[UPDATE: 26 March - adding figures from MOM on trafficking cases reported]
New laws and specialised enforcement teams will be put in place to further tackle the problem of trafficking in persons (TIP) in Singapore, says Minister of State for National Development and Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin.
Speaking at the launch of the Ministry of Manpower (MOM)’s national plan of action to combat TIP on Wednesday morning, Tan said that the possession of a well-coordinated response to such trafficking crimes is essential as criminals and human traffickers are becoming “more organised and increasingly transnational”.
“Trafficking in persons” is an umbrella term that refers to the illegal trade of persons for commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour or organ trafficking, involving the use of force, coercion or other means for the purpose of exploitation.
In Singapore, sex and labour trafficking are the key forms of TIP to deal with, said Tan, as organ trafficking is less prevalent here.
However, the island-state has up to last year been on the Tier 2 Watch List (having only been upgraded to Tier 2 in 2011) of the U.S. State Department's Trafficking in Persons report, for not fully complying with its Trafficking Victims Protection Act, even though it is making efforts to bring itself up to meet the standards entailed in it. The report places countries into tiers based on the efforts their individual governments are making to combat the international issue of human trafficking, more than the actual scale of the problem each country is facing.
The U.S. has since called on Singapore to be more proactive in investigating and persecuting cases of human, labour and sex trafficking, to better protect victims and to ratify the 2000 United Nations TIP Protocol, also referred to as the Palermo Protocols, which target various forms of human trafficking.
Speaking last week on the issue, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded the efforts of the international community to combat the problem, noting that nearly 140 countries have enacted modern anti-trafficking laws, as well as the fact that almost 150 countries have ratified the Palermo Protocols.
She noted then and in June last year, however, that as many as 27 million men, women and children suffer from trafficking around the world, in its various forms.
"Unfortunately, because of the ease of transportation and the global communications that can reach deep into villages with promises and pictures of what a better life might be, we now see that more human beings are exploited than before," she was quoted as saying then.
As part of the government's latest plan, which was devised by a taskforce co-chaired by the MOM and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), current legislation in place will be reviewed, taking into consideration the laws in place in other countries.
“This will help us see if there is scope to enhance our legislative frameworks, powers and penalties against TIP,” he said in his speech.
He further added that cases of trafficking should be detected as early as possible, so structured training programmes will be put in place for government officers, with research studies and public education initiatives to be implemented as well.
Dedicated enforcement teams will help to further clamp down on instances of sex and human trafficking for labour, he said.
Tan also drew attention to victim care services, saying more can be done to help them as well.
“We will enhance the management of TIP victims, particularly our prosecution witnesses… in the form of clearer victim identification procedures and enhanced victim-care services,” he said, adding that the plan will help with the return of victims to their home countries, alongside reviewing current trafficking shelter facilities.
He also reached out to foreign governments, businesses, academia and members of the public, saying that partnership and pooling of resources will help “create a multiplier effect and effectively combat TIP”.
According to the MHA, five sex trafficking and eight labour trafficking cases were prosecuted in 2010, with enforcement being taken against some 182 companies that showed signs of labour trafficking.
Further figures from the MOM reveal that investigations are ongoing for 43 reports of sex trafficking and 67 cases of labour trafficking.
Singapore’s laws also do not specifically address human trafficking, although the Penal Code and Women’s Charter contain clauses that criminalise sex trafficking. Children are also protected from trafficking under the Children and Young Persons Act.