“We are asking people to understand that slavery still exists today . . . if you count the number of women and children in bonded labour, domestic slavery or sexual slavery today, there are more slaves in the world than at any other time in history.”
– Charlotte Bunch, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Rutgers University
Stop Sex Trafficking
By Bridget Tan, Founder and President, H.O.M.E.
HOME has seen and witnessed the cries and anguish of sex trafficked victims. Over the years, we have sheltered more than a hundred sex trafficked women and girls from developing countries, such as The Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and India. For us we are responding not just to numbers, but to the human person who could be a sister or a daughter. A frail and skinny young Sri Lanka girl traumatised by gang rape from night to night in a locked hotel room is perhaps my only reason for being so outraged. The stories and documentaries of the bodies of women and girls ‘sold and bought’ to be violated have fuelled my passion to dedicate my life to end modern day slavery in whatever form.
Recently I was honoured TIP Hero by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It came as a real surprise to me because what I have been doing for the last decade of my life is simply living a conviction that all human life is sacred and should be protected at all cost. And I am only one among many campaign partners, dedicated to doing what is right and following a simple conviction that no one has the right to enslave another. And just like the victim of trafficking who asked “Why me?” I will respond to the unexpected honour ‘Why me?’ with a simple resolve to do even more to cherish the dignity of life and to end slavery.
As we move forward to another year, I urge the Singapore government not to delay ratification of the UN Trafficking Protocol and to enact a specialised Anti Human trafficking law with a comprehensive legal framework for victim protection services and the prosecution of traffickers. Victims have to be supported in every way: mentally, emotionally, physically and financially so that they can be strong enough to stand as prosecution witnesses against traffickers.
HOME has seen so many trafficked cases going unreported simply because trafficked victims would not pursue their predators. For example, we had a recent case of a trafficked Filipina who was quite determined to report against her traffickers. Unfortunately she had a serious medical condition that had to be treated. She had no choice but to return to her home country because it was just too costly for her to get treatment in Singapore. We urge the Singapore government to review and improve victim protection services to make it more likely for victims to stay on to assist as prosecution witnesses.
We also need to implement nationwide victim-centred training for law enforcers and all stake holders. Even though Singapore uses the UN Trafficking Protocol definition, there are still common myths about what is or is not human trafficking. Consent under the protocol definition is irrelevant when there exists threats, fraud, coercion or deception. In the case of children, the means is also irrelevant once an intent to exploit a child is established.
Human trafficking is also not just about sexual exploitation. Just as serious are the crimes of labour exploitation, where men, women and children are hostage to a system of debt bondage, forced labour and confiscation of passports. HOME’s helpdesk has documented many cases past and present, which are classic examples of labour trafficking, including the confiscation of passports, debt bondage, intimidation and threat, non-payment of salaries and wrongful confinement. One domestic worker recently told us that she was locked in the house for more than year; she escaped through the window on the 4th floor of the apartment building.
To further fight human trafficking, HOME has introduced a new 24-hour hotline and is working with cross-border partners on specific cases. And we hope that our new nationwide outreach programme, ‘Project Blue Roses’, will empower our community to end this ‘invisible terrorism’ against humanity.
This article is adapted from a speech given in September 2011 at The ARTS Old Parliament House.
Resources and Related Articles
- Do you know someone who needs assistance? HOME’s hotline is open 24 hours a day; the number is 1-800-7-977-977
- “114,886 sign petition to UN against human trafficking”(mypaper, 24 August 2011)
- Body Shop Singapore supports campaign to Stop Sex Trafficking(media release)
- US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recognises Bridget Tanduring the release of the United States’ 2011 ‘Trafficking in Persons Report’ (text and video)