Last Updated: Monday, 14 July 2014, 09:24 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Singapore

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Singapore, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30c99c.html [accessed 14 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

SINGAPORE (Tier 2)

Singapore is a destination country for men, women, and girls from China, India, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Some women are recruited through offers of legitimate employment and deceived about the nature or conditions of the prospective work. Others enter Singapore with the intention of engaging in prostitution but upon arrival are subjected to forced prostitution under the threat of serious harm, including financial harm. Child sex trafficking occurred in Singapore. During the reporting period, one such case received substantial media attention; military officers and government officials allegedly were among the dozens of "clients" involved.

There are over 1.1 million foreign workers in Singapore, comprising more than one-third of Singapore's total labor force. The majority of these are unskilled and semi-skilled workers employed in construction, domestic service, and the hospitality and service industries. Many foreign workers in Singapore assume debts to recruitment agencies in both Singapore and their home countries associated with their employment, making the workers vulnerable to forced labor. Foreign workers also reported confiscation of their passports, restrictions on their movements, illegal withholding of their pay, threats of forced repatriation without pay, or physical or sexual abuse – all indicators of potential trafficking. Men are subjected to forced labor on long-haul fishing boats that dock in Southeast Asian ports, including Singapore. Workers reported severe abuse by fishing boat captains, the inability to disembark from their vessels, the inability to terminate their contracts, and the nonpayment of wages.

Some employers in Singapore rely on repatriation companies to seize, confine, and escort – including through the use of assaults, threats, and coercion – foreign workers to the airport to prevent them from complaining of abuses to authorities. A 2010 report produced by NGOs found that, on average, Indian, Bangladeshi, and Chinese migrant workers in Singapore, paid fees to employment agencies that constitute at least 10 months of their potential earnings; such debt makes migrants vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage. The government amended the Employment Agencies Act to limit agency fees in Singapore to one month of wages per year of contract. Exorbitant fees are sometimes the result of multiple layers of sub-contracting to smaller agencies and individual recruiters in source countries, commissions paid to Singaporean agencies, and sometimes, kickbacks to Singaporean employers. To hide illegal fees, some agencies and employers mask them as payments from the worker for personal loans or as other payments, making it difficult for workers to understand how their wages were calculated and leaving them vulnerable to debt bondage. Foreign workers have credible fears of losing their work visas and being deported, since employers have the ability to repatriate workers at anytime during their contracts. Additionally, low-skilled workers are prohibited or severely restricted from seeking alternative employment, on transferring employers and Singaporean employers can submit complaints about worker behavior to have future employment bans placed on them.

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. In February 2012, the Singapore Interagency Task Force released for public comment its National Plan of Action, which was crafted after an extensive consultative process with local NGOs involved in anti-trafficking issues and the protection of migrant workers and an open comment period seeking broader input from foreign governments and other international stakeholders. The government strengthened its anti-trafficking prevention and public awareness efforts among foreign workers and fishermen. During the year, the government continued to prosecute and convict sex trafficking offenders, but it failed to impose adequate penalties; convicted offenders received punishments of fines or up to nine months' imprisonment. The government developed and implemented guidelines for identifying labor trafficking cases, and identified 124 alleged victims of forced labor during the year, although the government did not report providing all these victims with services. These investigative efforts did not result in any prosecutions or convictions of labor trafficking offenders during the reporting period. Singaporean men reportedly have been a source of demand for child sex tourism in Southeast Asia.

Recommendations for Singapore: Make effective use of the new national plan of action, particularly by strengthening investigations, prosecutions, and sentencing of both sex and labor trafficking offenders, identifying possible trafficking victims among migrant laborers and persons in prostitution, and dedicating exclusive resources to addressing the country's human trafficking problem through greater assistance to trafficking victims; draft and enact legislative revisions to bring Singapore's legal code into tighter conformity with international anti-trafficking standards; prosecute employers and employment agencies who unlawfully confiscate workers' passports as a means of holding them in a state of involuntary servitude, or who use other means to extract forced labor; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute repatriation companies that forcefully and illegally restrain and repatriate migrant workers who would otherwise complain about forced labor conditions; make greater efforts to support victims assisting in the investigation process in obtaining employment; extend the government's legal aid scheme to cover foreign trafficking victims to ensure that all employees have equal access to judicial redress; continue public awareness campaigns to inform citizens and residents of the penalties for involvement in trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labor; and consider acceding to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

Prosecution

The Government of Singapore demonstrated limited law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons during the year. Singaporean law criminalizes some forms of trafficking through its Penal Code and Women's Charter. Singaporean law does not prohibit the forced prostitution of men, although there is no evidence of this occurring in Singapore. Article 140 of the Women's Charter does not prohibit non-physical forms of coercion, such as debt bondage or threat of abuse of the legal process, and Article 141 only prohibits the movement of women and girls for trafficking, and does not define the term "trafficking." Penalties prescribed for sex trafficking offenses in the Women's Charter include a maximum of five years' imprisonment, which is sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. During the year, the government reported convicting four sex trafficking offenders, compared with six such convictions during the previous year, but it did not prosecute or convict any labor trafficking offenders. The government did not demonstrate increased efforts to apply stringent penalties to convicted offenders; traffickers were given low penalties ranging from fines to nine months' imprisonment. An additional three cases confirmed to constitute sex trafficking were identified but not prosecuted, and 18 cases remained pending at the close of the year. Singaporean authorities exhibited greater efforts to proactively identify sex trafficking cases during the year; the government reported identifying 54 percent of suspected sex trafficking and related cases during vice operations during the year.

While the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) maintained responsibility for investigating all labor abuses, the police were responsible for investigating any criminal offenses under the Penal Code's forced labor statute. In August 2011, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) developed a special unit with 15 prosecutors to coordinate the investigation and prosecution of vice-related cases, including trafficking. A foreign embassy, concerned about the treatment of its nationals on fishing vessels that dock in Singapore, continued its engagement on behalf of the fisherman with the government of Singapore. In its National Self-assessment Report on Trafficking in Persons 2011, the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce stated its position on jurisdictional issues as follows: Singapore does not have jurisdiction over foreign fishermen working in off-shore waters on non-Singapore flags. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of suspected human trafficking on fishing vessels during the year.

Some Singaporean employment agencies reportedly advise employers to confiscate the passports of their foreign employees – a practice that is well-documented in facilitating forced labor. Although the MOM conducted proactive operations to inspect repatriation companies and employment agencies – and identified passport withholding, an indicator of human trafficking in at least 20 of these cases – it did not refer any leads to the police for investigation or prosecution of possible trafficking.

While the Employment Agencies Act prohibited Singaporean employment agencies from charging job seekers more than one month's salary per year, for a maximum of two years, many agencies continued to charge migrant workers thousands of dollars in recruitment fees, making them vulnerable to forced labor. The government continued to facilitate anti-trafficking training opportunities for its police force, prosecutors, and other government officials. Although officials continued to face challenges in identifying labor trafficking cases and did not identify any confirmed labor trafficking cases in 2011, the MOM and the government's anti-trafficking task force developed and institutionalized a set of labor trafficking indicators based on international standards. During the year, the government began implementing a series of new standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the identification and prosecution of trafficking cases; officials from the MOM, AGC, and the police were trained to identify labor trafficking cases using a newly developed indicator card and discussion of labor trafficking scenarios.

Protection

The government demonstrated progress in identifying and protecting trafficking victims during the year. The government reported that it provided funding to 24 "children's homes" and dormitories that could be used to house child trafficking victims and four shelters serving adults; however, it did not operate any trafficking-specific shelters. The government reported allocating the equivalent of $1.6 million to shelter and social services for crime victims during the year but did not dedicate exclusive resources to protecting trafficking victims. The government reported 182 victims – 58 for sex trafficking and 124 for forced labor – identified during trafficking-related law enforcement actions. The government reported providing assistance to 29 sex trafficking victims and 68 labor trafficking victims; those whose cases did not result in a prosecution were repatriated within two to four weeks. One NGO reported identifying approximately 25 sex trafficking victims and 21 victims of forced labor, and one foreign embassy reported assisting 27 women forced into prostitution and 16 men exploited in the fishing industry. The government reported identifying six Singaporean victims during the year. Authorities introduced new tools for identifying victims of forced labor including an indicator card and a document outlining labor trafficking scenarios. The resulting unprecedented identification of 124 suspected labor trafficking victims was notable. Authorities continued to utilize sex trafficking indicator cards to identify victims during vice operations. According to NGOs and foreign embassies, inadequate victim identification resulted in the possibility that trafficking victims were among the approximately 5,200 individuals arrested for prostitution violations during the year. Such individuals may have been subjected to penalties for immigration violations and/or for soliciting.

Domestic workers in Singapore, the vast majority of whom are foreigners, are excluded from the Employment Act, including protections such as mandatory rest days, limits on hours of work, and other rights. The lack of a mandatory day off provided under Singaporean law to domestic workers continued to restrict their opportunities to seek help when faced with abuses, including forced labor conditions. In February 2012, the government took steps to address this when it announced plans to require employers to grant domestic workers a weekly rest day; this policy is slated to come into effect in January 2013. The government did not provide incentives such as legal aid for the pursuit of civil suits, for foreign victims to participate voluntarily in investigations, and prosecutions of trafficking offenses. Victims were not permitted to leave Singapore before the start of court proceedings, and lengthy investigations and prosecutions – often six to 12 months – posed a disincentive to victims to participate. The government reported that some victims received Special Passes, which allowed them to stay legally in Singapore for a temporary period. The MOM reported that 34 suspected labor trafficking victims who assisted the government as prosecution witnesses received authorization to work temporarily in Singapore. There are reports that victims of trafficking often do not wish to file official complaints to Singaporean authorities. When cases were being investigated or prosecuted, the government generally held the victims' passports and declined their requests for repatriation because they were considered material witnesses. Foreign workers, including fishermen, face significant difficulties when attempting to seek redress for their problems, such as unpaid wages and wage deductions, which contribute to their vulnerability to trafficking. The MOM provides case workers to assist some foreign workers who encounter problems in these areas.

Prevention

The government increased its efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the year. In March 2012, the Inter-Agency Task Force on Human Trafficking launched the country's first National Plan of Action to coordinate the government's anti-trafficking activities. The plan, which sets forth goals in the areas of prosecution, protection, prevention and partnership, was the result of consultations with civil society organizations, foreign governments, and the public. Also in March 2012, the government published its first annual self-assessment, documenting its efforts to combat trafficking during the year, and including recommendations for future actions. The government increased efforts to educate the public through television and print media campaigns about the dangers of trafficking. The government installed posters in a fishing port providing information for exploited workers to contact the government for assistance. During the year, the task force produced a newsletter and brochure for work permit holders, which provides a checklist for workers about situations in which they should approach the MOM for assistance. During the year, the MOM conducted inspections of four repatriation companies and responded to 36 complaints of foreign workers who allegedly had their passports confiscated by employers or labor brokers; 20 employment agencies confirmed to be withholding passports – an indicator of human trafficking – were issued warnings and received demerit points, but the cases were not referred to police for criminal investigation. Police and MOM inspectors reported receiving 446 cases of labor violations that could have contributed to labor trafficking, although the government could not substantiate any labor trafficking cases in 2011. Authorities continued compulsory courses on employment rights and responsibilities for all incoming foreign domestic workers and their employers, and during the year the government instituted pre-departure briefings for 829 workers in three labor-source countries. The government provided foreign workers with written materials explaining their rights in their native languages and providing contact information for reporting complaints to labor authorities, and warned employers that it is an offense to confiscate any of these materials. In 2011, the MOM conducted 3,015 labor inspections to observe working conditions in commercial worksites, but it is not known whether such inspections led to the identification of any suspected trafficking victims. The government identified 1,355 employment agencies assessed to be "dubious," and prevented 1,180 workers from entering the country to work under potentially false pretenses, but it is not know what, if any, actions the government took to sanction these operations. The government reported issuing educational posters to repatriation companies to educate foreign workers on their rights. The government reported investigating 67 trafficking-related labor cases and 13 prostitution cases, classified as "substantiated cases with some trafficking in persons elements;" the majority of the labor cases were dismissed with a stern warning, a compounded fine, or no action. Two individuals in these cases were convicted of trafficking-related labor violations and were sentenced to probation or received warnings, and 12 cases remain under investigation. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in Singapore's commercial sex industry. Although Singaporean law provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction over Singaporean citizens and permanent residents who sexually exploit children in other countries, the government has never investigated, prosecuted, or convicted a national or permanent resident for child sex tourism. There were no reports of Singaporeans engaging in child sex tourism during 2011. Singapore is not party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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