Source: The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for 2009, pages 256-258
Singapore is a destination country for women and girls trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Some women from Thailand and the Philippines who travel to Singapore voluntarily for prostitution or work are subsequently deceived or coerced into sexual servitude.
Some foreign domestic workers are subject to conditions that may be indicative of labor trafficking, including physical or sexual abuse, confiscation of travel documents, confinement, inadequate food, rest, or accommodation, deceptions about wages or conditions of work, and improper withholding of pay.
Some Singaporean men travel to countries in the region for child sex tourism.
The Government of Singapore does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.
Singapore secured convictions of two defendants for sex trafficking-related crimes, including the first conviction under a recently amended law criminalizing the commercial sexual exploitation of children between 16 and 18 years of age.
Singapore strengthened the Conditions of Work Permits for foreign domestic workers and collected unpaid wages on behalf of such workers in 276 cases.
The government did not take adequate measures to protect victims of trafficking, particularly foreign domestic workers subjected to forced labor conditions.
While Singapore has made progress in combating trafficking to date, it can and should do more to investigate and prevent trafficking and to identify and assist trafficking victims.
Recommendations for Singapore
Prosecute the maximum possible number of cases involving the trafficking of children under the age of 18 for commercial sexual exploitation;
prosecute employers and employment agencies who unlawfully confiscate workers’ passports as a means of intimidating workers or holding them in a state of involuntary servitude, or use other means to extract forced labor;
expand investigations and prosecutions in adult sex trafficking cases;
develop robust procedures to identify potential traffickers and trafficking victims by immigration officers at ports of entry and other law enforcement personnel;
devote additional resources to systematically identifying and quantifying sex and labor trafficking within and across national borders, as well as indicators (such as certain unlawful labor practices) that are commonly associated with trafficking, and publish findings and follow-up;
use the findings to improve the anti-trafficking training of police, immigration, and Ministry of Manpower officers, as well as judicial personnel;
carry out targeted anti-trafficking law enforcement operations;
conduct focused public information campaigns, and make appropriate adjustments to administrative rules or procedures relating to the prevention of trafficking or the protection of trafficking victims;
study ways to make affordable legal aid to trafficking victims to enable them to obtain redress by pursuing civil suits against their traffickers;
reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in Singapore by vigorously enforcing existing laws against importing women for purposes of prostitution, trafficking in women and girls, importing women or girls by false pretenses, living or trading on prostitution, and keeping brothels;
increase cooperative exchange of information about potential trafficking issues with NGOs and foreign diplomatic missions in Singapore;
conduct public awareness campaigns to inform citizens and residents of the recent amendments to the Penal Code and the penalties for involvement in trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labor;
and cooperate with foreign governments to institutionalize procedures for reporting, investigating, and prosecuting child sex tourism committed overseas by Singaporean citizens and permanent residents.
The Government of Singapore demonstrated some law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons during the reporting year.
Singaporean law criminalizes all forms of trafficking, through its Penal Code, Women’s Charter, Children and Young Persons Act, Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, Employment Agencies Act, Employment Agency Rules, and the Conditions of Work Permits for foreign domestic workers. Penalties prescribed for sex trafficking, including imprisonment, fines, and caning, are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, as are penalties prescribed for labor trafficking.
The Singapore Police Force investigated 54 reports of sex trafficking during the reporting period; two cases resulted in prosecutions, while the others reportedly were closed due to lack of substantiating evidence.
The government prosecuted and secured the convictions of two trafficking offenders in 2008, both for sex trafficking offenses. One trafficker who brought a Filipina woman into Singapore for the purpose of prostitution was fined $8,000 with an alternative sentence of 12 weeks’ imprisonment if she failed to pay the fine. Another trafficker who brought an underage Chinese girl to Singapore for commercial sexual exploitation was sentenced to one year in prison.
There were no criminal prosecutions of labor agency representatives for trafficking crimes in 2008; the government prosecuted some employers for physical or sexual abuse of foreign domestic workers, for “illegal deployment” (unlawfully requiring a worker to work at premises other than those stated in the work permit), for failing to pay wages due, or for failing to provide acceptable accommodation or a safe working environment. There were no reports of government officials’ complicity in trafficking crimes during the reporting period.
The government did not show appreciable progress in protecting trafficking victims, particularly foreign domestic workers subjected to forced labor conditions.
The government does not operate victim shelters, but instead referred potential victims of trafficking to NGO shelters or foreign embassies over the reporting period.
Although two foreign embassies in Singapore documented over 150 women allegedly trafficked into Singapore for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, the government only identified two trafficking victims during the reporting period. One identified victim, a Chinese girl, was referred by the government to an NGO-operated shelter during the prosecution of her trafficker. The other victim returned voluntarily to the Philippines before a report was filed with the police.
In 2008, one NGO reported offering assistance to over 850 foreign workers, some of whom claimed they had experienced trafficking-related conditions, such as fraudulent recruitment, withholding of documents, confinement, threats of serious financial harm related to recruitment debts as part of a scheme to keep the worker performing the relevant labor or service, and physical abuse. In a survey of 206 migrant workers who resided at the shelter, 95 percent reported that their employer or employment agency in Singapore held their passport, a known contributing factor to trafficking if done as a means to keep the worker performing a form of labor or service.
The Philippine Embassy in Singapore reported contacts from 136 potential sex trafficking victims whose claims Philippine authorities determined to be credible. Six other diplomatic missions in Singapore reported a combined total of 21 to 23 potential or confirmed sex trafficking victims.
Law enforcement efforts aimed at curbing prostitution may have resulted in victims of sex trafficking being penalized for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. In 2008, the police arrested 5,047 foreign women for prostitution, who were generally incarcerated and then deported. The number of trafficking victims among this group is unknown; however, government measures to proactively identify potential trafficking victims among this vulnerable population, if any, appear to have been limited during the majority of the reporting period. At least 53 of those reportedly arrested and deported without being formally identified and provided with appropriate protective services were children, who should therefore have been classified as crime victims under Singapore’s amended Penal Code.
The government encourages identified victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and makes available to all foreign victims of crime temporary immigration relief that allows them to reside in Singapore pending conclusion of their criminal case. Singapore does not otherwise provide trafficking victims with a legal alternative to removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.
The Singaporean government demonstrated some increased efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the year. The government expanded its information
campaign that aims to raise awareness among foreign workers of their rights and resources available, in an effort to prevent incidents of trafficking. It continued to
print information on employees’ rights and police hotline numbers for domestic workers on prepaid phone cards.
The Ministry of Manpower has a biannual newsletter, published in multiple languages, that it mails directly to all 180,000 foreign domestic workers. All foreign domestic workers working in Singapore for the first time attend a compulsory course on domestic safety and their employment rights and responsibilities.
The government undertook some administrative actions for violations of labor laws potentially related to trafficking, including employer fines and license suspensions for several employment agencies. It also strengthened the terms of work permits to expressly prohibit employers from making unauthorized deductions from domestic workers’ salaries.
Throughout the reporting period, at least 25 employers were convicted of physically or sexually abusing their foreign domestic workers and sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from a few weeks to over two years, depending on the severity of the abuse. Some male employers convicted of sexual abuse were also sentenced to caning.
The government did not undertake specific measures to reduce demand for commercial sex acts involving adults in the legalized commercial sex industry in Singapore. Singapore has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.