'Significant efforts' made to stop trafficking
US report, which puts S'pore in Tier 2, is 'balanced' despite some 'inaccuracies', says Govt
SINGAPORE - While the United States State Department's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report this year contains some "inaccuracies and misrepresentations", it is a "balanced report", the Singapore Government said yesterday.
The TIP report released yesterday placed Singapore in Tier 2 - same as last year - meaning that, while the Singapore Government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it is making "significant efforts" to do so.
The Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on TIP did not elaborate on what the inaccuracies and misrepresentations were. In a statement last night, it said it welcomed US efforts in highlighting "this important global issue" but remained of the view that the US has to adopt a more objective methodology in future editions of the report.
"This will ensure that a consistent, transparent and measurable standard is applied to all countries and a better understanding of the different legal structures and domestic contexts of countries ranked in the report is taken into account," the taskforce added.
The TIP report noted that, while the Government has continued to prosecute and convict sex trafficking offenders - it reported 58 sex trafficking victims - it did not "demonstrate increased efforts to apply stringent penalties to convicted offenders", with such offenders receiving fines or up to nine months' imprisonment.
The report stated that child sex trafficking occurred in Singapore, with one such case receiving "substantial media attention; military officers and government officials allegedly were among the dozens of 'clients' involved", a reference to the scandal where 48 men were charged with having paid sex with an under-aged girl.
Also, while guidelines for identifying labor trafficking cases have been set out and 124 alleged victims of forced labor were identified over the year - which was "notable" - the investigative efforts did not result in any prosecution or convictions during the reporting period.
Responding to the report, the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on TIP said it has shown that it takes "a serious view of TIP and its related crimes", first with the setting up of the Inter-Agency Taskforce in 2010, and then with the launch of the first National Plan of Action (NPA) in March.
The taskforce reiterated its "4 Ps" strategy of prevention, prosecution, protection and partnership. Its current focus is to implement the deliverables set out in the NPA, including reviewing the adequacy of existing legislation in tackling TIP crimes.
"One immediate task is to build victim identification capabilities in government agencies so that our front-line officers are able to identify potential trafficking victims and that our processes are able to appropriately handle these cases," the taskforce said.
It noted one challenge - that the concept of human trafficking is not widely understood in Singapore. "For a case to be classified as sex or labor trafficking, it must involve the act, the means and be clearly for the purpose of exploitation," the taskforce said. "While certain elements of a case (such as) incurring high levels of debt may be indicative of trafficking in persons, it may not be sufficient."
Noting the NPA on trafficking in March, the US State Department report urged the Singapore Government to make effective use of the plan by "strengthening investigations, prosecutions and sentencing of both sex and labor trafficking offenders".
Singapore should also revise its laws to bring it closer to international anti-trafficking standards and prosecute offenders such as those who unlawfully confiscate workers' passports as a means of holding them in "involuntary servitude", added the State Department.
On its part, the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on TIP said it looks forward to continued cooperation with non-governmental organizations, embassies, academia, the private sector and the general public to raise public awareness "so that more people can play a part in fighting this crime".
21 June 2012