Last Updated: Friday, 15 December 2017, 16:28 GMT

2015 Trafficking in Persons Report - Singapore

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 July 2015
Cite as United States Department of State, 2015 Trafficking in Persons Report - Singapore, 27 July 2015, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/55b73ba31f7.html [accessed 17 December 2017]
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 other Asian countries subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, and a transit country for Cambodian and Filipino men subjected to forced labor on fishing vessels that stop at ports in Singapore. Many of the more than 1.35 million foreign workers that comprise more than one-third of Singapore's total labor force are vulnerable to trafficking; most victims migrate willingly for work in the construction, domestic service, performing arts, manufacturing, or service industries or in the sex trade. NGOs report an increase of domestic workers from Cambodia and Burma, many of whom experience language barriers and lack access to mobile phones, increasing their isolation and vulnerability to trafficking. In September 2014, the Burmese government imposed a temporary ban on legal emigration to Singapore for domestic work, citing concerns of abuse and nonpayment of wages. Many foreign workers assume large debts to recruitment agencies in both Singapore and their home countries, making them vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage. Victims are also compelled into sex or labor exploitation through illegal withholding of their pay, threats of forced repatriation without pay, restrictions on movement, and physical and sexual abuse. Passport confiscation remains a widespread and largely accepted practice; research released by the government found six out of 10 foreign work permit holders were not in possession of their passports and work permits. Foreign workers have credible fears of losing their work visas and being deported, since employers have the ability to legally repatriate workers at any time during their contracts with minimal notice. Unscrupulous employers exploit the non-transferability of low-skilled work visas to control or manipulate workers. Some employers in Singapore rely on repatriation companies to seize, confine, and escort foreign workers to the airport for departure from Singapore, including through the use of assaults, threats, and coercion, to prevent them from complaining about abuses to authorities.

Foreign women sometimes 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, or other forms of coercion. There are cases of child sex trafficking, involving both boys and girls, in Singapore, and cases of Singaporean men engaging in child sex tourism in other countries. Men are subjected to forced labor on long-haul fishing vessels that depart from Singapore or dock in Singaporean ports; some agencies in Singapore use deceptive tactics to recruit Filipino and Cambodian men for this work. There are reports some foreign seamen endure severe abuse by fishing boat captains, the inability to disembark from their vessels – sometimes for years – the inability to terminate their contracts, and nonpayment of wages. Some of these men transit Singapore before embarking onto vessels from ports in other countries.

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. The government passed its first anti-trafficking law, which prohibits all forms of human trafficking and came into effect in March 2015. Authorities identified 33 victims and initiated 11 prosecutions in four cases, but did not convict any traffickers. The government provided some victim assistance through government programs for vulnerable groups, but did not make progress in ensuring all victims systematically received protection. NGOs provided the only specialized services for trafficking victims, usually without government funding. The government obtained its first conviction of a Singaporean national for the facilitation of child sex tourism abroad.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SINGAPORE:

Using the 2014 anti-trafficking law, increase investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses, including debt bondage, and convictions and punishments of both sex and labor traffickers; provide specialized training for officials on using the provisions of the new law to identify victims and investigate cases, with a focus on identifying non-physical forms of coercion; dedicate a budget for specialized trafficking victim protection and provide funding to all non-governmental shelters assisting potential victims; develop formal policies to ensure all potential victims receive robust protections regardless of whether their cases are fully substantiated or lead to prosecutions; do not punish victims for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; provide all victims incentives to participate in investigations and prosecutions, including legal assistance to seek compensation and temporary employment passes, and adopt a victim-centered approach to law enforcement efforts; expand cooperation with civil society organizations, particularly in victim protection and support; continue and increase awareness campaigns to encourage public support of anti-trafficking efforts; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

PROSECUTION

The government enacted its first trafficking-specific law, but sustained minimal efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers. In 2014, the government held a series of public consultations on draft anti-trafficking legislation approved in November 2014 that came into effect in March 2015. The Prevention of Human Trafficking Act prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 10 years' imprisonment and fines up to 100,000 Singapore dollars ($75,700). These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. In addition, Article 140 of the Women's Charter prohibits forced prostitution involving detention or physical force and Article 141 prohibits the movement of women and girls for "trafficking" but does not define the term. Penalties prescribed for sex trafficking offenses in the Women's Charter include a maximum of five years' imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent but not commensurate with other serious crimes.

In 2014, authorities investigated 49 potential sex trafficking cases, of which 25 were substantiated as trafficking cases, 12 were dismissed without further action, and 12 were investigated for other offenses. Among the cases positively identified as sex trafficking, two cases involving seven defendants were prosecuted, five cases were dismissed with a warning or no further action, and 18 cases were pending at the close of the reporting period. Authorities investigated 41 cases of potential labor trafficking and initiated prosecutions of four suspects. The government did not convict any labor or sex traffickers in 2014, compared with two child sex traffickers convicted in 2013. Police cooperated with Thai counterparts on a sex trafficking investigation, though no prosecutions were initiated as a result of that investigation. The government funded an NGO to provide anti-trafficking training to 4,000 law enforcement officials. However, authorities continued to face challenges in identifying and building evidence in trafficking cases, particularly labor trafficking. Singapore has never obtained a labor trafficking conviction. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking.

PROTECTION

The government continued limited efforts to protect victims, but victim identification was sometimes ineffective and services were provided only on a case-by-case basis. Police and labor officials had standard operating procedures for identifying victims, and the government had a victim referral process among government officials, civil society organizations, and foreign embassies. The total number of victims identified in 2014 is unknown, but the government officially recognized 31 sex trafficking victims and two labor trafficking victims. Two sex trafficking victims were male and 24 were children; the ages and genders of remaining victims were unknown. The government and civil society organizations often disagreed as to whether specific cases amounted to trafficking; an NGO observed inconsistencies in the government's application of the definition of trafficking when determining whether to "accept" or "reject" a referral. Reports suggested authorities did not recognize elements of trafficking among individuals who initially consented to migrate for work in a specific sector and were subsequently subjected to trafficking in that sector (including the sex trade) or in cases where individuals were compelled into sex or labor exploitation through psychological coercion or debt bondage rather than physical confinement. Officials reportedly faced difficulty recognizing cases of domestic servitude – even when physical abuse, restriction of movement, withholding of wages, and document confiscation were present.

Authorities had the discretion to provide services on a case-by-case basis; there were no formal policies ensuring victims' access to services, and not all victims received the same level of protection. Singapore's new trafficking law provides some protections for child victims, including access to shelter and a requirement that their testimony be held via videoconference. Most victims – including those not recognized in the government's statistics – received shelter and services from NGOs that did not receive support from the government or shelters maintained by foreign embassies. The government provides funding and oversight to 24 shelters serving vulnerable children, including an unknown number of trafficking victims. Children's shelters often housed victims alongside children who had committed crimes, and 16- and 17-year-olds were placed in facilities with adults. The government granted an unknown number of victims special passes or work permits that allowed them to temporarily live or work legally in Singapore. An NGO reported victims from certain countries are ineligible to receive work permits. The government-funded Seafarers' Welfare Centre referred distressed fishermen, including potential trafficking victims, to their respective embassies and provided limited humanitarian assistance; however, most victims of forced labor on fishing vessels lacked work visas and therefore were not eligible for protective services or legal redress in Singapore.

The government reported a policy not to punish victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, although it was not clear there was a legal basis for that policy on which victims could rely. In 2014, the government prosecuted workers for making false wage claims on work permit applications – despite their having been deceived by an employer about their salaries and subjected to unfounded wage deductions upon arrival in Singapore. According to NGOs and foreign embassies, inadequate victim identification resulted in the possibility trafficking victims were among the individuals arrested and penalized for prostitution violations. The government offered limited assistance for some victims participating in investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses, but many victims declined participation. There were reports victims did not wish to file official complaints with Singaporean authorities for fear of losing work permits or being forced to remain in the country and participate in a prosecution; an NGO reported instances of officials holding victims' passports and requiring them to remain in the country while their cases were being prosecuted. NGOs and foreign embassies reported coordination between public and private stakeholders has improved, but the government's lack of transparency regarding ongoing cases remained a problem and interfered with service providers' ability to assist victims. The government did not provide long-term alternatives to removal to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution.

PREVENTION

The government continued efforts to prevent trafficking. The government's interagency taskforce continued implementation of Singapore's national action plan. The taskforce conducted campaigns through social media, newspapers, television, posters, and other outreach materials to educate workers on their rights, raise public awareness of trafficking, and publicize efforts to punish employers for trafficking-related violations. The government disbursed 72,500 Singapore dollars ($54,900) in grants for three entities conducting projects to raise awareness of human trafficking. The government investigated and imposed fines on some employment agencies for operating without a license or other illegal acts that could facilitate trafficking, but local experts observed agencies often committed such acts with impunity. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Unlike last year, the government did not prosecute or convict any individuals for purchasing commercial sex acts from children. In March 2015, authorities convicted a Singaporean man for intent to facilitate child sex tourism abroad. The government made limited efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and no efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. Singapore is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

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