MP gets go-ahead to table law on human trafficking

MP gets go-ahead to table law on human trafficking
Mr Christopher de Souza.

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Home Affairs gave the green light for Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) to table a rare Private Member's Bill on combating human trafficking.

Mr de Souza, a lawyer, had asked in Parliament if the ministry would be open to working with him on his proposed Bill, which would help in "strongly, potently" deterring traffickers.

He argued the need for dedicated legislation to show Singapore means business in cracking down on traffickers, just as it has done for drugs through the "highly effective" Misuse of Drugs Act.

Responding, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said the Government supported Mr de Souza's initiative.

He will ask the Inter-Agency Task Force on Trafficking in Persons to work closely with Mr de Souza, who intends to consult various parties in developing and improving the Bill next year.

The task force, set up in 2010, had confirmed the need for a dedicated law in its review of domestic legislation, said Mr Masagos.

Such a law will have a framework to deal with all types of offences, equip agencies with levers for various criminal methods, and reflect Singapore's commitment to fighting trafficking to the world while aligning itself with international standards, he said. It is an "essential progression" in the fight against human trafficking, he added.

The task force said in a statement last night that it will "fully support" Mr de Souza in his work and co-develop the Bill with him.

A dedicated law paves the way for appropriate penalties that reflect the severity of offences, it said.

Mr de Souza has prepared a draft of the Bill, tentatively titled the "Prevention of Human Trafficking Act".

It seeks to criminalise the trafficking of persons, especially minors, for such purposes as sexual exploitation, forced incarceration, slave labour and organ trafficking.

He told The Straits Times that existing provisions are spread across different laws, making them hard to enforce.

These include the Penal Code, the Children and Young Persons Act and the Women's Charter.

"Rather than just point and say, 'Look, there's a legislative gap', I decided to try and fill it," said Mr de Souza, who has spoken about human trafficking in Parliament several times since 2008.

His draft Bill consolidates existing laws and includes relevant examples from overseas, such as the United Nations' Palermo Protocol on human trafficking and International Labour Organisation conventions.

The inter-agency task force also said it would refer to and adapt such international examples.

One area Mr De Souza seeks to address is extra-territoriality, where the trafficker can be punished if he uses Singapore as a transit point even if the actual trafficking is not carried out here.

Mr de Souza plans to put the Bill before Parliament late next year or early 2015, after consultation, he added.

Private Member's Bills, introduced by MPs who are not ministers, are rare. The last such Bill to be successfully passed was the Maintenance of Parents Act, tabled in 1994 by then Nominated MP Walter Woon, now a law don.

Since 2004, Singapore has been criticised by the United States in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, though some findings have been disputed by the Singapore Government.

Responding to Nominated MP Eugene Tan, Mr Masagos said there were about 100 reports of alleged human trafficking last year.

Six cases have been convicted and the rest are under investigation.

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