Activists submit petition to include more points in new anti-trafficking Bill

(From left) Ms Shelley Thio and Mr Jolovan Wham, from Stop Trafficking SG, deliver their petition to MP Christopher De Souza, outside Parliament House on Tuesday. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
(From left) Ms Shelley Thio and Mr Jolovan Wham, from Stop Trafficking SG, deliver their petition to MP Christopher De Souza, outside Parliament House on Tuesday. -- ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - An activist group on Tuesday submitted a petition to include additional clauses in a new Bill that aims to prevent human trafficking in Singapore.

The group of six non-government organisations (NGOs) had collected 1,050 signatures from migrant workers and Singaporeans to support their requests, which they presented to Mr Christopher de Souza, MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC, ahead of the Parliament session on Tuesday.

Mr de Souza will be initiating a Private Member's Bill against human trafficking during the session. Singapore does not have dedicated laws against human trafficking, but outlaws sex trafficking of women and children through other legislation.

The six NGOs in the group Stop Trafficking SG are: Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware), Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economics (Home), human rights group Maruah, anti-human trafficking group Project X, Singapore Committee for UN Women (Unifem) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2).

Mr Jolovan Wham of Home, who presented the petition to Mr de Souza, said they were lobbying for a "victim-centric approach" to be enshrined in law.

The requests in their petition include extending social support to human trafficking victims while their cases are ongoing, protecting victims from prosecution for illegal immigration infractions, and giving them the right to continue working in Singapore while their cases are ongoing.

Stop Trafficking SG also intends to reach out to other MPs to educate them about human trafficking, which Mr Wham calls an "overlooked issue". The group's aim is to catalyse an informed debate during the second reading of the Bill in Parliament, which is expected to take place in November.

Mr de Souza, who has been vocal on the subject in Parliament since 2008, told The Straits Times that he "warmly" thanks the group for the petition, and for their compassion on the subject. He added that he will consider working the points from the petition into the Bill's second reading.

In June, Mr de Souza had told The Straits Times that "even one case of human trafficking in Singapore is one case too many".

He added: "With this in mind, the intention behind the Bill is to take into account the views of agencies, voluntary welfare groups and like-minded citizens, to protect the vulnerable who have been trafficked and stamp out this evil practice."

The Singapore Inter-agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons - spearheaded by the Home Affairs and Manpower ministries - has said that the Bill will "empower agencies with the necessary powers and levers to deal with trafficking in persons more effectively".

In June, the annual Trafficking In Persons report by the United States government placed Singapore in Tier 2 of its four-tier ranking for the fourth time. This means Singapore has not fully complied with minimum standards to curb trafficking, although it has made significant strides forward.

The report also said that while Singapore has improved in areas such as case referrals and criminal prosecution records, it remains a "destination country" for adults and girls from at least nine Asian countries being trafficked as sex workers or forced labour. It criticised the Singapore Government's "modest" efforts to combat this practice by protecting victims on a case-by-case basis.

The Singapore taskforce, responding to the criticism, said that Singapore has made significant progress to combat human trafficking and is working to improve further.

A separate index - the 2013 Global Slavery Index by the Australia-based anti-slavery group Walk Free Foundation - estimates that there are about 1,105 victims of human trafficking in Singapore.

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