Statement by Transient Workers Count Too

On 28 September 2015, Singapore acceded to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (UN TIP Protocol), often known as the Palermo Protocol.

This is the key international legal instrument for combatting trafficking. Though just over 15 years old, it has been signed by most of the world’s states and is a crucial reference point for domestic legislation and international cooperation on trafficking in human beings.

Transient Workers Count Too welcomes this step. It is one that we have called for since 2008, at an early point in our own involvement with the problem of trafficking and having assisted individuals who we believed to have either been trafficked or in danger of being trafficked.

In considering acceding to international conventions, Singapore has been consistent in saying that it will only do so when it is able to be compliant with them. This would therefore be a good point at which to look again at the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA) and think about ways in which its provisions may fall short of those of the UN TIP Protocol.

In particular, it is notable that the measures for the protection and support of victims of human trafficking in Part 4 of the PHTA are more limited than those called for by the UN TIP Protocol’s articles 6-8.

The UN protocol’s protective measures extend to all trafficked people, regardless of the purposes for which they have been trafficked. It seeks to empower them by making sure they are fully informed of the progress of relevant legal proceedings concerning them and that their views are heard; it provides for them to have “employment, educational and training opportunities”; it says that each state party to the protocol “shall ensure that its domestic legal system contains measures that offer victims of trafficking in persons the possibility of obtaining compensation for damage suffered.”

The PHTA’s emphasis is on prosecution of traffickers, and it is weak in its provisions for the protection and support for victims of trafficking. In all the respects mentioned in the previous paragraph, it falls short of the UN TIP Protocol. Its protective measures tend to emphasise protection for individuals trafficked into sexual exploitation, rather than other forms of labour exploitation. The PHTA does not provide the positive support to trafficking victims mentioned above that can assist them better to recover and rebuild their lives.

TWC2 hopes that these inconsistencies will be considered by Members of Parliament and by Singapore’s Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons. We suggest that, in 2016, when the PHTA will have been in force for a year, it should be reviewed, with the aims of:

  1. Bringing its provisions fully into accord with those of the UN TIP Protocol
  2. Introducing amendments to remedy gaps and weaknesses in the PHTA revealed through efforts to apply it in practice.