Sex trafficking: S'pore's wealth a big draw

TRAPPED: Most human trafficking victims are lured to Singapore with promises of a job. -TNP

SINGAPORE - The horrifying case of a 17-year-old China girl who was forced into prostitution here offered a glimpse of the scale of sex trafficking in Singapore, said the president of the Singapore Committee for UN Women, Ms Trina Liang.

The girl was beaten and drugged before being brought here to work as a prostitute last May. She was made to serve 150 clients in 15 days.

Her pimp was sentenced to six years in jail.

Her case was one of the 53 sex trafficking reports made last year.

But many more could have gone unreported, said Ms Liang.

"We are a major transit point for human trafficking," said Ms Liang, speaking on the sidelines of a human trafficking conference at INSEAD Asia Campus on Thursday.

This is because Singapore is a rich country and many potential trafficking victims are attracted to come here, she said.

Other conference speakers told The New Paper how sex trafficking typically works.

HOW IT WORKS

1. Most victims hear about jobs in Singapore through an agent, said Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics executive director Jolovan Wham. Victims are usually introduced to agents by friends.

The victims are often women from villages of neighbouring countries like Indonesia and the Philippines.

They are promised relatively well-paying jobs and are vaguely told what their job in Singapore would encompass. Most of these promises are verbal and they do not sign anything.

In some cases, they would have to owe the agent some money as part of the terms.

2. Many victims come to Singapore on a social visit pass or some other work pass, applied for by local employers or agents, said Mr Wham.

The agents would also arrange for their accommodation here. Victims could be denied freedom of movement and association, and kept under close surveillance and monitoring.

Female victims promised jobs as waitresses might find themselves working in sleazy places or involved in the sex trade here.

3. Fear sets in as the victims realise that something is amiss.

But they cannot escape as some are afraid of their employers or local agents, who might threaten them or their families.

Others fear losing their source of income and still need to pay off their debts to the trafficker. This type of debt bondage often forces victims into prostitution, according to a study on human trafficking by Dr Sallie Yea, an assistant professor of geography at the National Institute of Education.

They leave Singapore only after they finish their "contract" or on their own volition. Some could also be rescued by non-governmental organisations or picked up by the police in a raid.

4. In the case of raids where the pimp is arrested, the victims could choose to stay on as prosecution witnesses.

But this process takes a long time, said Ms Liang.

Mr Wham said the current state of victim protection services are also not comprehensive enough.

"There needs to be dedicated shelters and counselling services for these victims, but we're still lagging behind where we should be," he said.

WE NEED BETTER LEGISLATION

Speakers at Thursday's conference on human trafficking also pointed out that Singapore's anti-trafficking legislation is not good enough.

Currently, offences related to human trafficking are covered under a range of laws, including the Penal Code, Women's Charter, the Children and Young Persons Act and the Immigration Act.

That was why several speakers gave their support to a private member's Bill specifically targeting human trafficking, led by Member of Parliament Christopher de Souza.

Mr de Souza, who has been speaking in Parliament about fighting human trafficking since 2008, got approval to table the Bill last year.

Public consultation for the Bill is set to commence in mid-March, he said yesterday. He did not say when the Bill is expected to be introduced.

The Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons has been in discussions with Mr de Souza about the Bill.

Mr Alvin Lim, who co-chairs the taskforce, said yesterday that human traffickers exploit gaps in government policies in order to conduct their illicit activities.

He said: "As an open and vibrant economy with high people flows, Singapore is naturally a very tempting destination country for human-trafficking syndicates."

The Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower formed the anti-trafficking task force in 2010 and launched a national plan of action in 2012.

ngjunsen@sph.com.sg

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