Prepared by John Gee for TWC2

Trafficking in persons means the moving people to a place other than their home area through coercion or deception for the purpose of exploitation. It has three elements:

Actions: Recruitment, transportation or receipt of human beings;

Means: The threat or use of force, other forms of coercion, or deception; and

Purpose: Exploitation, which may involve forced labour, sexual exploitation, slavery or in order to remove organs for sale.

Restrictive as this definition may seem, it describes experiences that hundreds of thousands of people experience every year. International attention tends to focus on women and children trafficked into sexual exploitation, and media coverage of these issues often dramatises them in a sensational way that is attention-grabbing but may do little to encourage respect for the human dignity of those to whom it happens. It should be recognised that the main forms of trafficking internationally are for labour exploitation and that this can happen to men as well as women and children. There is also a good argument for considering trafficking for sexual exploitation as a form of labour exploitation.

We do not think that the term trafficking should be used loosely to identify almost any exploited migrant worker as a ‘trafficking victim’; this does not help workers who do have the chance to seek justice in the face of labour exploitation and mistreatment, and it devalues the term ‘trafficking’, which needs to be tackled by specific legal and practical measures that deal with the conditions under which trafficked people live and work.

There are times when the difference between a trafficked person and an exploited migrant worker may seem slight: for example, in the case of a domestic worker who was misled about the pay and conditions she could expect to have once employed and who then finds herself trapped by debt, locked in an employer’s home every day, and paid little for long hours of labour. We might use the term ‘trafficking-like conditions’ to describe her position. Only when all three conditions set out above are present should a person be considered to have been trafficked.

TWC2 regards human trafficking as a crime that is extremely harmful to those who undergo it and believes that it is an evil that should be stamped out. However, we are against any approach that treats  trafficked people as criminals, even though they may have knowingly broken laws in the places to which they were trafficked(for example, by entering a country on a tourist visa and then overstaying): they do so under the power and control of others and should therefore not be blamed. It is our view that anti-trafficking initiatives should be victim-centred, putting the needs of trafficked people for respect, safety, recovery and long-term security against being re-trafficked before other considerations.

Situation in Singapore

TWC2 believes that trafficking takes place to and through Singapore. We have handled a small number of cases of people who came to us for help and who we believed to have been trafficked. Several were women who took jobs in bars and found themselves trapped by debts that their employers said they could pay off by ‘entertaining customers’. We have seen cases of men recruited under false pretences, taken on board boats and then forced to work as fishermen on the high seas. They came to our attention when their boats put into port in Singapore.

We are aware of other cases from a variety of sources, including media reports.

TWC2 first took part in an anti-trafficking initiative in 2006. We affiliated to the Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women in 2008. Early on, we identified the crucial weakness in Singapore’s official position on trafficking as being its non-recognition of the main forms of  human trafficking. The anti-trafficking clauses of the Penal Code and the Women’s Charter do not recognise the role that deception and non-physical coercion generally play in human trafficking, nor do they recognise that the consent often given by a trafficked person to parts of the trafficking process should not bar that person from being considered to have been trafficked – coercion, deception and the misuse of power can produce consent. We believed that it was vital for Singapore to recognise these factors in order for it to be able to implement an effective victim-centred anti-trafficking policy, which is why we have repeatedly stressed this point.

TWC2 welcomed the formation of the inter-agency anti-trafficking task force, co-chaired by the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Manpower, that was set up in November 2010, and the fact that article 3a of the UN Anti-Trafficking Protocol was to be taken as the operational guideline for anti-trafficking work by official agencies in Singapore. However, it is our view that, at a very minimum, the definition of trafficking contained in clause 3 as a whole should be adopted into Singapore law, without which its terms cannot be implemented effectively. Better still, we think that Singapore should sign the Anti-Trafficking Protocol. This would prepare the ground for a concerted drive to counter trafficking to and through Singapore and for Singapore to have a strong voice in regional anti-trafficking efforts.

We believe that people who are trafficked should be treated with consideration, given protection and assisted with counselling whether or not they are willing to assist the authorities in bringing to justice their traffickers and exploiters. While in Singapore, they should be housed in accommodation that is dedicated for the use of trafficked people and should have the support of counsellors who are trained in assisting those who have been trafficked.

UN Anti-Trafficking Protocol

The most widely accepted definition of trafficking is contained in Article 3 of the United Nations’ ‘Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime’ (Hereafter, Anti-Trafficking Protocol). The red-highlighted words below are not covered by Singapore law as it stands.

Article 3

Use of terms

For the purposes of this Protocol:

(a) “Trafficking in persons” shall mean the recruitment,  transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the  threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of  deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the  giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a  person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.  Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the  prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or  services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of  organs;

(b)  The consent of a victim of trafficking in persons to the  intended exploitation set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article shall be  irrelevant where any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) have been  used;

(c) The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a child for the purpose of exploitation shall be considered “trafficking in persons” even if this does not involve any of the means set forth in subparagraph (a) of this article;

(d) “Child” shall mean any person under eighteen years of age.

It should be noted that, though it is an offence under current law to employ a woman under 23 years of age as a domestic worker,  the adoption of 3(c) and 3(d) by Singapore would render anyone employing a migrant domestic worker under 18 years of age liable to prosecution for participating in trafficking.

Present Singapore Law

Trafficking is illegal under the Penal Code, but the term itself is not clearly defined there or elsewhere. Also absent from the Penal Code is any provision that recognizes that an individual may be subjected to being trafficked without the use of physical coercion: through debt bondage, and through deception, in particular.

The relevant paragraphs of the Penal  Code are 363-374. They mostly deal with criminal actions in which individuals are physically coerced

Sections 363-369 deal with kidnapping and abduction, 370 and 371 with enslavement, and 372 and 373 with the buying and selling of minors for the purpose of prostitution.

Section 373A criminalizes the importation of women by fraud with the intention of using them for prostitution, but it should be noted that what is at issue under this section is fraud practiced in order to bring women into Singapore, not fraudulent and deceptive practices employed by traffickers to persuade women to collude with them or to consent to their own exploitation.

The clauses of the Women’s Charter that concern trafficking do little to plug the gaps in the Penal Code.

Trafficking or related activities are covered in Sections 140-142. Section 140, “Offences relating to prostitution”, penalizes the detention of any woman or girl “against her will” for the purpose of prostitution. Under Section 140 (3) (c) (iii), a person is identified as having detained a woman or girl against her will if “he threatens that woman or girl with legal proceedings for the recovery of any debt or alleged debt or uses any other threat whatsoever.” This would appear to offer an avenue for prosecuting those who trap women into sex work by using their indebtedness (often perpetuated by arbitrary charges by their employers), though it is not clear how often it is used.

Section 141 sets forth penalties for trafficking in women and girls. Section 142 is titled “The importation of woman or girl by false pretences.” In the text of this section, it is clear that the words ‘false pretences’ do not allude to any deception that might have been practiced on a worker, but to the use of deception against Singapore’s authorities in bringing a woman or girl into the country.