She had been told that there were job opportunities as a babysitter or cafe worker. So Lilis (not her real name), the breadwinner for her four siblings, jumped at the chance to come to Singapore in 2015. Instead, the 14-year-old was held under lock and key in a brothel and forced to provide sexual services to men.
One day, a customer who discovered that she was being held against her will gave Lilis $10 and urged her to escape. So she and a friend made a break for it. With the help of a kind taxi driver, who did not charge them, they made it to the police. Lilis was then placed in a women’s crisis centre, where she came to the attention of Hagar Singapore, part of the global humanitarian organisation Hagar International.
Lilis struggled with suicidal thoughts and had low self-esteem due to her trauma. But with the help of Hagar’s therapy programmes, she was able to turn her life around.
Today, Lilis is back home and working as an apprentice at a hair salon. Her story is being told as part of Hagar Singapore’s emPOWER movement, an online campaign to highlight the plight of human trafficking victims.
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While figures for trafficking victims in Singapore are unavailable, Hagar Singapore, which works closely with the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons, has come to the aid of more than 30 such victims in the past two years. These victims hail from countries such as China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Vietnam.
According to the US State Department’s 2016 Trafficking In Persons report, “Singapore is a destination country for men, women, and girls from other Asian countries subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor…Child sex trafficking involving both foreign and Singaporean boys and girls occurs in Singapore.”
The report added that while the Singapore government does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it is making “significant efforts” to do so.
Last year, a 25-year-old man who sexually exploited teenage girls and forced them into prostitution was sentenced to six years and three months in jail and fined $30,000. He was the first person to be prosecuted under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (POHTA), which came into effect in March 2015.