SINGAPORE - Earlier this month, Mr Christopher de Souza, an MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, introduced a Private Member's Bill in Parliament which seeks to fight human trafficking. Private Member's Bills, which are introduced by MPs who are not ministers, are rare.
The last such Bill to be successfully passed was the Maintenance of Parents Act, which was introduced by then Nominated MP Walter Woon in 1994. Mr de Souza tells Rachel Au-Yong why he has taken this step.
What sparked your interest in tackling human trafficking?
Several years ago, I started raising questions in Parliament about prostitution: the figures, raids, what we were doing to curb the vice. At that time, I was concerned that prostitution was moving into the heartland.
But that initial, clinical inquiry matured into something more. I figured there must be a story behind every person who sells her body for profit. How many are doing this voluntarily? How many are forced to do so?
Early last year, I was at a wake, and somebody came up to me and asked, "What are you doing about human trafficking?"
She soon gave me a report about how some women are trafficked out of Batam.
That got me thinking about what we were doing to assist those who are truly exploited.
So what was the result of that soul-searching?
I looked at the existing laws and realised we needed a dedicated piece of legislation to combat human trafficking.
If you look at the current laws, we have the Women's Charter, which is gender-specific, so a man can't be trafficked under this. Then there's the Children and Young Persons Act, where you have to be a certain age to be protected. Fine, we have the Penal Code for trafficking, but that definition of trafficking does not cover labour trafficking or organ-harvesting.
So we had laws, but the laws served very different ends, and there were gaps.
If we have the Prevention of Corruption Act and the Misuse of Drugs Act because we want to stamp out corruption and drugs, what more for human trafficking?
Tell me more about the process of working on the Bill.
From mid- to late-2013, I examined precedents from around the world; the United Nations' Trafficking in Persons reports, protocols on abolishing slavery, and other provisions.
Then I gave the Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) and the Minister for Home Affairs (Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean) a copy of the draft Bill, explaining that I would be willing to put forward this Bill as a private member in Parliament.
The reason I gave was that we needed a dedicated piece of legislation to combat human trafficking.
I was very encouraged when both the PM and DPM said they would support the Bill.