'Beef up Bill to better aid trafficked persons'

'Beef up Bill to better aid trafficked persons'
Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher De Souza gives his opening address before the start of the Dialogue on the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill held at the Ministry of Communications and Information on 19 March 2014.

A proposed law to fight human trafficking must be beefed up to better protect victims, an activist group said yesterday.

The Stop Trafficking SG group, comprising six non-government organisations (NGOs) and advocacy groups, repeated its call for more clauses to be included in the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill.

It said at a press conference that the Bill is a "very good first step" but not comprehensive.

Among other things, the group - which includes Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) - wants victims to be shielded from prosecution for immigration infractions and given the right to continue working while their cases are being dealt with.

It also called for a clearer definition of what constitutes a human trafficking case.

Mr Jolovan Wham, executive director of Home, said: "There is concern that if the Bill is too victim-centric, people may identify themselves as victims.

(But) we cannot deny rights to a majority because we are afraid that a minority would identify themselves as victims when they are not."

Mr John Gee, head of research at TWC2, said: "We don't want people to come forward and then feel that they are going to be thrown out of the country."

Tabled by Mr Christopher de Souza, an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, the Bill was introduced in Parliament on Oct 7.

Mr de Souza told The Straits Times yesterday: "I thank the NGOs for their compassion for the victims, which I share. Some of these concerns were raised during the public consultations and were considered very seriously during the drafting of the Bill.

What was operationally possible was put in."

He added that the Bill is very clear on its definition of human trafficking and is consistent with international standards. Measures to protect the victims are also included.

But when it comes to offering work or immigration status, Mr de Souza noted that such individuals should be considered on "a case-by-case basis".

"The trafficked persons I have spoken with shared that they are afraid to work and that they would rather continue staying in the safe house until investigations are concluded," he said.

In June, the annual Trafficking In Persons report by the United States government placed Singapore in Tier 2 of its four-tier ranking.

This means Singapore has not fully complied with minimum standards to curb trafficking.

The second reading of the Bill is expected to be in the first week of next month.

limyihan@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Oct 22, 2014.
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