Tackle human trafficking at regional level

SINGAPORE- Dr Andy Ho's commentary ("Remember victims of forced labour in trafficking law"; last Saturday) has raised awareness and improved our understanding of human trafficking.

Many Singaporeans believe human trafficking happens only in poor countries and is limited mainly to sex trafficking, although labour trafficking is also part of the phenomenon.

Human trafficking is the third-most profitable business for organised crime, according to the United Nations, behind only drugs and guns.

MP Christopher de Souza's initiative to table a Private Member's Bill on human trafficking is laudable, given that the subject holds little interest for most Singaporeans ("MP gets go-ahead to table law on human trafficking"; Nov 12).

Human trafficking is a heinous crime that exploits the most vulnerable people.

As a responsible member of the international community, Singapore cannot afford to be inward-looking, but must hit hard at the perpetrators.

Being an international hub, we need to beef up our legal, intelligence and enforcement capabilities in repressing trafficking networks, and especially to prevent the country from becoming a transit node.

I have no doubt that the proposed Bill will advocate harsh punishments for traffickers and their associates, just like for other serious crimes.

However, more importantly, we need to have an action plan, especially for victim identification, protection and assistance.

Most cases would probably not resemble the stereotypical images of slavery and trafficking.

Traffickers are likely to use more subtle forms of coercion such as debt accrued, fear of violence, psychological threats and control.

Understandably, the victims are afraid to report to the authorities because they think they or their families will be hurt by the traffickers, and they will be either deported or charged with immigration offences.

Human trafficking is a transnational crime and has to be tackled at the regional level, as some ASEAN countries are the source of these victims.

I suggest that the member states of the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights synchronise their anti-trafficking laws and act in unison to arrest this scourge.

The regional cooperation should include measures on monitoring new trends and developments, victim reintegration in the countries of origin, awareness campaigns and training programmes for public institutions and non-governmental organisations.

Edmund Lam (Dr)

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