Trafficked victims taken care of and provided work: Police and MOM

SINGAPORE - Victims of trafficking are taken care of at a shelter home and are allowed to work under a temporary work scheme, the police and Ministry of Manpower (MOM) told reporters on Thursday.

Those who do not fulfil employment conditions are allowed to work in the shelter house, and they attend English courses as well. Most importantly, they undergo counselling as their cases are being heard.

Superintendent Lawrence Eng, head of specialised crimes branch of the Criminal Investigation Department, said: "We work with several partners to explore whether we can let them work, and at the same time, work with Immigration and Checkpoints Authority to make their stay in Singapore legal."

Non-government organisations and advocacy groups have been calling for the authorities to improve the welfare of trafficked victims. MP Christopher de Souza tabled a Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill that was read for the first time in Parliament earlier this month, but activist group, Stop Trafficking SG, has said that it is not comprehensive enough and has to be more "victim-centric".

Mr Kandhavel Periyasamy, director of MOM's Joint Ops Directorate, said the focus is more on rehabilitation rather than the ability to earn income. "Work is a means to rehabilitate them, and to integrate them back into society...We try to make opportunities for them to find work, but we respect that for whatever reasons, they don't want to work. Some of them may not be ready to work, that's the reality."

Meanwhile, about 2,500 front-line police officers have undergone training to help human trafficking victims. The two-hour training session consists of understanding what human trafficking means, international law, and how to identify victims as well as how to interview them.

According to figures from the Ministry of Home Affairs, there were 49 reported cases of labour trafficking last year, down from 72 previously and 67 in 2011. As for sex trafficking, there were 53 such reports last year, compared to the 52 and 43 in 2012 and 2011 respectively.

Authorities expect more victims to come forward and report their cases when the Bill, which is expected to be read a second time in Parliament next week, is passed.

Said Supt Eng: "The heavier penalty provided for in the new Bill will help us enhance our deterrent effect. It gives an enhanced punishment and a focus. Currently, we use the Women's Charter and Penal Code, for example, against the trafficker... We do foresee a slight increase in numbers."