Thursday 4 September 2014

The other side of Singapore #StopTraffickingSG

Singapore is an excellent city to live in for expats. Shining lights, clean, safe, with good schools, and amazing food. All the comfort you need, topped with an exotic sauce to give it just that hint of Asian flavour, without the dirt, hustle, bustle and hassle of many of its neighbouring countries. 

Some foreign residents, in their expat bubble, are not aware of another, much darker side of Singapore. They might have heard of some of the goings-on in Orchard Towers, or Singapore’s infamous red light district Geylang. They might have seen the foreign construction workers toiling on the newest high-rise buildings. Or they have seen domestic workers spending they Sunday morning washing their employers cars. 
But unless you look very, very closely, it is hard to see the plight of some of these workers. To see what sacrifices they made to get here. And what problems the more unfortunate migrants encounter. They are expats in Singapore too. Yet the advantaged position of expats on Employment Passes, in condo’s and with kids in international schools, is lifetimes away from that of a low wage migrant worker with a limited grasp of the English language, who travelled to support a family left behind in their home countries. They will work long hours for a low salary, sleep in squalid dormitories or store rooms, and get fed only just enough to sustain their hard labour. And that is when all goes well. It does not always. 

Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a violation of human rights. Every year men, women and children are deceived or coerced into leaving their homes and moving to Singapore, only to end up in jobs and working conditions they did not expect. Leaving is difficult, because of huge debts owed to recruiters. These men, women and children often face long working hours with inadequate rest, or even physical, psychological, or sexual abuse. They may also be verbally abused or threatened by their employers and recruiters.

A few months ago Singaporean MP Mr Christopher De Souza proposed to draft a Private Member’s Bill dedicated to combating human trafficking in Singapore. The aim is to present the Bill in parliament in November 2014.
Singaporean Non Governmental Organisations (NGO) advocating human rights welcome the new Bill, and hope it will be a significant step in combating human trafficking in Singapore. HOMEAWARE, TWC2, HealthserveUNWomen and MARUAH have taken this occasion to raise awareness of human trafficking issues in Singapore, and jointly organised the StopTraffickingSG Campaign.

StopTraffickingSG urges the government to adopt a victim-centred approach in the drafting of the Bill on Prevention of Human Trafficking. The campaign organisers feel that without this, the Bill will not be sufficiently effective in combating Human Trafficking. 
StopTrafficking SG recommends the following to be considered:

· Victims have the right to accommodation, food, counselling services, legal aid, medical treatment, compensation and social support while their case is on-going.

· Victims are not prosecuted for being an undocumented immigrant or for working ‘illegally’ or for any illegal immigration infractions inadvertently committed while being trafficked.

· Victims have the right to work and a decent income while their case is on-going.

Victim’s rights need to be taken into consideration to ensure detection and prosecution of traffickers and trafficking-related crimes. If not, many victims will opt to return to their home countries without making a formal complaint to the authorities, rendering the Bill ineffective.
At the moment, trafficked victims are often reluctant to file complaints and claim justice. Investigations and legal proceedings may take several months or even up to two years before being resolved, during which time the victims are obliged to remain in Singapore. It is not guaranteed they will have the option to work during investigations, and many, being the breadwinners of their families, can simply not afford to stay to file a complaint. Sometimes victims are prosecuted themselves for being undocumented immigrants, or for working illegally, often unknowingly and due to the actions of their traffickers. The victim’s fear for the authorities stops them from seeking help.

Inclusion of victim’s rights will also align Singapore’s laws with international standards. A clear framework to protect victims of trafficking in Singapore strengthens relations with our neighbours, who are the main source countries of victims trafficked through and to Singapore.

Guaranteeing the victims’ safety, livelihood and sustenance in the Bill will give victims of Human Trafficking the incentive to report, identify and testify against perpetrators. This will aid the effective prosecution of employers and recruiters involved in trafficking persons into Singapore, and in turn assist the destruction of trafficking syndicates as well as bring justice to victims and reduce crimes that threaten the security of Singapore.

Visit the Campaign website, for updates and Human Trafficking Stories:

Or find StopTraffickingSG on Facebook:

Please sign their Petition for the comprehensive protection of the rights of Trafficked Persons in Singapore. Everyone with a valid address in Singapore is eligible to sign, regardless of nationality.


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