is a position provided for under the Children and Young Persons Act. It is not clear what interaction there is between the Children and Young Persons Act and the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act. The responsibilities the Director of Social Welfare under the Children and Young Persons Act, section 3 (1) do not cover trafficked victims above 16 years of age.
It might be suggested that by making the Director of Social Welfare responsible for trafficked victims’ shelter and counselling, his or her responsibilities under the Children and Young Persons Act, 3 (1) should thereby be amended. However, this is not stated in the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act. Silence on this matter implies an assumption that the Director’s current responsibilities sufficiently cover the needs of trafficked victims.
There are a few Government-run shelters in Singapore, but HOME runs the only dedicated shelter for female victims of trafficking. This shelter is funded by a private corporate donor and members of the public. HOME had submitted a budget for the recurring expenses of the shelter to the Taskforce in 2014 but in an email reply to HOME, the Ministry of Social and Family Development stated that there is insufficient demand for a shelter dedicated to female victims of trafficking.
HOME provides the full range of assistance to trafficked victims. These include victim identification, referral, shelter (full board), financial assistance, legal aid, medical care, psychological care, vocational training, re-integration, counselling and casework.
We extend our assistance to all trafficked victims regardless of whether they wish or not to report their cases. The state, on the other hand, provides assistance on a discretionary basis. It is unknown to us what criterion they use to decide who to provide assistance to and how much.
Since only counselling and temporary shelter are provided for in the PHTA, the provision of services for trafficked victims remain essentially in the hands of NGOs and some foreign embassies who run their own shelters.
- Were these services provided jointly with the government? Did the government provide support or were involved in any ways?
Apart from temporary shelter and counselling, the government provides interpreters during the interview process with police and government agencies. However, HOME has received various complaints of migrants workers stating that they have received poor advice of their interpreters such as accepting charges that they denied.
Victims are not allowed any representation during interviews with MOM or the vice-squad. Lawyers or NGO representatives are not allowed to accompany them.
The government does not typically address gender sensitivities when dealing with victims of sex trafficking and male officers may be assigned to the female victims. It seems that victims of sex trafficking are not offered the same services and support that victims of domestic rape cases are, despite infrastructure and trained personnel being available.
On paper, there are counselling services available for example from the Singapore Mental Health Association. But these are often not culturally appropriate as they do not staff workers who can communicate in the victim’s native tongue.
The Ministry of Manpower allows some trafficked persons to find employment in Singapore, but does not assist them to find work or keep their job (see response Question 21). Furthermore, no training program exists.
Access to affordable legal services is very limited for foreign victims of crime, so HOME relies on a panel of pro bono lawyers to provide support.
Singapore is one of the most well-resourced and efficiently managed countries in the world and has ample means to provide the lacking services and, indeed, to provide them in a manner which would make an enormous difference to victims of trafficking. Yet, despite the National Plan of Action, there has been no improvement or expansion to the services provided to victims.
NGOs are often left with the task of providing essential services and bear the cost of doing so. In one case, HOME was sent a bill for medical expenses for a worker who was referred to our shelter by the Police and assessed by us as a TIP victim. The Police would not cover these expenses but after some discussion, the hospital agreed to waive the fees. Even after these cases are accepted by the taskforce, HOME is not reimbursed for the caring of these victims.
In 2014, HOME had seek financial support from the Taskforce for the shelter HOME has set up for female victims of trafficking. We submitted a budget but was told in an email reply that there was insufficient demand to justify supporting a shelter dedicated to female trafficked victims in Singapore.
The Taskforce can take many months to accept or reject a case. HOME has cases referred back as far as May 2014 in respect of which the Taskforce has issued no assessment. During this time, the victim might be living in an NGO shelter without income, counselling or other victim services
- Please assess victim care services provided/supported by the government.
VICTIM CARE QUALITY:
What was the overall quality of victim care? Please consider the following questions in this assessment.
- Where were child victims placed (e.g., in shelters, foster care, or juvenile justice detention centers) and what kind of specialized care did they receive?
- Could adult victims leave shelters unchaperoned and at will?
- Did the government provide specialized care for male as well as female victims?
- Did the government provide services that were accessible for victims with disabilities (e.g., physical access for wheelchair users, sign language interpretation for people with hearing impairments, etc.)?
- Discuss any gaps filled by NGOs.
The overall quality of victim care provided by the state is poor from our observations. One main reason is because the services rendered are limited to temporary shelter and counselling as provided by the PHTA. This ignores the complexibility of issues faced by victims which can include post-traumatic disorders, legal issues and indebtedness.
NGOs like HOME have limited access to state-financed shelters for trafficked victims. In 2014, HOME assisted a trafficked victim who was sheltered in a state-funed shelter in 2014 and she had the following complaints about the shelter. They were
- she was assigned work to do in the shelter even though she was not keen to. She had to as she needed some allowance and also she did not want to be told that she was lazy for now taking up the assignment
- though food and accommodation was provided free of charge, the residents had to purchase toiletries, sanitation products, coffee themselves. They also have to pay for charging their phones. She paid $20 per month for utilities.
- She also complained about what she perceived to be unfair payments for her work.
- residents were only allowed out of the shelter at designated times
- the shelter did not assist her with her case. She was told to contact her investigating officer directly.
There is ‘little provision for victims’ relocation and repatriation’ and victims do not have a buffer period of time for careful consideration as to whether they want to pursue a criminal investigation for traffickers, which is a tiring process for the victims to endure.
HOME has no further knowledge of the level of care for the victims including minors and those with special needs.
The gaps in victim assistance has been filled by NGOs like HOME which provides services from victim identification, referral, social support (shelter, legal aid, medical care, counselling, psychological care), vocational training, re-integration to advocating for victims (Stoptraffickingsg campaign).
VICTIM IDENTIFICATION, REFERRAL, AND ASSISTANCE STATISTICS:
- What was the total number of trafficking victims identified by NGOs during 2015 (where possible, please indicate whether labor or sex trafficking, male or female, and child or adult)? Of these, how many victims did NGOs refer to care facilities for assistance?
- How many victims were identified during 2015 by NGOs (including through self-identificatio and referred to the government?
In 2015, HOME filed 11 cases. There are 6 females and 5 males. 2 sex trafficked cases and 9 labour trafficked cases including domestic servitude. All are adults.
HOME has provided shelter (full board) for all the 6 females, and based on the request of the 5 males, we have liaised with Taskforce to put them up in the state-financed shelters. Based on the needs of each victim, we have also liaised with Taskforce to assist the victims.
Most of the victims’ main concern is to get jobs as they have come into Singapore indebted. While the Taskforce through the Ministry of Manpower has arranged jobs for 2 of the male labour trafficked victims, there is no indication that this practice is provided for all victims who wish to work.. For the victims of domestic servitude, they are not allowed to change sectors i.e non domestic work despite the fact that they were traumatised in the households.
In the case of one sex trafficked victim, she was unable to obtain a new work permit because of an administrative glitch – the Ministry of Manpower does not allow those who enter Singapore on an entertainment visa to renew their work permit. HOME liaised with the Ministry to assist her.
The care facilities provided by the government is very limited. Only shelter, food and counselling are provided. In HOME’s experience, there is no active follow up from the state to address the needs of victims even though information on the mental state of the victim and on the immediate needs of victims are sought in the referral form submitted to the Taskforce. HOME has to separately contact the Taskforce to make requests for accommodation and even health assessment for individual cases.
In one particular sex trafficked case, the victim complained of health problems related to being forced to drink to entertain customers. HOME stated in the referral form that she needs medical attention. However, there was no further action from the Taskforce even though the victim mentioned her health problems during her interviews with the authorities.
The government does not reveal the number of referrals it has received in 2015. There were approximately 13 cases referred by NGOs in 2015.
VICTIM IDENTIFICATION PROCEDURES:
- Please assess whether the government’s victim identification procedures worked in practice.
As of December 2015, we have not received the outcomes of all the cases we had filed for that year. Informally, I understand from the Taskforce that none of the case is assessed as trafficking. This is despite the fact that in these referrals, HOME has identified indicators of trafficking such as forced labour, abuse of vulnerability, withholding of passports, deception, threats made against the victim.
We are still waiting for their written replies. In fact, with the exception of 2 cases of domestic servitude, the state has not accepted any of the labour trafficking cases that HOME has flagged since the referral system was set up in 2013.
The challenges in the victim identification procedures are
- Only a small group of personnel in the police force have been trained to identify victims during interviews and in raids. We understand that there is an on-going training for front line law enforcers but we have no information of the content of the training or how many have been trained.
- There is no clear definitions of key concepts like forced labour or deception.
- The Taskforce is using a narrow definition of key terms like coercion (does not accept psychological coercion), deception (pertaining to the nature of the job but not the conditions of the job)
- lack of transparency as how the assessments are made .
Sex trafficked victims seems to also face some discriminations. One of the first interviews they have to attend is conducted by the anti-vice squad. The women are asked if they had previously sold sex voluntarily.
Clearer and more transparent processes are needed to properly identify victims so that non-trafficked migrant workers are not inadvertently caught up in state responses to victims, and that state agents fail to recognise trafficked victims.
VICTIM REFERRAL PROCEDURES:
- Please assess whether the government’s referral process, if there is one, to guide officials in transferring trafficking victims detained, arrested, or placed in protective custody by law enforcement authorities to institutions that provide short- or long-term care (either government- or NGO-run) worked in practice.
- If victims were referred to NGO facilities, please describe your opinions of the referral process.
Currently, the police refers female cases whether trafficked or not to HOME for the purpose of sheltering them. We understand that the police also make referrals to other shelters in Singapore including those that are state-funded and those privately-funded.
These cases are not assessed by the state for trafficking. HOME interviews all the cases referred for trafficking indicators and follow up with the Taskforce where needed.
The government refers victims to HOME to care for them but does not give any financial support to us.
- BENEFITS FOR FOREIGN VICTIMS:
- Please give opinions on benefits the government provided for foreign victims, especially related to residency status and employment, or other relief from deportation.
Employment. On a case by case basis, the government allows victims to apply for the Temporary Work Scheme that gives them permission to work for a 6 month period. The victim can theoretically work for multiple 6 month periods pending investigations. However, once the investigation is completed, they are not allowed to renew their work permit under this Scheme.
In the case where the investigation concludes before the victim has found a job and the outcome is not favourable, the victim is likely to be repatriated.
The government does not assist the victims to find jobs. Victims are usually given a list of employment agencies to approach.
Accommodation. There are shelters that the Taskforce can put the victims up.
Residency. Only temporary residency is granted during investigations. Once investigations are completed, the victim may be repatriated unless permission is given for the victim to find a new job.
Relief from deportation. Victims are granted relief from deportation during the investigation period. If the case is not concluded in their favour, they can be repatriated. In a case involving 7 victims in 2014, not all the victims were either needed or allowed to remain in Singapore to assist in the investigations.
How much funding (in the local currency) did the government spend exclusively on trafficking victim protection and assistance (e.g. funds for NGOs, operating shelters and payments to victims)? Where assistance provided was in-kind, please specify the type and amount of assistance.
It is unknown how much the government spent exclusively on trafficking victim protection and assistance in Singapore. There is no public reports or audits on the social spending for trafficked victims.
- VICTIM ASSISTANCE IN INVESTIGATIONS AND PROSECUTIONS:
- Please give opinions on the government’s efforts to encourage victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking, and the protection the government provided to victims during the trial process.
Victims are expected to assist in the investigations once their cases are referred to the Taskforce. Their travel documents may be compounded and they can only leave Singapore with the permission of the authorities.
NGOs like HOME continue to provide assistance such as accommodation, legal aid, casework, financial assistance, vocational training for victims during the investigations.
Victim protection is also contingent upon the presence of a criminal trial of the trafficker, as the victims are protected on the grounds that they are a witness for the criminal case. An investigating officer who is assigned to case will accompany the victim throughout the trial process. They will also be the liaison who keeps NGOs like HOME updated on the trial.
More can be done to better assist and protect victims. The police interviewing victims are not always sensitive to the emotional and mental state of victims. They could be uncomfortably put in a cold room and interrogated for hours without sufficient breaks.
In the case of female sex trafficked victims, female officers who are trained in handling trauma should be assigned to handle these cases. The police can work more closely with the relevant authorities for victims to access services like counselling and medical examination/care.
Labour trafficked victims report being threatened by their traffickers into submission. Many express the worry that reporting their cases may bring harm to themselves and their families. Such threats have deterred some victims from reporting their cases. More can be done to better protect the victims and their families from these threats and encourage victims to report.
- RESTITUTION AND CIVIL SUITS:
Were there means by which a victim could obtain restitution from the government or file civil suits against trafficking offenders for restitution, and did this happen in practice during 2015?
Yes, provided the case is assessed as TIP. The public prosecutor can submit a compensation order for the victim if the court rules in favour of the victim.
HOME is actively assisting trafficked victims to file civil suits against trafficking offenders for restitution. In 2015, we filed 2 civil suits for 2 foreign domestic workers who were trafficked. The cases are in progress.
These civil cases are filed by NGOs like HOME with the assistance of pro bono representation organised by NGOs.
- NATIONAL ACTION PLAN:
- Did the government have a national action plan to address trafficking in persons? If the plan was developed during 2015, which agencies were involved in developing it? Were NGOs consulted in the process and how do NGOs assess the plan and its implementation?
The government had developed the first national action plan that was launched in 2012 to last till 2015. In 2015, the government developed a National Approach Against Trafficking in Persons, but a national action plan to execute the Approach is not unveiled yet.
The Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), and including representatives from the Singapore Police Force (SPF), Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports (MCYS), Ministry of Health (MOH), Ministry of Law (MinLaw), Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) and the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC), developed the Approach. NGOs were consulted via public consultations, held by the government feedback arm REACH, that was open to the general public.
The Taskforce did not convene any meeting with NGOs to develop either the national plan of action or the national approach.
In the public consultations in 2015, participants were broken into focus groups and asked to share their feedback on the last national plan of action and inputs for the new plan. However, it is unclear how the Taskforce manages the feedback and inputs given. Which will be accepted and included in the new plan and which will not remains out of the hands of NGOs.
One issue that has been raised a fews time during the consultations is the question of outcome evaluations. It is not sufficient for the Taskforce to report that they have carried out X number of activities or spent X amount of money for the budget year , as they have done, without also an impact assessment. Thus far, there is no independent evaluation of the effectiveness of the national plan of action in combating trafficking and in protecting victims.
Building awareness of TIP crimes is one key goal that was also in the last national action plan. However, it is unclear how many have been made awareness and what are they aware of as a result of the government’s efforts.
Though the National Approach also takes a victim-centric stance, in practice, NGOs like HOME have not seen much evidence of that. Pl see our comments for B, Victim Care Quality
With Singapore’s accession to the Palermo Protocol, the question of how we intend to incorporate its mandate, particularly the emphasis on victim protection and assistance, into our National Approach remains to be seen.
The National Approach does not address the issues that NGOs like HOME have repeated raised that make migrant workers vulnerable to trafficking. Some of these issues are
- workers need the permission of their employer to change employers
- employers have unilateral right to fire and repatriate a worker
- no notice period need to be serve for job termination
- workers who file complaints against their employers are not protected from repatriation by employers
- protracted investigation period
- itemised physical payslips are not mandatory
- domestic workers are not included in the Employment Act
- enforcement of the 2 months’ cap for a 2 year contract on recruitment fee is weak
- RESEARCH AND ACCOUNTABILITY:
- Please give opinions on the government’s efforts to research and assess the human trafficking problem in the country.
- To what extent did the government systematically monitor its anti-trafficking efforts (on all fronts — prosecution, protection, and prevention) and periodically make publicly available its assessments of these anti-trafficking efforts?
The government has not had a publicly known effort to research and assess the human trafficking problem in Singapore. As such, such assessments are not publicly available. In 2015, there was no call for papers or grants to support such research.
It is unclear if the government is systematically monitoring its anti-trafficking efforts. In the first place, a monitoring and evaluation framework is not included in either the National Approach or the last national plan of action.
PART III (C – L)
- AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS:
- Please assess any government-funded anti-trafficking information or education campaigns conducted during 2015, either to target potential trafficking victims and/or the demand for trafficking (e.g., buyers of commercial sex or beneficiaries of forced labor, such as employers).
- Please specify whether NGOs were involved and briefly describe the involvement and support NGOs provided (e.g. led awareness campaigns, funded and organized the awareness event).
The Government has spoken about plans to educate businesses on human trafficking and incentivising them to rid their supply chains of human trafficking activity, but no known campaigns or programmes have been officially rolled out.
Public Awareness Grants
The only known form of Government-funding for awareness campaigns was the Public Awareness Grant, administered as part of the National Plan of Action (2012-2015).
However, in 2015, there was no call for grant applications and no grant was awarded. There has not been word on intentions to continue to make available the Public Awareness Grants or any other form of government funding. This lack of information and standardisation does little to encourage stakeholders to take the lead in raising awareness. .
To date, the last time Public Awareness Grants were given out was in July 2014. A total of $80,000 in grants was allocated to the winning projects proposed by three NGOs. The grant recipients and summaries of their winning proposals are listed at the end of this section.
In addition to the ongoing film screenings, Emancipasia (a grant recipient) attempted in 2015 to raise awareness on human trafficking through the method of Forum Theatre.
Sylvia Lee, Director of Emancipasia commissioned a crew from Buds Theatre Company to come up with an awareness-raising play that targets the demand-side of sex trafficking. She took on the role of Producer, having trained under the Community Theatre Training Programme where she learnt the skills of Forum Theatre as a way of addressing important social and community issues.
The play, titled Minus, centres on the plight of an unsuspecting Indonesian worker who found herself trafficked into Singapore and trapped in the local sex trade. It was written and designed as an interactive piece, allowing audience members to participate (as actors) in scenarios that involved moral dilemmas pertinent to the situation of sex trafficking in Singapore.
The play debuted in July 2015 at a theatre festival, SCENES: FORUM THEATRE, organised by Drama Box and Goli Theatre.
The impact of this play is largely educational. Through the element of audience-participation, participants were sensitised to the idea that individuals – bystanders, consumers, etc. – have a role to play in the sex trafficking tragedy and that their choices and actions could influence outcomes.
An estimated 100 members of the public saw SCENES: FORUM THEATRE.
Singapore Committee for UN Women
- The Singapore Committee for UN Women will run a one-year business engagement campaign called Biz@TIP to promote ethical practices amongst companies in Singapore. The long-term goal of the campaign is to develop industry-specific frameworks and an accreditation system that will aid businesses to take steps to monitor their supply chains and audit their labour to be trafficking-free in Singapore.
- They will also hold the second multi-sectoral conference as a follow-up to the one held last year. The conference will involve all stakeholders including non-profit organisations, Government agencies, businesses, academia, potential victims and youth networks to share their views and insights on TIP-related topics.
- Our criticism is that few of the participants are businesses. Also there is no impact assessment.
- Educating general public: EmancipAsia intends to educate the general public through film screenings and talks.
- STEPS on Stage: In collaboration with Drama Box, EmancipAsia will tap on a drama technique called ‘Forum Theatre’ where they will create a dialogical and transformative experience with the audience.
- Photography exhibition and film screenings: EmancipAsia proposed to continue with their roving photography exhibition, but targeting schools, community centre and organisations this time round. They will also continue screening a range of international documentary films at venues such as The Arts House and Screening Room. It will be free and opened to public. Moreover, these films will also be made available for screenings at tertiary institutions and schools, together with the photography exhibition, as teaching resources.
Dr Sallie Yea from National Institute of Education (NIE)
- Dr Sallie Yea will develop a university-accredited module on human trafficking at NIE which will include overseas field visits. At the end of the module, participating students will get the opportunity to present their research findings to selected audiences in Singapore, including the Taskforce, Civil Society Organisations/Non-Governmental Organisations, the general public and junior college students.”
- VULNERABILITIES IN LABOR RECRUITMENT:
- Please assess existing procedures to oversee and regulate labor recruitment agencies and their effectiveness in preventing abuse.
- Please assess efforts the government made to punish labor recruiters or brokers involved in the recruitment of workers through knowingly fraudulent offers of employment and/or excessive fees for migration or job placement (contributing factors to human trafficking).
- Please assess efforts the government made to raise awareness among potential labor migrants about limits on recruitment fees.
Efficacy of existing rules
In 2011, the Employment Agency (EA) regulatory framework was introduced, placing a cap on recruitment fees paid by foreign workers to agencies. Under this framework, it is a punishable offence for EAs to charge more than one month’s salary in recruitment fees per year of the foreign worker’s work pass or employment contract (whichever is shorter), capped at two months’ salary.
However, the reality is that high recruitment fees and indebtedness continue to plague migrant workers entering Singapore for work. Non-domestic workers are still paying up to nine months’ worth of their salaries to employment agencies in Singapore according to mainstream media reports in 2015.
Coupled with the current work pass regime which has created an unequal bargaining power in favour of employers, many workers put up with harsh working conditions for fear of losing their jobs. Workers usually only made complaints to the authorities in dire situations when they have not been paid for some time or if they have been abused or injured.
Foreign domestic workers are brought into employment in Singapore through a salary deduction scheme where employment agencies collect an up-front recruitment fee from the employers who in turn recover the ‘loan’ by deducting a portion off from each month of the worker’s salary. Most salary deduction periods are between 6-8 months. During this period, some workers receive small allowances of $10-20 per month.
Some employment agencies advise new employers to keep the mobile phones of their workers and not to allow them off days during the salary deduction period in case employers lose their ‘loans’ if the women run away.
HOME published a research on the mental health of foreign domestic workers in March 2015. 74% reported a degree of restriction of movement and 73% experienced restrictions on outside communications.35% of respondents claimed some form of economic abuse (ie. withholding of salary).
81% visit their home countries less than yearly. Many women put up with such harsh working conditions which make them vulnerable to abuse and even trafficking.
In November 2015, the New York Times reported on the complicity of Step Up Marine, a labour recruitment agency run by Singaporeans and based in Singapore, in trafficking seafarers. This agency has been tied to trafficking, severe physical abuse, neglect, deceptive recruitment and failure to pay hundreds of seafarers in India, Indonesia, Mauritius, the Philippines and Tanzania for the past 20 years, but the owners have largely escaped accountability
There are some aspects of enforcement practices that have been shown to be ineffective in detecting violations. For example, the Ministry of Manpower issues alerts to employment agencies in advance of raids. Arguably, this created the circumstances for errant agencies to evade detection and punishment as they were then able to alter their books and remove evidence of overcharging (among other violations).
This is despite the fact that under Section 20 of the Employment Agency Act, inspectors are empowered to enter suspect EA premises and perform checks without giving prior notice.
Agencies convicted of overcharging maids face a fine of up to $5,000, and repeat offenders may be jailed up to six months in addition to the fine. There is also a demerit system in place that puts errant agencies at the risk of losing their license and barred from starting employment agencies in future.
However, barred persons are not prevented from starting new employment agency under the name of family and friends.
Furthermore, due to the ambiguity of the regulations and limits of jurisdiction and cross-border cooperation, employment agencies are able to get away the on the several technicalities that allow them to charge above the cap. For example, it is common practice for employment agencies to take nine months’ worth of the workers’ salary, claiming that only one month’s worth was in recruitment fees while itemising the remaining charges as miscellaneous charges imposed by recruiters in the home countries.
According to Ministry of Manpower, action was taken in only eight of the 21 cases that were looked into for suspicions of overcharging in the 2012 – 2015 period, citing lack of evidence in the remaining cases.
Access to Information
We are unaware of campaigns or dissemination of information to labour migrants before they arrive in Singapore. Once they arrive for work here, they are tied down by the debt of recruitment fees.
- MIGRATION AND TRADE POLICIES:
Please assess efforts the government made to ensure that its policies, regulations, and agreements relating to migration, labor, trade, and investment did not facilitate forced labor.
- Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement
The recently signed TPP holds Singapore to new standards of labour rights which should push the government policies to be anti-forced labour. However, the standards are to be set forth and ratified by member countries over a period specified only by “ in accordance with its own democratic process”. This is indeed problematic as trade incentives are immediate whereas labour provisions are able to be suspended indefinitely.
ASEAN Economic Community
The AEC was finally established in 2015. The alleged “ ASEAN Declaration on Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers” which is part of the AEC establishment was signed in 2007 has yet to be ratified in any measure. The declaration aims to safeguard the rights of migrant workers using national laws and ensure acceptable conditions and nature of work. However, the AEC deals primarily with skilled workers who are traditionally less susceptible to conditions/indicators of forced labour than unskilled workers. By not addressing the mobility of unskilled migrant workers (FDWs and workers in the construction industry), the AEC will have limited regulatory impact on such workers.
- IDENTIFICATION MEASURES:
- Please assess measures the government took to establish the identity of local populations, including birth registration and issuance of documentation, citizenship, and nationality. Not exactly sure how to answer in a way that is relevant to TIP
- Immigration Status of Sex Workers
The (legitimate) work pass system continues to exclude sex workers and expose them to the vulnerabilities of working illegally under short-stay visas. Many migrant workers who find themselves in commercial sex work are in the country on social visit passes (does not allow pass holders to work in Singapore). Reportedly, only a very small number of sex workers hold the very elusive “legitimate” permit for sex work in Singapore.
- Status of Foreign Spouses (SC – NR)
Foreign spouses of Singapore Citizens (SC) are not automatically granted Singapore Citizenship, Permanent Residence (PR) or even Long Term Visit Passes (LTVP).
Unequal access to children
Given that foreign spouses do not automatically qualify for citizenship or PR, foreign spouses (on LTVP), in the event of marriage dissolution, are likely to lose their pass-sponsors (the SC ex-spouse), be repatriated to their home countries and separated from their SC children.
- FOREIGN ASSISTANCE:
Comments, if any, on the assistance the government provide to other governments in combating trafficking in persons through trainings or other assistance programs?
- The Taskforce has claimed to have engaged source countries of migrant workers who come to Singapore as domestic workers, sex workers and foreign work permit holders. The nature of the these relationships has been described as “investigative co-operation” and “information sharing”. No explicit mention of assistance from the Singapore government has been made. Also, there has been no mention of the nature of the interactions or of any specific cases.
- Singapore offered to pledge $US 200,000 to “ help victims of human trafficking” in the ASEAN region. This occurred during an emergency meeting held amongst ASEAN countries after the hundreds of Rohingyas were stranded at sea. In November 2015, the ASEAN Convention on Trafficking in Persons was signed. Part of the convention was is to promote co-operation between relevant agencies in each of the governments to combat issues of trafficking. However, no such co-operation has come to light as yet.
- REDUCING DEMAND FOR COMMERCIAL SEX OR FORCED LABOR:
Please assess measures taken by the government to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and/or forced labor. [Note: Such actions target consumers – not suppliers or facilitators – of commercial sex and forced labor. Efforts to reduce demand for prostitution should target clients and potential clients of the sex trade; law enforcement efforts against brothels or individuals in prostitution are not considered efforts to reduce the demand for prostitution.]
“ Under current laws, prostitution, defined under the Women’s Charter as “the act of a female offering her body for sexual penetration for hire, whether in money or in kind”, remains legal. But other activities and establishments related to commercial sex, such as public solicitation, pimping and brothels are illegal. Massage parlours, hair salons and spas are prohibited from providing ancillary services that are not stipulated in their licences or leases. “
The PHTA and other supporting legislations surrounding sex work aim to punish only facilitators/ suppliers and sex workers. Consumers of sex work face no threat of prosecution. Only in cases of child prostitution do the consumers get punished.
Forced labour in the construction industry continues to a big problem in Singapore. Because of the nature of the supply chain involved in this industry, it is hard to ascertain the end user/consumer of such forced labour.
- Construction Companies
- Users of Buildings
- Land Owners
- CHILD SEX TOURISM:
Please assess measures the government took to reduce the participation in international and domestic child sex tourism by nationals of the country.
In 2015, a man became the first Singaporean to be convicted (under Penal Code Section 376D) of organising a commercial sex tour with a minor outside Singapore and distributing information to promote such conduct.
This was the first and only conviction in the eight years since the relevant laws were enacted under amendments to the Penal Code in 2007, disproportionate to the prevalence of Singaporeans’ participation in child sex tourism.
- OTHER MEASURES: Please provide comments on any other measures the government adopted specifically to prevent trafficking in persons and additional recommendations to improve the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.
We are not aware of these other measures.