Tag Archives: human trafficking

Send a letter to your MP today for a victim-centred bill!

Dear Supporters of our joint #StopTraffickignSG campaign, please send the letter below to your MP to ask her/him to support the key recommendations identified by the #StopTraffickingSG coalition for a victim-centric bill.

The 2nd reading of the bill is scheduled for 3 November 2014. This short window of opportunity between now to next Monday is crucial to making the anti-trafficking bill an effective one in protecting the needs of trafficked victims so that they are empowered to report and testify against their traffickers.

Please send the letter today, if you can.

The Letter

Dear [name of MP],

My name is [name] and I am a constituent in [name of constituency]. I am writing to ask you, as my elected representative, to support StopTraffickingSG!’s campaign recommendations when the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill, which MP Christopher de Souza has tabled, is discussed in Parliament in early November.

The StopTraffickingSg campaign advocates for the inclusion of victims’ rights in the proposed bill. Its three core recommendations are that

Victims have the right to accommodation, food, counseling services, legal aid, medical treatment, compensation and social support while their case is ongoing.
Victims are not prosecuted for being an undocumented immigrant or for working ‘illegally’ or for any illegal immigration infractions inadvertently committed while being trafficked; and
Victims have the right to work and a decent income while their case is ongoing.
Ultimately, in order to combat trafficking in persons, we should be empowering victims of trafficking to report their own cases. Currently, the fear of reprisal from immigration authorities, police officers, and their traffickers, discourage trafficked victims from reporting their cases directly to the police. victims do not make police reports because they are afraid of the reprisals they stand to face from immigration authorities, police officers, and their traffickers.

Moreover, as a constituent, I want to express my concern about the huge extension of discretionary powers to police and non-police enforcement officers. These powers allow such officers to arrest and forcibly gain entry to premises without warrant, and to be armed with batons and accoutrements “as are necessary”. Trafficking raids are extremely violent and may result in the secondary traumatisation of vulnerable trafficking victims. They are also counterproductive as traumatised and disempowered trafficking victims are actually less likely to contribute to successful prosecutions of traffickers.

As you know, Singapore is currently classified as a Tier 2 country in the US government’s trafficking watch list. This means that while Singapore has made efforts to comply with its minimum standards for protecting victims of human trafficking, but has not yet met those standards. I believe that Singapore could do more to protect such vulnerable people, and that the recommendations provided by StopTraffickingSG! are clear and straightforward.

Thank you for reading this letter and addressing my concerns as a constituent. I look forward to hearing your response.

Best Regards

[Name]

Empowering foreign workers to report Human Trafficking Crimes

#StoptraffickingSG Press Conference

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Yesterday’s press conference presenting #StoptraffickingSG’s reaction to the proposed Bill, and the discussion afterwards, provided an unique opportunity to hear the combined voice of six influential Singapore’s NGO’s. What was their message? That without a clearly defined victim-centred approach, this Bill that aims to combat human trafficking, will not be effective.

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HOME’s Jolovan Wham kicked off, by giving an in-depth explanation of the joint campaign’s point of view on the proposed Bill. He stressed that one of the most important rights that victims of Human Trafficking need, is the right to work during on-going investigations. In many cases seen at HOME, foreign workers ask ‘can I work if I file the complaint?’ When the answer is negative, many decide not to proceed with the case. They simply cannot afford to, as they have a family to feed. In HOME’s experience, investigations can take up to two years, or more, to be concluded. In that time the foreign worker is often completely dependent on charity, being fed, housed and cared for by NGO’s that receive no government funding.

Another important right that foreign workers need is the one not to be prosecuted themselves. Traffickers are very much aware of the fear that foreign workers have for the authorities, and use this effectively to deter them from filing complaints. According to Jolovan Wham, employers will threaten: ‘If you file a case against me, you will go to jail yourself, or get the cane.’

These examples aim to show that the Bill should not be just about the prosecution of perpetrators, but about incentivising victims to come forward.

This point was further stressed by Vanessa Ho from Project X, who not long ago witnessed a raid on suspected traffickers in the sex industry. A large group of police officers, armed with batons and tasers, surrounded the area and rounded up suspects in a loud and violent way. Raid likes these are known to cause secondary trauma to victims. As Vanessa put it ‘it is important to empower foreign workers to report crimes, rather than to break down doors to find them.’

Maruah president Braema Mathi added that the Bill makes a mention of the word decency, and asked whether raids like this, which are violent and often rather public, could be considered decent when it comes to safeguarding the victims? She was relieved to see that not only sex work, but also forced labour has been mentioned in the proposed Bill, but stressed that many points in the Bill need more clarification, before there can be any way of knowing whether this Bill will be good enough.

Campaign leader Peck Hoon Tam explained how the Bill seems biased towards victims of sex labour, just like many people think of ‘the perfect victim’ of human trafficking, a girl deceived and forced into prostitution. Reality is much more complicated, and in Singapore often concerns forced labour or domestic workers. It is important that the Bill reflects reality.

Outreach to foreign workers, by means of NGO’s and hotlines to make foreign workers aware of their rights, is an effective way to get victims of trafficking to step forward, especially if the government provides them with shelter, the right to work and protection from prosecution.

Vivienne Wee from AWARE spoke about the issue of deception, and the root cause of trafficking in persons: the profit that the trafficker makes. It needs to be clear that profit is not always a direct payment, but can also refer to other ways in which the trafficker profits. These can be illegitimate salary deductions, non-payment of salary or many others.

Another important issue that was stressed by many of the NGO’s is that while the Bill focuses solely on Singapore, human trafficking is in fact an international problem. John Gee from TWC2 explained that human trafficking is an on-going process, and usually not committed by one person but by a chain of people that crosses borders. The end user is complicit as well as the recruiter.

International aspects also need to be addressed when victims of human trafficking go back to their home countries. Someone may wait for them on their return, their families may be threatened, and victims that are in debt are often re-trafficked.

All NGO’s present agreed that key terms in the proposed Bill, like ‘forced labour’ and ‘deception’, are not defined clearly, and that it must be made clear which indicators will be used in identifying potential victims of trafficking.

HOME hopes that the debate in Parliament will further clarify all issues mentioned, and that the representatives of the press present at the meeting will help raise questions in Singapore society.

Addressing gender inequality crucial to ending human trafficking

Jaya Deshpande is a volunteer at HOME. She recently worked on the preparation of a shadow report to the United Nations on China’s compliance with the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. Here, she shares her insights.

As a woman growing up in the 21st century, I like to think sexual discrimination is on a decline, and that finally the world is coming to terms with the fact that women are equal to men. Sadly, we all know this is not the situation that we face, and in fact women are still being exploited and trafficked at astounding rates.

The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international human rights convention that came into force in 1981. It defines discrimination against women, and requires signatory countries (like China and Singapore) to take action to stop it. Reports by non-Government organisations like HOME are an important part of monitoring countries’ progress and compliance with their obligations under CEDAW.

In Singapore alone, many women are brought into the country under false pretences every year. A number of them are from China. HOME recently assisted a woman from rural China who paid more than $5000 for a job as a singer in Singapore. She had very limited earning capacity in China and her husband’s salary alone was not enough to pay for their sick daughter’s medical treatment. However, when the woman arrived in Singapore, she was forced to provide sexual services to customers. She faced threats and violence at the hands of her employers. Both her employers and her agents made a lot of money from her suffering.

It is important to note that the term trafficking encompasses not only forced prostitution, but also forced labour, debt bondage and servitude. Whilst the Government has acknowledged the problem and established the Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons to address it, our research for the CEDAW report highlighted that tackling the issue is a huge challenge, given women’s specific vulnerabilities. Employment agencies in Singapore and overseas continue to exploit inequalities between men and women in less developed countries. Although men can be victims of trafficking just like women, women in some countries are put at an extra disadvantage in life through their lack of education, access to employment and continual discrimination within the work place. Addressing these vulnerabilities is crucial to reducing the trafficking of women.

Working on this report opened my eyes to the extent of the problem of women being trafficked from China (and across the globe) to countries like Singapore. My involvement encouraged me to become more vigilant about human trafficking. It made me realise that we need to spread knowledge about the variety of forms of trafficking and stop the stigma attached to sex trafficking. Most importantly, we need to continue to work to address the discrimination and lack of opportunity that makes women and girls so vulnerable to exploitation and human trafficking.

Support HOME’s anti-human trafficking efforts. Sign our petition for the comprehensive protection of the rights of trafficked persons in Singapore, read case stories and join the discussion here.

Photo by Juliana Tan.

Campaigning for victims’ rights: #StopTraffickingSG

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a violation of human rights. Every year men, women and children are deceived or coerced into leaving their homes and moving to Singapore only to end up in jobs and working conditions they did not expect. However, even after discovering that they have been deceived, many of them find it difficult to leave because of huge debts they own to recruiters, or because they face nothing but poverty in their home countries. These men, women and children may also be physically, psychologically, and sexually abused, and have to work long hours with inadequate rest. They may also be verbally abused or threatened by their employers and recruiters.

A few months ago Singaporean MP Mr Christopher De Souza proposed to draft a Private Member’s Bill dedicated to combating human trafficking. HOME was present at public consulations held The aim is to present the Bill in parliament in November 2014. HOME welcomes the new Bill, and hopes it will be a significant step in combating human trafficking in Singapore.

HOME, together with other Singaporean Non-Governmental Organisations AWARE, TWC2, Healthserve and MARUAH has organised the StopTraffickingSG Campaign, which will run from now until the presentation of the Bill in Parliament.

The StopTraffickingSG campaign aims to create more awareness on Human Trafficking issues in Singapore, and to urge the government to adopt a victim-centred approach in the drafting of the Bill on Prevention of Human Trafficking. The campaign organisers feel that without this, the Bill will not be sufficiently effective in combating Human Trafficking.

StopTrafficking SG recommends the following to be considered:

  1. Victims have the right to accommodation, food, counselling services, legal aid, medical treatment, compensation and social support while their case is on-going.
  1. Victims are not prosecuted for being an undocumented immigrant or for working ‘illegally’ or for any illegal immigration infractions inadvertently committed while being trafficked. 
  1. Victims have the right to work and a decent income while their case is on-going.

Victim’s rights need to be taken into consideration to ensure detection and prosecution of traffickers and trafficking-related crimes. If not, many victims will opt to return to their home countries without making a formal complaint to the authorities, rendering the Bill ineffective.

At the moment, trafficked victims are often reluctant to file complaints and claim justice. Investigations and legal proceedings may take several months or even up to two years before being resolved, during which time the victims are obliged to remain in Singapore. It is not guaranteed they will have the option to work during investigations, and many, being the breadwinners of their families, can simply not afford to stay to file a complaint. Sometimes victims are even prosecuted for being undocumented immigrants, or for working illegally, often unknowingly and due to the actions of their traffickers. The victim’s fear for the authorities stops them from seeking help.

Inclusion of victim’s rights will also align Singapore’s laws with international standards. A clear framework to protect victims of trafficking in Singapore strengthens relations with our neighbours, who are the main source countries of victims trafficked through and to Singapore.

Guaranteeing the  victims’ safety, livelihood and sustenance in the Bill will give victims of Human Trafficking the incentive to report, identify and testify against perpetrators. This will aid the effective prosecution of employers and recruiters involved in trafficking persons into Singapore, and in turn assist the destruction of trafficking syndicates as well as bring justice to victims and reduce crimes that threaten the security of Singapore.

Visit the Campaign website, for updates and Human Trafficking Stories: http://stoptraffickingsg.wordpress.com/

Or find StopTraffickingSG on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Stoptraffickingsg

Please sign our Petition for the comprehensive protection of the rights of Trafficked Persons in Singapore. Everyone with a valid address in Singapore is eligible to sign, regardless of nationality.

Read here HOME’s full response to the proposed Bill: Position Paper on the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill,

Want to learn more about what Human Trafficking is? Check out these websites with useful information:

United Nations

www.humantrafficking.org 

HOME Responds to the Proposed Anti-Trafficking Bill

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It has been a busy few months for the HOME legal team and their volunteers as they have been formulating a response to MP Christopher De Souza’s private member’s bill addressing human trafficking in Singapore. Currently there is no specific legal framework dealing with this, despite the fact that Singapore is a well-known regional hub for trafficking. The new Bill provides a perfect opportunity to enshrine into law international definitions of trafficking and the requirements to prevent it, protect the victims and prosecute the perpetrators. However, Singapore is not yet a signatory to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children and the legal team is concerned that this opportunity to tackle trafficking could be missed if Mr De Souza’a Bill is not sufficiently robust.

At public consultations held in March and April, the details of what is likely to be in the Bill were presented to representatives from civil society. As the Bill is still being finalized, the legal team has taken the opportunity to submit a comprehensive summary of key points which it feels must be included if it is to really make a difference.

One of the principal points in the submission is the importance of the definition of trafficking. HOME believes terms relating to the ways in which people are trafficked, such as  ‘deception’, ‘coercion’ and ‘abuse of position of vulnerability’ must be defined to include the kind of practices which often occur in Singapore. This means that ‘deception’ must cover deception as to the conditions of work as well as the nature of work, so that workers who are promised certain wages, working hours and living conditions which are then not delivered, will be protected in the same way as women deceived into sex work when they had been promised domestic work. Similarly ‘coercion’ and ‘abuse of position of vulnerability’ must include threats of redundancy and deportation, wage withholding and debt bondage as well as physical restraint and violence. The definition of  ‘exploitation’ is also critical. The UN Protocol definition covers all involuntary work and services extracted by the use of threats and penalties from which the person cannot escape and HOME believes that the Bill must adhere to this definition.

HOME’s submission strongly makes the case that the needs and rights of the victims of trafficking should be at the heart of the Bill and that workers who bring a case against their employers must be protected from intimidation and prosecution, and allowed to seek alternative work whilst their case is being considered. Without these statutory rights for the victims of trafficking, few workers are likely to come forward, prosecutions are unlikely to occur and the Bill will be undermined.

Finally HOME’s submission urges that the Bill follows the UN Protocol and criminalizes attempts to traffic people, accomplices to trafficking and those who direct others to commit trafficking. They believe that liability should extend throughout the supply chain and include companies who knowingly engage suppliers or sub-contractors who use trafficked labour. This may not be music to the ears of a government seeking to attract foreign investors, but would be an important way of tackling trafficking from the demand side.

HOME’s response to the Bill has been submitted to Mr De Souza and we hope he will agree to discuss it further before the final drafting. It is a comprehensive document that sets out clearly how Singapore can meet international standards on tackling human trafficking. Let’s hope all the hard work pays off.

If you wish to read HOME’s submission in full, you can download it here.