Member of Parliament Christopher de Souza has defended his proposed Bill to tackle human trafficking here, saying it is "actually very generous to the victim".
He was responding to civil society groups, which in an open letter yesterday, lamented the "serious limitations" of the planned legislation, highlighting three key issues: The Bill on the Prevention of Human Trafficking fails to clearly define who is a victim of sex trafficking. It also does not appear to address "exploitative practices", such as poor living and working conditions of migrant workers.
Third, the proposed measures to protect victims fall short as they do not include "finding alternative employment or arranging a temporary stay visa", wrote Association of Women for Action and Research executive director Corinna Lim on behalf of several other groups and activists.
Mr de Souza, who is an MP for the Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, told The Straits Times that he appreciated the intention behind the letter. But he added that since proving trafficking cases could take as long as two years, "hard-wiring extreme rights may present practical difficulties". But "we will pull out the stops if it is a case of genuine trafficking".
He is "exploring parallel guidelines to assist helpless victims" beyond counselling and temporary shelters, which are part of the proposed Bill.
He said additional protection and rehabilitation measures could be provided without having to be legislated. These could be overseen by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, for instance.
Mr de Souza also explained that the Bill will address situations in which victims are deceived into providing services beyond what they had originally agreed to, such as women hired for waitressing but tricked into prostitution.
The Bill will also stick to definitions of trafficking which are internationally accepted.
Private member's Bills, introduced by MPs who are not Cabinet ministers, are generally rare. This will also be the first piece of dedicated legislation here dedicated to criminalising human trafficking for purposes of sex, labour and organ transplants. It targets traffickers who use Singapore as a transit point, as well as Singaporeans who are involved overseas.
A spokesman for the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking-in-Persons confirmed it had received the letter and said that the feedback will be taken into consideration in the drafting of the proposed Bill with Mr de Souza. The Bill, which is expected to be tabled in Parliament by November, had its final public consultation session yesterday.
Members of the public can still send their feedback via the Government's Reach portal - www.reach.gov.sg - until 5pm on Friday.
This article was published on April 16 in The Straits Times.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.