Applauding The Release of a Singapore National Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons

By Trina Liang-Lin, President of Singapore Committee for UN Women, a non-profit organisation working towards women’s empowerment and gender equality through a wide range of public education programs, membership events and resource mobilisation activities.

We, the Singapore Committee of UN Women (formerly UNIFEM Singapore), applaud the concrete steps being taken by the Singapore Government to fight the transnational crime of Trafficking in Persons (TIP). We commend the Inter-agency Taskforce for their consultative initiatives to date with relevant stakeholders, including Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), and were happy to provide feedback on the tentative ideas for the proposed National Plan of Action (NPA) when it was out on review earlier this year.

After being part of the launch of the NPA yesterday, we appreciate the great strides being taken, while we continue to hope for further improvements.

In the years since ratifying UN CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), Singapore has been urged by the UN CEDAW Committee to ratify the UN Palermo Protocol on Trafficking. We would strongly recommend that the Singapore government make accession to the Protocol a specific goal with necessary feasibility investigations completed within 2012, one year ahead of the NPA indicative timeline for review.


In terms of prosecution, it is our very firm belief that Singapore needs to go beyond a review of current legislation. We strongly urge the Singapore Government to enact specific anti-trafficking legislation incorporating the UN definition of TIP and comprehensively addressing all aspects to clearly signal, both nationally and internationally, how seriously the issue is being taken. Specific anti-TIP legislation will also raise the profile of the issue within Singapore, avoid the risk of gaps resulting from piecemeal amendments to existing legislation and put a stop to the unethical treatment of victims as perpetrators of criminal acts (e.g. immigration offences). TIP specific legislation would also set the definitions and parameters of classification and coverage for consistency and continuity in prosecution. We also strongly believe that the legal review should be inclusive and involve victim rights groups and civil society in general.

The importance of prosecution of TIP cases cannot be understated and we appreciate the set of initiatives proposed by the Inter-agency Taskforce, while acknowledging the difficulties faced in implementation and successful prosecution. We ask that at all stages of the prosecutorial process, laws, policies, strategies and actions be firmly victim-centred and from a human rights approach and within the CEDAW framework i.e. the victim and their experiences are the paramount focus and concern of actions taken. This means the collection of evidence beyond physical, but also include mental and emotional abuses as in the case of domestic violence under the Family Violence Act. Difficulty of prosecution should not be an excuse for ignoring the rights and needs of the victims.

During the investigation and prosecution of TIP cases victims will need to be supported with legal and financial assistance (either direct or as an opportunity to earn a living). We believe it is essential that victim support during these stages is unconditional, i.e. that legal assistance and other support are provided regardless whether the victim agrees to be a prosecution witness or not.

The horror of human trafficking reaches into every corner of the globe, including the Asia Pacific region. Singapore is affected by all manifestations of human trafficking much like other developed countries around the world. As an attractive hub of economic activity with high people flows and international travel, Singapore is no less vulnerable than other countries. The city state is primarily a destination (not transit or a source) country for women, children and young people trafficked from other countries in Asia.

UN Women globally works to further women’s empowerment and we campaign on behalf of vulnerable women, in particular migrant women who leave their communities and countries with the hope of making a better living abroad. In the region outside Singapore, UN Women is working to facilitate safe migration practices as well as local livelihood programs, so that young women in desperate financial need do not have to take the risks that sometimes results in them being trafficked for sexual purposes. Indeed, poverty is at the root of child prostitution and sex trafficking. Lack of education and values surrounding women are further contributing factors.

The Singapore Committee for UN Women has been campaigning against child sex tourism and sex trafficking for almost a decade. We were pleased when the Singapore penal code was amended in 2007 to enable prosecution of child sex tourists for offences overseas.

STOP Campaign

For the last few years, we have been running our campaign against sex trafficking under the STOP and Sound Out banners. Our role in the STOP campaign has focused on public education and stakeholder engagement with concerned parties. We have had two and a half eventful years, and noted many positive developments in Singapore in terms of tackling the terrible criminal trade of sex trafficking. We have worked in close partnership with the Body Shop as well as our other campaign partners, local NGO HOME and international NGO ECPAT.

The campaign partners’ efforts to build evidence-based awareness, for example, through a situational study on sex trafficking into Singapore, and rally support from the grassroots up have been successful. The nearly 115,000 petitions signed in Singapore speak for themselves and measure up quite well in comparison to other countries around the world where the STOP campaign has been running. Globally, 6.3 million petitions have been collected from over 50 countries. These were presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in late 2011.

TIP Stakeholder Forums

In the last quarter of 2011, we held a series of TIP Stakeholder Forums bringing together key stakeholders in Singapore and subject matter experts from across the Asia Pacific region to learn from, share and develop concrete measures to address the issue in Singapore and to feed into the TIP NPA then being developed. The Forum series was a joint-collaboration of the Singapore Committee of UN Women, HOME and The Body Shop, carried out in close consultation with the Singapore Inter-Agency TIP Task Force. The TIP Stakeholder Forum was a three-event progression from 26 November to 13 December 2011 and is a significant milestone in Singapore’s effort to combat human trafficking and foster strong collaboration amongst these key stakeholders. We hope to keep this dialogue going through 2012 and beyond, drawing on the many ideas and perspectives around the four Ps (Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership) that came out of the Forum series.

Holistic, significant and lasting change for the better can only happen when the NGO community, likeminded corporations such as the Body Shop, as well as the government, foreign embassies, media and people on the street, all work together to tackle such a complex and transnational crime as human trafficking.

We are inspired by the strong support to the STOP campaign we have received at our petition drives, film screenings, roadshows, youth events, talk series and media engagement to raise awareness about sex trafficking. We are equally encouraged by the positive dialogue we have had with the various ministries involved and look forward to significant progress in Singapore when all stakeholders are working together against the scourge of sex trafficking. We are now mapping out our 2012 (and beyond) campaign against trafficking and hope to work together with all of you who agree that trafficking must STOP!

With the launch of a National Action Plan against Trafficking in Persons, Singapore is taking a significant step forward, showing strong commitment to combatting trafficking into Singapore. The Singapore Committee for UN Women will continue its long term and inclusive campaign against trafficking, in partnership with civil society, corporations, the government and the public.

All changes are a journey involving planning, time and plenty of patience. Attitude shifts, building of services and social support does not happen overnight. We look forward to embarking on a joint journey starting with the official launch of the Singapore National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons.

The Singapore Committee for UN Women Singapore is a non-profit organisation working towards women’s empowerment and gender equality through a wide range of public education programs, membership events and resource mobilization activities. Established in 1999, it supports programs that provide women and children with access to education, healthcare, economic independence and a life free of violence and abuse.