Category Archives: 2012

Singapore’s Budget: Towards an Inclusive Society?

By ShuQi Liu

Following a watershed election last year that signalled public resentment towards a paternalistic state, the AWARE roundtable discussion conducted on 24 March 2012 sustained the political momentum with an honest discussion about this year’s Singapore Budget.

“We have not witnessed inclusive growth in the Singapore budget for a very long time,” says Yeoh Lam Keong, an economic and social policy commentator affiliated with the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Despite additional funding for a number of social programmes, panelists at the forum generally agreed that the government’s budget does not do enough to assist the most vulnerable elements of our society — children, elderly, the disabled and low-income families — particularly when it comes to education and health care.

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Health Care

The 2012 Budget signals an increase in healthcare spending from S$ 4 billion to S$ 8 billion over the next 5 years, an increase from 0.7 to 2.2 percent of GDP. But Yeoh notes that Singapore still lags behind other Asian Tigers – Hong Kong, Taiwan and South Korea — which commit approximately four percent of public spending to healthcare.

In fact, overall spending on social programmes is lower now than it was in the 1980s. While GDP has increased four times since the 1990s, public spending on social programmes has dropped from 20 to 16 percent of GDP.

These issues are particularly particularly pertinent as Singapore’s society ages. Medical expenses, especially for common long-term chronic ailments like hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol, can overwhelm individuals and families.

Increased spending on hospital beds alone will not produce better health outcomes adds Vivienne Wee, a founding member of AWARE. Singapore’s health care system needs to be reorganised, she argues, to better meet the needs of patients and the general population, rather than the demands of healthcare organisations.

Education

Rising inequality meanwhile is giving children from wealthy families a leg up at school, as early as Primary 1. P1 students are expected to be able to read and write upon enrollment, but students from low-income families generally score worse than their classmates. The problem: these children lack access to pre-school education.

NTU sociology professor Teoh You Yenn argues that the government should level the playing field by providing more funding for low-income families to send their children to preschool.

A government’s budget reflects a society’s understanding and value systems, argues Teoh, adding that people’s actions have the power to shape imaginations of the present and future. “What is pragmatically possible is not fixed independently of our imaginations, but is itself shaped by our visions,” Teoh says, quoting from “The Real Utopias Project“.

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Disabilities

“Maximising Potential, Embracing Differences” – that’s the theme of Singapore’s four-year “Enabling Masterplan” for integrating people with disabilities into mainstream society. But until activist Judy Wee stepped forward, the recommendation committee didn’t have any disabled representatives.

Wee argues that if Singapore is to be a truly inclusive society, we need to do a better job of providing people with disabilities with full access to public facilities, starting with our nation’s schools. Currently, only a select few educational institutions are equipped to teach disabled students.

“This would be an important step towards helping Singaporeans with disabilities realise their potential, while respecting the differences of all persons with disabilities,” Wee says, who also notes that data on the number of people with disabilities needs to be better documented and made publicly available.

Contributing to the discussion, hearing-impaired attendees from the Singapore Association for the Deaf, with the help of sign language interpreters from ExtraOrdinary Horizons, called on the government to provide more ‘resource teachers’ for deaf students in mainstream schools.

“We – like any other healthy human beings – have dreams and aspirations to fulfill,” says one SADeaf member.  “It is very hard to tell our children that you cannot be a doctor, lawyer or engineer, because you are deaf.  Unlike Singapore, the United States has deaf societies filled with hearing impaired professionals. This is a strong limiting factor.  And it’s very stifling for the members of the Singapore Association for the Deaf.”

Welfare and Social Services

Better implementation and less duplication is needed in the provision of social services, according to another member of the public participating in the discussion. The “Many Helping Hands” programme can result in cases where several social workers approach the same person with the intention to help. But they end up overwhelming the person instead.

Reflections

In my humble opinion, an inclusive society begins when the government has open dialogues with its citizens. When drafting the budget, our government should actively engage Singaporeans from all levels of society. It’s too late to make changes once the budget is announce in Parliament. A more consultative process, rather than the top-down approach, will be more effective in meeting the needs of all Singaporeans.

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If Girls Spoke Up, the World Would Change

By Jaswinder Thethy

“Things won’t change overnight. We have to wake people up,” exclaims Sampat Pal, the founder of the “Gulabi Gang,” a group comprising hundreds of lower caste women in Uttar Pradesh, India that stands up to violence against women.

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Domestic abuse is still persistent in India even though there are laws against it. Rape and sexual abuse cases are rarely registered for fear of social stigma. Women often hide behind their veils rather than defend themselves. But the Gulabi Gang empowers women who are suffering from abuse and educates them about their rights.

Sampat and the Gulabi Gang are the focus of a documentary by British director Kim Longinotto called “Pink Saris,” which was recently screened at Singapore Management University by ONE (SINGAPORE) with the support of the British High Commission.

Being a woman, and coming from a British Indian background I was immediately drawn to this project. Plus it gave me an opportunity to wear a pink sari! I could hardly refuse to represent the High Commission on this one.

Longinotto’s documentary follows Sampat as she mediates on behalf of woman that turn to her for help. Sampat is assertive, fearless and extremely outspoken; she has a huge voice and her threats are often delivered in punchy one liners, though unfortunately the wit is at times lost in translation. Sampat herself is a former child bride and victim of abuse. However she took the unusual step of fighting back and risking disgrace by leaving her husband and village.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to her campaign is that Sampat can only do so much herself. She survives on donations and cannot always afford to lodge women who turn to her when they have nowhere else to go. In one case in the movie, Sampat returns a girl to her abusive in-laws. But first, she confronts the family in public. I can’t help but wonder if the young woman will continue suffering and I hoped the situation wasn’t made worse by Sampat’s intervention. In the end, it’s up to the girls to stand tall.

The documentary also reveals that Sampat still has complex personal issues to confront, especially when her motives are questioned. At one point, her longtime boyfriend asks if she is not being driven by ego, an accusation that appears to be at least partly true after Sampat proudly refers to herself as the “Messiah for Women”.

Regardless, there is no question that the Gulabi Gang is making a difference in the lives of women, men and children in Uttar Pradesh.

“If girls spoke up, the world would change,” Sampat says. “Be Brave”

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Jaswinder Thethy introducing “Pink Saris” at SMU.

About the Screening of Pink Saris in Singapore

The British High Commission supported ONE (SINGAPORE)’s screening of Pink Saris in collaboration with the Wee Kim Wee Centre to help mark International Women’s Day, the 8th of March, and to highlight the unjust treatment of many rural women.

Kirpal Singh, Associate Professor of English Literature, opened the event, after which, Jaswinder Thethy gave a short speech on the UK’s work in India, which includes investments in education for girls, providing access to finance, skills and low carbon energy, safe births, reducing violence against women, children’s health and nutrition.

Jaswinder Thethy is an Assistant Attaché at The British High Commission.

Related Links

Find out how to support the Gulabi Gang.

ONE (SG) to France: Set the right example with a Robin Hood Tax

By Thulasi Mahadevan

ONE (SINGAPORE) has joined an international campaign to send a clear message to France:  allocate a portion of new tax revenues from a Financial Transactions Tax (FTT) to finance development and fight climate change.

France is about to become the first European country to adopt the so-called “Robin Hood Tax” on financial transactions.  But contrary to promises that French President Nicolas Sarkozy made when he hosted the G20 last year, France is now talking about using proceeds from the tax solely for domestic use.

“A small tax on financial transactions, if implemented globally, could raise billions of dollars to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals and assist communities affected by climate change,” says ONE (SINGAPORE) co-founder Michael Switow.  “France is taking an important first step by adopting a Robin Hood Tax, but it must follow through by using a portion of the money to finance development and fight climate change.”

French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel had been commended by many anti-poverty campaigners for their commitments to push forward with a European FTT, a very small tax on financial transactions which if implemented globally could raise up to US$600 billion a year, funds that could be used to eradicate poverty, fight climate change and reduce budget deficits.

However in a television interview on 29 January, Sarkozy said that the unilateral FTT would be used for the national “deficit” and did not mention development or climate financing. Under pressure from French civil society, Sarkozy later said that a French FTT would still go to fund development and fight climate change, but no concrete steps have been taken by his government yet in this regard.

Proper implementation of a Robin Hood Tax in France will “set a precedent for future taxes on the financial sector, both across Europe and internationally . . . to tackle the challenges of poverty at home and abroad and address the impact of climate change,” wrote ONE (SINGAPORE) President Vernetta Lopez in a letter to France’s Ambassador to Singapore.  Other civil society organisations like Oxfam GB and ONE.org also sent letters to French embassies.  The ONE.org petition was signed by more than 60,000 people.

Last year, 1000 economists – including several Nobel Prize winners – called on the G20 to adopt a FTT.  More recently, faith-based leaders have added their voices to the call.

“The FTT comes at no extra cost for the average tax payer, who is shouldering the cost of responses to global crises,” notes a representative from CIDSE, the Catholic International Cooperation for Development and Solidarity.  “The financial sector has hugely profited from globalisation.  Through the FTT it could contribute to tackling global challenges, share the financial burden of global crises and contribute to assuring a safe and healthy future for people and the planet.”

In the United States, meanwhile, the largest nurses union has pledged to march for a US version of the tax on Wall Street institutions ahead of the the G-8 and NATO summits. It’s unclear whether the Obama administration’s decision to move the G-8 Summit from Chicago to “Camp David,” a more remote location, will affect the planned demonstrations.

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ADDITIONAL ARTICLES &  RESOURCES

Fight Human Trafficking by Respecting Human Rights

By Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Research Analyst, Singapore Institute of International Affairs
With a National Plan of Action (NPA) on Trafficking in Persons due out in a few months, Singapore is at a turning point. A recent round of public consultations with NGOs, academia and interested persons suggests that the Trafficking in Persons Inter-agency Taskforce is committed to its mandate to tackle the issue of trafficking. Promisingly, the government is in principle adopting the UN definition on trafficking and adopting a 4P – Prevention, Prosecution, Protection and Partnership – approach to combat the issue. All this is very positive, but much work remains to be done in the final weeks and months before the NPA is released to ensure that its outcome is a good one.

23 Feb 2012

Rachel Chhoa-Howard speaking at ONE (SINGAPORE)’s panel discussion on Child Prostitution, Human Trafficking and Poverty

There is still time to influence the Inter-agency Taskforce’s work, before it becomes national policy.

In particular, as anti-trafficking campaigners, we need to ensure that the National Plan of Action is grounded in a human rights perspective, which protects the rights of the victims.  The Taskforce is conducting a final round of public consultations through 23 February and subsequently non-profit groups and members of the public can continue to advocate for these changes.

A victim-centred approach

Trafficking is a human rights issue because of the use of coercion and subsequent exploitation inherent in the practice. But a human rights perspective can also provide a better understanding of the problems experienced by those trafficked. Surely, to be a victim of trafficking is bad enough. But ‘victimisation’ – ignoring a victim’s needs and point of view, in the aftermath – can lead to deprivation of a victim’s self-control and autonomy, not to mention isolation from their family, society and the world around them.

A victim-centred approach focuses on empowering victims or survivors and restoring their dignity and self-worth. There are encouraging signs that Singapore is increasing its recognition of victims rights. In a marked change from the past, as long as a person claims to be trafficked in Singapore, it appears that the new National Plan of Action will ensure that she or he will be treated as a trafficking victim. Previously a foreigner who entered the country willingly to work illegally could have been treated as an immigration offender. It has also been agreed that a toll free 24 hour hotline will be set up, with translation services to allow trafficking victims to seek help. More details, such as who will run this hotline or when it will be established, are still unclear. As these questions are considered, it is imperative that the well-being of the victim comes first.

State responsibilities

In addition to victim protection, states also have a duty to prohibit trafficking and related acts, to prosecute and punish perpetrators and to address the causes and the consequences of trafficking itself.

When it comes to the prosecution of those responsible, the principle of non-refoulement or non-return means that temporary residence permits should be given to victims so that they can legally reside and work in Singapore, if they are at risk of re-entering the system. At all times, a victim should be able to remain in a state whilst court proceedings are underway, have effective witness protection of his/her identity and have free access to interpreters and legal advice. Compensation is an important form of remedy and the government bears the primary responsibility in this regard, because the fact that people are being trafficked illustrates the state’s failure to prevent traffickers from abusing victims. Apart from a government agency dedicated to trafficking, a body such as a national human rights institution should also be set up to monitor the issue.

Child Trafficking

When it comes to the particular issue of the commercial sexual exploitation of children, more measures must be taken. Reliable figures on child victims of trafficking for sexual purposes in Singapore remain difficult to obtain due to a lack of disaggregated data and the hidden and illegal nature of the crime. As such, the government should establish an independent monitoring mechanism to regularly supervise and gather information to ensure that child rights conform to the provisions set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Singapore is a state party.

Singaporean law meanwhile provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction over Singaporean citizens and permanent residents who exploit children in other countries. However, the Singapore government has never prosecuted or convicted anyone for child sex tourism. The government must therefore re-examine this issue.

The role of poverty and discrimination

Finally, human rights can be used to address wider problems related to trafficking, including anti-poverty measures.

To the official 4Ps of fighting trafficking, I would add a 5th ‘P’: Poverty. Poverty is a human rights issue, as it affects economic, social and cultural rights – the right to food, housing and an adequate standard of health and education. Poverty is also a key driver of trafficking, compelling millions of migrant and foreign domestic workers to leave their home countries every year. When it comes to the sexual exploitation of children, poverty has an even bigger role to play as it often contributes to illiteracy, limited employment opportunities and difficult financial circumstances.  Children and youth from financially-struggling families become easy targets for procurement agents, who lure girls and boys away with the promise of high-paying urban jobs only to force them into prostitution.

Another issue that fuels trafficking is discrimination. The lack of employment opportunities for people belonging to gender, racial or ethnic groups forces them to go elsewhere and is a reason why women, in particular, are more vulnerable to traffickers.

The way ahead

A human rights approach is not the only tool we can use to combat trafficking, but it is an important one.

As Singapore’s Inter-Agency Taskforce continues its work to develop a new National Plan of Action (NPA) on Trafficking in Persons, it must use a human rights perspective to analyse trafficking issues and develop appropriate responses. Addressing trafficking in Singapore will involve work by many parties – civil society organisations, government and individuals – at multiple levels. But by keeping an open mind, taking into account a variety of approaches and perspectives, we can ensure that we continue to move forward in the fight to reduce trafficking and closer to the goal of a safer, more equal society for all.

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Class 95FM adopts ONE (SINGAPORE)!

“At Class 95FM, we feel strongly that it’s important to contribute to the community
and to assist those in need” ~ Class 95FM programme director Erina Cook

Class 95FM, Singapore’s most popular English-language radio channel, is putting on a whiteband and showing its support for the movement to eradicate poverty by adopting ONE (SINGAPORE).

The whiteband – popularised in local and international celebrity videos highlighting the message that every few seconds a child dies from extreme poverty – is the international symbol of the movement to eradicate poverty.

“We’ve chosen to adopt ONE (SINGAPORE) because its values are in line with ours,”  says Erina Cook, the radio station’s senior programme director.  “It raises awareness of key issues and takes action on a number of interrelated fronts.”

As part of the adoption, Class 95FM will broadcast information about ONE (SINGAPORE)’s campaign and support events, like the upcoming “Every ONE Can” grocery warehouse sale in May.  “Every ONE Can,” now in its fourth year, raises in-kind food donations for individuals and families in need.

“At ONE (SINGAPORE), we believe in a world where no one is poor, be it overseas or here at home” says ONE (SINGAPORE) President Vernetta Lopez, who also co-hosts Singapore’s most popular English-language radio programme, The Morning Express.  “I joined ONE (SINGAPORE) because I wanted to make a difference. Class 95FM’s support will enable us to reach out further, engage more businesses in corporate adoptions and encourage more Singaporeans to play an active role in the community around them.”

Supporting community organisations is a strong part of MediaCorp Radio’s corporate culture.  Previous Class 95FM adopted organisations include the Breast Cancer Fund, Club Rainbow, MILK, Operation Smile and the SPCA.  And to celebrate radio’s 75th anniversary in 2011, MediaCorp Radio adopted 75 families in need of assistance, providing the beneficiaries with groceries, transport and utility vouchers and more.  ONE (SINGAPORE) helped MediaCorp Radio identify the beneficiaries.

How do we stop Human Trafficking?

How do we stop Human Trafficking?
Discussing “Child Prostitution, Human Trafficking and Poverty”
By ShuQi Liu

Across the globe, states appear to be giving a higher priority to drugs and wildlife smuggling, not to mention media piracy, than human trafficking. And did you know that, here in Singapore, trafficking victims – who often do not have access to their own passports, much less the freedom to leave their place of ‘work’ – are caned and jailed for overstaying their visas?

These are just two of the points raised in front of a congregation of white collared workers, tertiary students, academics and social activists on a recent Tuesday evening at Singapore Management University at an event organised by ONE (SINGAPORE) in association with SMU’s Wee Kim Wee Centre. Trafficking issues strike a chord in the hearts of many in our community, myself included, and this was clearly evident in the packed seminar room in SMU’s business school, where additional chairs had to be brought in to seat participants.

Complex Politics and Twice Persecuted

Professor Kirpal Singh, one of Singapore’s most prolific cultural critics, strides up to the front with a purposeful sense of insight. He observes that Singapore, as a country which both exports sex tourists and is a destination market for traffickers to send their victims, is in a curious position on the night’s topic.

“We are perhaps not doing anything concrete,” Kirpal notes. “The politics of the situation is complex, we are not aggressively firm, but have also shown unhappiness at the diplomatic level.”
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“How are we talking about the issue of human trafficking? When a woman shares a story of being duped by a promise of quick money in Singapore, only to be forced into the sex trade, do we ask ‘how could she have been so blind?” As individuals we need to suspend judgement of the victims.” ~ Braema Mathi

“There are no disparities in human trafficking – it affects men, women, boys and girls”, adds Braema Mathi, a former president of AWARE (the Association of Women for Action and Research) and ex-Nominated Member of Parliament.

And worse still, individuals who have been coerced or tricked into coming to Singapore – with the promise of a high-paying manufacturing or service-industry job, when in reality the work is in a brothel or pays significantly less than promised – are often treated as law-breakers here rather than victims.

“Victims of human trafficking often undergo double punishment when the state’s identity pushes individuals into another dimension. In Singapore, those trafficked are first charged with illegal immigration and then sentenced to jail and even caning.”

Braema notes though that changes in Singapore’s political scene mean that ministers and government agencies are more open to feedback, which provides concerned citizens with greater opportunity to voice out about injustices.

Indeed, Singaporeans need to be more proactive, vocal and aware on this issue. We need to stop questioning or blaming victims and work instead to protect their rights and confront the roots of the problem.

27 Jan 2012 (2)

Eliminating poverty and empowering women are key components in the campaign to end human trafficking.

Four, no Five, P’s

The second speaker, Pia Charlotte Bruce, Executive Director of UN Women Singapore, addressed the topic from a social perspective, noting that high mobility, international travel and economic growth contribute to Singapore’s susceptibility. Like other activists, Pia calls for a 4P strategy to overcome these vulnerabilities:

→ Prevention  –   raise awareness, reduce poverty and improve health & education

→ Protection   –   align local laws with international standards and better training for police and immigration officials

→ Prosecution –   stronger penalties and protection of whistle-blowers

→ Partnership  –   to effectively implement laws at the regional and international levels.

To this, Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a researcher at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, adds a 5th “P”, an underlying cause: Poverty. Chhoa-Howard argues that poverty in the region is a key driver of trafficking and the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

Sex Tourism and Trafficking

But if there was no demand, there would be no industry for traffickers to exploit. And unfortunately, Singaporeans are among the most numerous sex tourists in Thailand and at least 3000 Singaporeans and Malaysians take a ferry to neighboring Batam for sex every week.

Singaporean law provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction for Singaporean citizens and permanent residents who exploit children in other countries. But this law goes unenforced. Rachel points out that Singapore has never prosecuted or convicted a citizen or PR for having sexual relations with a child outside the country.

Last but not least, Bridget Tan, founder and president of H.O.M.E., added a very personal perspective to the discussion.

“One of the girls we took in had escaped from a brothel in Geylang. She refused to talk for one month,” Bridget shared. “The only person she could relate to was a pet dog in the shelter. When she was finally ready to tell her story, we found out that she had been gang-raped every time. And she was old enough to be my daughter. Despite the experience of extreme violation and severe trauma, she was repatriated after six months without any compensation. Is this even justifiable?”

While I know that these things happen, stories like this shock me . . . particularly that something like this can happen in the heart of Singapore, my home.

Better Policies Needed

Bridget also highlighted several areas for change that H.O.M.E. is championing and which we can all work together to achieve, including

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Hani Mohamed produced the short film “Innocence” to move Asian leaders to put a stop to human trafficking and child prostitution.

→ a Victims Assistance Programme

→ drafting and advocating for a legal definition of trafficking, as none currently exists in Singapore

→ better training on the issue for police, lawyers and judges

→ equal partnerships between civil society advocates and government agencies

The presentations were followed by a short film produced by ONE (SINGAPORE) Secretary Hani Mohamed showcasing child sex and human trafficking in Geylang, the popular red-light district here. In the film, a man logs onto the internet, makes a booking on a pornographic website then proceeds to meet a locked-up girl, all within a few hours. In a choked voice, Hani recollects the inspiration behind the film, a segment on The May Lee Show that described how pimps and traffickers threatened unwilling sex workers by caging them and ‘stuffing chillies in their private parts’.

Clearly, no one should be subjected to the brutality of trafficking, much less because of poverty. And every child should be able to enjoy a carefree and joyful childhood. Together, we can work together to manifest a better world. As well-travelled and educated Singaporeans, we can engage ourselves . . . by volunteering at a shelter, boycotting services offered by illegal syndicates, raising awareness among our friends and family so that no one blames the victims and campaigning for policies that will put an end to these evils.

Related Articles

Beans, Eggs & Tinned Fish: Room to Grow Fights Malnutrition, One Bite at a Time

Nearly 180 migrant children – forced to leave their homes in Burma following political violence and climate disasters – are eating more nutritious meals thanks to support from ONE (SINGAPORE) and its partners.  However funding for these programmes expires in April and May, unless new partners step forward.

The children stay or live near one of three schools and boarding houses, which provide shelter and education to children who have been orphaned, abandoned or separated from their families by conflict. Malnutrition is a serious issue in these communities. A recent survey by Room to Grow indicates that more than 40 percent of migrant students in this area are showing signs of stunted growth due to poor diets.

ONE (SINGAPORE) funding is used to purchase and deliver yellow lentils and eggs, which provide protein in a rice and vegetable diet that is otherwise protein deficient. During the last quarter of 2011, an additional contribution by ONE (SINGAPORE) provided money for rice, vegetables, protein, condiments, tinned fish and multivitamins to be served to children at the Shwe The Zin boarding school.

Not everything goes as smoothly as we’d like. Due to problems with a supplier, the delivery of vitamins did not start in November as planned, but in January instead. ONE (SINGAPORE)’s support will still provide a five-month supply of the multi-vitamins.

Room to Grow meanwhile organised nutrition workshops for cooks and teachers from 21 schools, including the three supported by ONE (SINGAPORE). The course equipped them with proper knowledge on preparing healthy meals.

“The children like to eat yellow bean soup more than the other curries. We also cook egg curry twice a week and tinned fish three or four times a week,” says a teacher/cook at STZ. “If we don’t go to the market, we cook tinned fish and veggies that are from our school garden.”

“The children get energy by eating those curries,” adds the school’s garderner who is also the assistant cook. “And it is very nutritious for the children. We also adjust children’s meals with nutrition sources that we learned from the nutrition training. One good news is that we use less MSG in the curries.”

The young migrants staying in these boarding houses clearly appreciate the meals.

“I am a boy who overeats,” says a Grade 3 student at SAW who loves the meals at the centre. “Sometimes, I get in eating competitions with my friends. For breakfast, I usually have rice and egg but we eat beans and rice also every week. For dinner, I like to eat bean and meat curries. I want the donor to watch us when we are eating so they can see how much I eat.”

During the funding period, nearly 245 kilograms of yellow lentils, 1445 eggs and 57 kilograms of rice were delivered and consumed by the children.

Additional Resources

Voices from “Room to Grow”

ONE (SINGAPORE) and its partners support a nutrition programme run by the Room to Grow Foundation in schools and boarding houses near the Thai-Burmese border. Nearly 180 migrant children – forced to leave their homes in Burma following political violence and climate disasters and currently living in areas where malnutrition is common – have been eating better meals, with more protein and vitamins, thanks to this initiative. However funding expires in April and May, unless new partners step forward. Here are some of the ‘Room to Grow’ voices . . .

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Related Articles and Resources

Stop Sex Trafficking

“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.

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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)
  • H.O.M.E.