Why S'pore needs anti-trafficking laws

Why S'pore needs anti-trafficking laws

District Judge Low Wee Ping was very forthright in his comments on Sept 12 when he sentenced four men who had sexual relations with a 17-year-old girl.

"What you and similar offenders have participated in is in this horrendous trade of trafficking in a minor," he said.

The details of the case: how the girl concerned was tricked about the nature of her future employment, raped, beaten when she resisted, forcibly confined and then compelled to provide paid sex left no doubt that the judge was right: this was a case of trafficking.

It may therefore have struck detached observers as a little strange that Tang Huisheng, the pimp who abused and exploited this minor so outrageously, was convicted of four offences on Oct 10, none of which was trafficking.

He had been tried on six charges - five concerned offences under the Women's Charter and one was under the Penal Code.

Not one was a specific charge of trafficking, although Article 141 of the Women's Charter, headed Traffic in Women and Girls, appears to have been applicable.

This inconsistency is due to the inadequacy of Singapore's laws in dealing with trafficking.

Most of the articles of the Penal Code from 363 to 374 are directed against offences that occur within the process of trafficking. These include physical coercion and constraint of individuals by perpetrators, kidnapping, abduction, enslavement, and buying and selling of minors for the purpose of prostitution.

But the Penal Code does not set these offences within the framework of trafficking. This is probably because the issue was under-recognised internationally when the Penal Code was originally framed.

On the face of it, the specific reference to trafficking in the Women's Charter plugs this gap. But it appears in the context of Part XI, Offences Against Women and Girls. This section is concerned above all with offences connected to prostitution.

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