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Civil society groups want tougher laws

Groups want laws that make child trafficking a crime whether or not the child ends up as a sex worker. -TNP

Fri, Apr 20, 2012
The New Paper

Ms Bridget Tan, 62, is the president of Home (Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics).

The 44 men charged with having paid sex with a local underage girl are just the latest.

For commercial sex with a minor, only one man was arrested in 2010.

Four men were nabbed last year.

Peter Gerard Chang Liang Chieh was jailed for three months for having sex with a 16-year-old Vietnamese prostitute on May 25 last year.

Earlier this year, a former Singapore Land Authority executive, Kum Chin Tiong 57, was jailed for nine months for paying $100 to a 16-year-old girl for sex.

Last week, Winson Chan Swee Teck, 49, pleaded guilty to having paid for sex with the same girl last July. He got four months' jail.

This year alone, at least 53 men have been charged and another three were jailed three to nine months for paying for sex with a minor.

Civil society groups have been calling for tougher laws here.

In particular, they are looking at the Palermo Protocol, which supplements the UN Convention against Transnational Organised Crime.

It makes child trafficking a crime whether or not the child ends up as a sex worker.

Ms Bridget Tan, founder of the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (Home), said: "If the victim is underage, it's irrelevant if there was consent (to working as a prostitute).

"As far as I'm concerned, where an underage person is forced into providing sex services, it is trafficking.

"There are no anti-trafficking laws as yet. If there is an anti-human trafficking law, you are giving a message to traffickers and pimps that human trafficking is a very serious matter and the penalties are heavy.

"We should have such a law. That's the stand of Home because an anti-human trafficking law is more comprehensive in dealing with pimps and traffickers who bring in women to be sex slaves."

Such a law should also provide financial assistance and protection to women to encourage them to lodge a police report and stay on as prosecution witnesses.

Ms Tan said she sees about 10 women who seek safety from the sex industry at her shelter each year. About three would be underage.

Said Ms Braema Mathi, chairman of the trafficking sub-committee of the Association of Women for Action and Research: "It is trafficking to have sex with an underage foreigner. We want the law to be amended, or to have a standalone anti-human trafficking law."

She was concerned that the invisibility of the sex industry would make it difficult to reach out to the illicit workers.

Ms Mathi, who is also the president of Maruah, a human rights association, added: "Because the whole industry is so underground, it is very difficult to monitor, so protection can never be totally adequate. Public education is equally important."

A 2010 report by Ecpat International and Dr Sallie Yea, a visiting fellow at the National University of Singapore, put "particular emphasis on child sex trafficking".

Of Singapore, the 80-page report noted: "It has been reported that victims of trafficking, including children, are frequently not identified as victims and are consequently criminalised and deported without receiving care and protection."

Mr Edwin Tong, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Law and Home Affairs, agreed that the Palermo Protocol should be implemented quickly.

But he said there is also a need to examine the different interests and strike a balance.

He added: "How do we deal with people for trafficking but all their activities are overseas? It's an extra-territorial issue.

"If it happened overseas, how should the law deal with that? It's not just about policing activities in Singapore but also overseas."

He said the civil groups and activists have the right objectives to protect children and young women.

Mr Tong added: "But it cannot be rushed through. We have to balance speed with thoroughness. There is also an urgency because we are seeing a lot more of such vice activities recently."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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