Human trafficking: Task force highlights 'milestone measures'

SINGAPORE - Several measures introduced by the Government over the past year or so have been hailed as milestones by the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons (TIP).

The task force, set up in 2010, is made up of officials from the police and the immigration authorities, and the ministries of Home Affairs, Manpower (MOM), Foreign Affairs and Social and Family Development, among others.

The measures that the task force noted range from making it compulsory to give maids a weekly rest day to imposing a cap on salary deductions.

The compulsory day off - or pay in lieu - was introduced in January last year. Not only does it give foreign domestic workers a break from work, but it may increase opportunities to seek help for those who are distressed.

Another measure was the setting up of a specialist sex trafficking team by the police in February last year. This is made up of investigation and intelligence officers who work together to detect trafficking syndicates. A specialised team to enforce labour trafficking is also being set up.

Last November, the MOM announced changes to the Employment Act that included a new 25 per cent sub-cap imposed on deductions to employees' salaries for accommodation, amenities and services. This is meant to prevent excessive deductions being made to their salaries.

A task force spokesman told The Straits Times that officer training has also been ramped up, as has the monitoring of cases.

She said the task force is working closely with MP Christopher de Souza on his Private Member's Bill to combat human trafficking.

The task force fights trafficking through a four-way approach: by trying to prevent the crime, prosecute perpetrators, protect victims and work in partnership with like-minded agencies in Singapore and overseas.

Specific initiatives under each of the four areas have been charted in the National Plan of Action.

These were launched in 2012 and will run until next year. The plan acknowledges that as people move across borders in search of economic opportunities, opportunities are created for traffickers to exploit individuals with empty promises of good jobs and pay.

As Singapore is an attractive hub of economic activity with a high flow of people, it is regarded as an attractive destination by human trafficking syndicates, according to the plan.

"The task force recognises that TIP is an inherently transnational and organised crime which cannot be tackled by the Government alone," said its spokesman. "We will continue to work together to ensure that this heinous crime does not take root in Singapore."

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