Tag Archives: Human Trafficking

Global Slavery – It’s not only the trade, but the lies that destroy

By Thulasi Mahadevan

The buzz words are glaring – exploitation, enslavement, trafficking, money, virginity sale, sex trade, brides for sale and modern day slavery. The list of words goes on. Unfortunately, so too does the list of victims.

More than 20 million people are victims of forced labour, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The victims usually comprise immigrants, both legal and illegal, who have willingly come to major cities in hopes of a better life, attracted by the large supply of jobs and better wages. However, they fall prey to organised crime syndicates and recruitment companies whose mandate is corruption and exploitation.

And the situation is getting worse in parts of Asia, according to the U.S. State Department, which ranks countries’ responses to these crimes in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report, most recently published on 20 June 2014. Malaysia dropped to Tier 3 – the lowest ranking – alongside North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Zimbabwe. Thailand also fails to meet the minimum standards to fight human trafficking.

“The Malaysia government has continuously failed to provide basic rights protections to migrant workers and instead has created a system where unscrupulous labour brokers, corrupt police and abusive employers can have a field day,” says Phil Robertson, Asia’s deputy director of Human Rights Watch, in a recent article in The Guardian.

Meanwhile, a six month investigation by The Guardian recently uncovered horrific and alarming stories and statistics of the fishing industry in Thailand. It’s a systematic industry that enslaves and even kills workers onboard vessels that have been dubbed Thai ‘ghost ships’.

Singapore – which has drafted a National Plan of Action Against Trafficking in Persons – has been recognised for making significant efforts. But it still does not meet minimum international standards.

A coalition of civil society organisations has called on the government to do more and to ensure that people who have been trafficked are not further victimised by Singapore laws.

“We are also deeply concerned that trafficked victims are being penalised for immigration and work-related offences,” the migrant workers advocacy group HOME notes in a statement. “Without an effective victim-protection system, it is highly unlikely that trafficked migrants will file complaints and cooperate with the authorities,”

This is the reality, these are the facts uncovered by years and months of investigation, rescuing victims, talking to survivors, telling their stories to the world and in one fell swoop it gets seamlessly undone. It all unravels because of one big lie: Somaly Mam: The Holy Saint (and Sinner) of Sex Trafficking.

Millions of people read, wept and donated to her global campaign. There were glitzy galas, headlines in reputable publications and Hollywood endorsements. Yes, she saved lives. But she also lied and falsified stories.

One could say, it’s a beautiful lie. But did she really have to lie? Human trafficking exists, the truth is ugly. So why ‘the pressure to package the right story’? Is the fundraising pressure really so immense?

“Trafficking and abuse in Cambodia has become an image of a young girl locked in a cage in a secret brothel, waiting for a hero to burst through the doors and rescue her. Or at least donate to do that,” writes Dale Edmonds, managing director of Riverkids Project Limited, in an open letter titled The Beautiful Lies that Broke my Heart.

Riverkids – a Singapore charity that works to prevent child trafficking and exploitation in Cambodia – was kickstarted by one little girl’s bravery and is now home to 600 children. Some of their stories are told in a book called ‘Eight Stories’, unedited, uncut and untarnished. The tales are raw and real and nowhere near packaged as, the “beautiful lies (that) grab all the loving compassion and generous support that good people are moved to give to children in Cambodia and send it to the least effective ways to help them.”

The global reports, the news, the stories, the reality, the people and children are all there. They are not just statistics. Raising awareness comes with responsibility. It should never be gambled away for better donations. It hinders the goal – putting a stop to all human trafficking. Let’s remember that.

Resources and Related Articles

The Ultimate Survival Challenge – Fighting Human Trafficking

By ShuQi Liu

23 Sept 2012 (1)

Trudging through the slums of Davao City, I am overwhelmed by the stench emanating from the murky waters of the city’s river delta, filled with feces and rubbish. Yet, as bad as it is, the smell is not nearly as vile as the human trafficking crimes that are committed here.

On a trip with The Chain Reaction Project (TCRP), I traveled to the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines to learn more about human trafficking and raise funds for a safe haven that protects and empowers people directly affected by the modern-day slave trade.

Together with thirty-two other change-makers (better known as “catalysts” at TCRP), we plan to climb Mt. Apo, the Philippines’ highest mountain with an altitude of nearly 3000 metres.

Our first stop is a town close to the coastal crossroads of Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines called Davao City, a hotspot renowned for one of the country’s largest organised crime syndicates. I quickly learn that not only are women, men and children trafficked overseas, but that trafficking within The Philippines is a huge issue as well.

At a halfway house, a young girl recently rescued by the Centre of Hope – the safe haven that we are here to support – shares her story.

“Marie” tells us she was promised a good-paying job working for a local family in Davao City when she was 16 years old. Her family needed the money and Davao City was also her hometown, so she took the job. But then, against her wishes, she was taken to Marawi, a town that is 350km and about a 5-hour drive from Davao City. There, she was forced to work in a household of sixteen people, where she was frequently starved, physically abused and not paid the wages due her.

23 Sept 2012 (2)ShuQi with a girl in Davao city, a hotspot for domestic human trafficking

Many of the other girls here in the halfway house were coerced or sold to work in the sex industry. One young woman, now barely 18, was kidnapped from her family and locked up in a brothel. We meet another woman who was mercilessly beaten by brothel owners for resisting customers. Some of the girls here are as young as seven years old.

The girls that I meet are just a few of the 300 women that turn to the Centre of Hope for refuge every year.

Poverty and an insecure future make the women and children living in Davao exceptionally susceptible to human trafficking crimes, social workers from the Visayan Forum Foundation (VFF), which runs the centre, tell us.

In addition to providing shelter and a safe space, VFF counsellors work to empower the women and provide them with new skills to live normal lives again.

Gaining a first-hand understanding of human trafficking stories increased my motivation to raise funds for VFF. The start of the TCRP Ultimate Survival Challenge afforded us the opportunity to put months of rigorous physical training to the test.

Climbing Mt. Apo meant hiking through thick tropical rainforests, sulfurous vents and 87-degree ascents. For many of us, it was our first shot at mountain climbing. Through sheer grit and tenacity, we manage to reach the summit, which at times seems like an impossible task. In the process, we also raise over S$100,000 for the Centre of Hope.

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I still cannot believe that I made it to the top, yet I know that the women and children at the Centre of Hope face far greater challenges as they rebuild their lives.

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23 Sept 2012 (5)ShuQi, 5th from the left, on Mt. Apo, helps spell “Actually” the nickname for her group of TCRP ‘catalysts’. “

This article was edited by Emma Gatehouse, Rob Teo and Michael Switow.  Photos courtesy of The Chain Reaction Project.

Related Articles

For more information on human trafficking and what we can do to stop it, please take a look at ONE (SINGAPORE)’s portal, ‘Stop Human Trafficking!’

Suspending Judgement

18 Apr 2012 - 2

Braema Mathi

“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

By ShuQi Liu

Prostitution is legal in Singapore. Sex Trafficking is a crime.  Prosecutions against sex traffickers are rare.  Victims of sex trafficking can be fined or jailed for immigration violations. Singapore’s new National Plan of Action promises a more compassionate approach.

In the face of so many conflicting and changing realities, what does it mean for an individual to suspend judgement?

This is the question I posed to Braema Mathi, a civil society activist and former Nominated Member of Parliament who spoke at ONE (SINGAPORE)’s panel discussion about human trafficking.

We need to start by looking more closely at ourselves and our history, Braema says.

For as long as Asian men have sought to flaunt their success by acquiring concubines and mistresses and frequenting houses of prostitution, human trafficking for sexual purposes has been part of our culture.  In some chauvinistic Asian societies, a man’s coming of age is still expressed in terms of sexuality.   A father encourages his young son to take the virginity of a female child as a symbol of manhood.  The status of women, who are viewed as sexual objects and subject to the whims and fancies of men, is secondary.

Singapore’s rich economy meanwhile has attracted large numbers of foreign women, particularly from rural areas where income opportunities are scarce, to come here with the hope of making quick money.  Men need only travel from one street to another in Geylang to hire women from China, Indonesia, Philippines and Vietnam, among other places. This diversity of nationalities creates an even larger tendency among Singaporeans to judge.

How were these sex workers recruited to come to Singapore?

Did a woman choose ‘the world’s oldest profession’ willingly or was she duped or forced into the business? It can be difficult to know the truth. Traumatised victims often fall into silence, unable to speak of their ordeal, which then makes detection and prosecution even harder.

The definition of trafficking, like the victims themselves, is entwined by the complexities of the trade.

A first step to suspending judgement is to recognise the victimisation of many women in the sex industry.

Sex trafficking as a whole can only be tackled if society engages men to reevaluate our value systems and transform thought into legislation and suitable processes to fight this modern form of slavery.

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Bought and Sold – Voices of Human Trafficking

“As long as there is demand for cheap labour or paid sexual services,

there will always be syndicates and individuals ready to exploit

the innocent for profits, especially the impoverished.”

– Sylvia Lee, Founder of EmancipAsia

Bought and Sold

by Emma Gatehouse

Bought and Sold – Voices of Human Trafficking is a photographic art exhibition on modern-day slavery whose theme is inconspicuous to people on Orchard Road until, that is, they pause to look closer at the powerful images and stories recounted by award-winning photographer Kay Chernush.

Chernush focuses on 18 victims’ individual experiences through an ensemble of creative imagery and anonymous victim narratives. Disarmingly inviting, a very different tone is revealed upon closer inspection. The narrated images are shockingly thought-provoking as individual accounts are suddenly brought to life and local pedestrians are afforded a glimpse of the experiences of young men, women and children who have endured the atrocities of modern-day slavery.

‘I was about 10 when she sold me. After first time they stitch you up – two, three, four times. I was four times virgin,’ reads one exhibit detailing the account of a Cambodian girl who had been trafficked within her country.

18 Apr 2012 (1)

In another, a Nigerian girl recounts the torture and abuse she underwent as she was passed through trafficking rings in Nigeria, Morocco, Spain and The Netherlands. ‘I was young…ten…he put water in the bath and put pepper in it. So I had to get naked and lie down…I was screaming, crying, begging him.’

18 Apr 2012 (2)

Closer to home, a migrant tells of her nightmare where, upon arriving in Singapore, her documents are confiscated and her right to freedom obliterated, before being forced to perform sexual acts in her new place of employ.

18 Apr 2012 (3)

An opposing view on the subject is on offer too, when the perspective of a sex tourist in Thailand is shared: ‘The women are different here. They’re available. How do I know she’s being forced?’

The exhibition is central to a campaign organized by Singapore-based EmancipAsia, a small non-profit organisation that aims to combat human trafficking by raising awareness, advocating change and empowering individuals, communities and businesses to take action.

18 Apr 2012 (4)

In another true tale, a young Burmese migrant is sold to the captain of a fishing boat bound directly for months at sea.

Founded in March this year, EmancipAsia’s interpretation of human trafficking speaks candidly to the local community through a number of different events currently being held in an effort to raise awareness of the prevalent issues here in Singapore.

It’s not surprising that mainstream society, globally, has an emotional aversion to recognising the very real issue of modern day slavery. However, ignoring this crime against humanity is deplorable. According to an international NGO called Free the Slaves, human trafficking is more prevalent in society now than it has ever been and Asia is host to the highest number of victims.

Chernush recognises the devastation of human trafficking globally from her own personal encounters with victims. She was invited to document human trafficking cases in an expedition across Asia and Eastern Europe in 2004. Her images later became an integral part of a report on human trafficking for the US Congress. What started as an assignment has become a passion as Chernush exhibits her photos across the world.

‘I’m enamored by that idea – so egalitarian, reaching people who are not necessarily aware of the problem,’ Chernush tells the CNN Freedom Project. ‘It’s not the anti-trafficking crowd, not the gallery-going crowd, it’s everyday people.’

“Almost every country is involved in human trafficking, either as a source or destination country or both,” adds EmancipAsia founder Sylvia Lee in an interview with Salt Online. “Human trafficking happens in rich and poor countries, developed and developing countries. It is only a matter of scale. Any country which employs high volumes of foreign workers is an attractive destination for human trafficking.”

In addition to Bought and Sold, EmancipAsia’s human trafficking campaign includes a film forum and a symposium, in conjunction with the National University of Singapore, on solutions and preventative measures to target modern-day slavery.

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Bought and Sold – Voices of Human Trafficking is on exhibit until 6 September, in front of the Mandarin Gallery on Orchard Road.  From 7 – 21 September, you can view the exhibit at NUS University Town. Admission is free.

This article was edited by Rob Teo.

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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.

Related Articles and Resources

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.”
27 Jan 2012 (1)

“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

27 Jan 2012 (3)

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.

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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.

10 Jan 2012 (1)

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.