ALSO attached below: The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for 2009, with regards to Singapore.
Source: Asia Sentinel, 19 June 2009
Asian values apparently don’t protecting individuals from exploitation.
Asian governments variously proclaim commitment to Asian values, Confucian, Islamic or Marxist principles or the rule of statute law. Or all of them. But when it comes to human rights, to enforcing laws intended to protect individuals and families alike from exploitation, greed, slavery and discrimination somehow the values are forgotten in favor of money or convenience.
The latest report by the US State Department on Human Trafficking makes dismal reading, particularly for those countries which have the financial and governmental resources to do something about it which must include Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Macau.
Of course the governments can argue that a nation which brought the world the Iraq war and Guantanamo has no business lecturing others on human rights. But whatever they think of the US, citizens of Asian countries have every right to know about the abuses committed in their name by governments turning a blind eye to gross ill-treatment of fellow humans, many of which are already illegal and others should be.
The report is particularly harsh on Malaysia which has been relegated to Tier 3, the lowest category in a system which ranks countries according to the scale of the trafficking problems and the efforts of the government to address it. In Malaysia it seems that even follow Malaysians are the victims, not just unfortunates from poorer countries. Thus it notes reports of “women and girls of indigenous groups” being trafficked for sex. “Indigenous” clearly refers to non-Malay Bumiputeras and Orang Asli. So it is okay traffic so long as the victims are foreigners or non-Muslim?
It further notes the “credible reports” of Malaysian immigration officials being involved in trafficking in Burmese refugees from immigration detention centers. Although such claims have been made by NGOs and documented in TV programs, and in a US Senate report, they have been persistently denied by the Malaysian government. No immigration officials have been arrested or prosecuted, let alone convicted by a politicized court system, for involvement in trafficking.
The report further notes the continued abuse of foreign workers who were subject to bondage and coercion as a result of failure to pay their wages, surrender of passports and other measures which reduced them to a condition of forced labor. Although ministers spoke out against trafficking and labor abuses, in reality little was done.
While government inertia may be part of the problem in Malaysia as elsewhere, local observers note that a political class which is itself so corrupt has limited ability to address the corruption of officials whether immigration officers actively exploiting detained migrants or being paid to turn a blind eye to illegal labor practices.
Macau, a territory of the Peoples Republic of China, is not much better suggests the report. It notes the scant effort by authorities to deal with the Chinese, Thai and Russian criminal gangs who run the prostitution rackets. It does not specifically make a link between Macao’s reliance on gambling and the symbiotic relationship between the casinos and the sex trade. But it notes that trafficked girls are “closely monitored, have their travel documents confiscated and are forced to work long hours and threatened with violence. The control of some victims by organized crime syndicates makes it particularly dangerous for them to seek help.”
Although the report notes that Macau has made a few efforts to combat trafficking and there were no reports of direct involvement of officials, efforts against rampant organized crime were inadequate.
In neighboring Hong Kong the bigger problem is failure to provide foreign domestic workers, particularly Indonesians, with the protection accorded by the law. It notes that debt bondage of workers from the mainland and Southeast Asia is enforced by seizure of passports, employment contracts and ATM cards. Although the government makes some effort to inform workers of their rights, its efforts at prosecuting offenders have been slight and it provides little support for victims to report crimes. Underpayment of the legal minimum wage is also rife and almost never prosecuted.
But at least there are wage, working hours and holiday laws in Hong Kong. Protection is much less in Singapore though the report notes that Singapore strengthened the Conditions of Work Permits for foreign domestic workers and collected unpaid wages on behalf of such workers in 276 cases. Nonetheless foreign workers routinely had their passports taken away by employer or employment agency and otherwise made subject to coercion.
Although the police investigated 54 cases of sex trafficking, only two convictions resulted. Embassies, especially that of the Philippines, reported many more cases of credible reports trafficking of their citizens. There was no indication whether many of the 5,047 foreign women deported in 2008 for prostitution had been trafficked. The sex industry in Singapore is rife, most conspicuously in the Orchard Road tourist hotel district and off Geylang road, where it is mostly patronized by locals. The girls are almost invariably foreign.
All in all, though there have been some improvements in Singapore, the tight social controls that its government applies in other areas is singularly lacking when it comes to protecting foreign workers from traffickers and bondage.
The Perils of a Day Off
It is no wonder that governments make so little effort to protect migrant workers, and maids in particular, from abuse when not only ruling elites but newly-prosperous middle classes like to think of themselves as owners of their workers. Is Malaysia such a sick society, pretending modernity but living according to feudal rules?
Stung by international criticism, the Malaysian government is actually trying to do something positive: a plan to give the estimated 370,000 foreign maids the right to one day off a week. This is generated a furious reaction from employers, recruitment agencies and even from a member of the National Human Rights Commission.
It is variously claimed that giving them a day off will lead to them running away, catching diseases, getting pregnant and making their “owners” — at least those unable to afford multiple maids — do their own housework for one day a week. Apparently for many like Norizan Sharif: “If they take leave the home comes to a standstill”. So Asian and Islamic family values rest on the assumption of slave labor?
It is hard to beat the arrogant and patronizing reported comment of Khoo Kay Kim, a member of the Human Rights Commission: “Maids would get naughty and there would be adverse consequences”. Or accountant Audrey Tan quoted as saying “They might run away with boyfriends…”
This is the same slave-owner mentality displayed by writers to press in Singapore when it was proposed that domestic helpers be allowed the same one day a week holiday to which all others, foreign workers included, are entitled.
The outrage of the maid-owning classes may well have a racial element in Malaysia as well as Singapore given that almost all of the maids are brown-skinned people from Indonesia and the Philippines and the Indian subcontinent.
The fear that maids might run away demonstrates one of the ways in which they are oppressed. However badly treated they are, however ill-paid, however housed in accommodation designed for pets, they are unable to run away because their passports and other documents have been confiscated.
Source: The US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for 2009, pages 256-258
Singapore is a destination country for women and girls trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. Some women from Thailand and the Philippines who travel to Singapore voluntarily for prostitution or work are subsequently deceived or coerced into sexual servitude.
Some foreign domestic workers are subject to conditions that may be indicative of labor trafficking, including physical or sexual abuse, confiscation of travel documents, confinement, inadequate food, rest, or accommodation, deceptions about wages or conditions of work, and improper withholding of pay.
Some Singaporean men travel to countries in the region for child sex tourism.
The Government of Singapore does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.
Singapore secured convictions of two defendants for sex trafficking-related crimes, including the first conviction under a recently amended law criminalizing the commercial sexual exploitation of children between 16 and 18 years of age.
Singapore strengthened the Conditions of Work Permits for foreign domestic workers and collected unpaid wages on behalf of such workers in 276 cases.
The government did not take adequate measures to protect victims of trafficking, particularly foreign domestic workers subjected to forced labor conditions.
While Singapore has made progress in combating trafficking to date, it can and should do more to investigate and prevent trafficking and to identify and assist trafficking victims.
Recommendations for Singapore
- Prosecute the maximum possible number of cases involving the trafficking of children under the age of 18 for commercial sexual exploitation;
- prosecute employers and employment agencies who unlawfully confiscate workers’ passports as a means of intimidating workers or holding them in a state of involuntary servitude, or use other means to extract forced labor;
- expand investigations and prosecutions in adult sex trafficking cases;
- develop robust procedures to identify potential traffickers and trafficking victims by immigration officers at ports of entry and other law enforcement personnel;
- devote additional resources to systematically identifying and quantifying sex and labor trafficking within and across national borders, as well as indicators (such as certain unlawful labor practices) that are commonly associated with trafficking, and publish findings and follow-up;
- use the findings to improve the anti-trafficking training of police, immigration, and Ministry of Manpower officers, as well as judicial personnel;
- carry out targeted anti-trafficking law enforcement operations;
- conduct focused public information campaigns, and make appropriate adjustments to administrative rules or procedures relating to the prevention of trafficking or the protection of trafficking victims;
- study ways to make affordable legal aid to trafficking victims to enable them to obtain redress by pursuing civil suits against their traffickers;
- reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in Singapore by vigorously enforcing existing laws against importing women for purposes of prostitution, trafficking in women and girls, importing women or girls by false pretenses, living or trading on prostitution, and keeping brothels;
- increase cooperative exchange of information about potential trafficking issues with NGOs and foreign diplomatic missions in Singapore;
- conduct public awareness campaigns to inform citizens and residents of the recent amendments to the Penal Code and the penalties for involvement in trafficking for sexual exploitation or forced labor;
- and cooperate with foreign governments to institutionalize procedures for reporting, investigating, and prosecuting child sex tourism committed overseas by Singaporean citizens and permanent residents.
The Government of Singapore demonstrated some law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking in persons during the reporting year.
Singaporean law criminalizes all forms of trafficking, through its Penal Code, Women’s Charter, Children and Young Persons Act, Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, Employment Agencies Act, Employment Agency Rules, and the Conditions of Work Permits for foreign domestic workers. Penalties prescribed for sex trafficking, including imprisonment, fines, and caning, are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other grave crimes, as are penalties prescribed for labor trafficking.
The Singapore Police Force investigated 54 reports of sex trafficking during the reporting period; two cases resulted in prosecutions, while the others reportedly were closed due to lack of substantiating evidence.
The government prosecuted and secured the convictions of two trafficking offenders in 2008, both for sex trafficking offenses. One trafficker who brought a Filipina woman into Singapore for the purpose of prostitution was fined $8,000 with an alternative sentence of 12 weeks’ imprisonment if she failed to pay the fine. Another trafficker who brought an underage Chinese girl to Singapore for commercial sexual exploitation was sentenced to one year in prison.
There were no criminal prosecutions of labor agency representatives for trafficking crimes in 2008; the government prosecuted some employers for physical or sexual abuse of foreign domestic workers, for “illegal deployment” (unlawfully requiring a worker to work at premises other than those stated in the work permit), for failing to pay wages due, or for failing to provide acceptable accommodation or a safe working environment. There were no reports of government officials’ complicity in trafficking crimes during the reporting period.
The government did not show appreciable progress in protecting trafficking victims, particularly foreign domestic workers subjected to forced labor conditions.
The government does not operate victim shelters, but instead referred potential victims of trafficking to NGO shelters or foreign embassies over the reporting period.
Although two foreign embassies in Singapore documented over 150 women allegedly trafficked into Singapore for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation, the government only identified two trafficking victims during the reporting period. One identified victim, a Chinese girl, was referred by the government to an NGO-operated shelter during the prosecution of her trafficker. The other victim returned voluntarily to the Philippines before a report was filed with the police.
In 2008, one NGO reported offering assistance to over 850 foreign workers, some of whom claimed they had experienced trafficking-related conditions, such as fraudulent recruitment, withholding of documents, confinement, threats of serious financial harm related to recruitment debts as part of a scheme to keep the worker performing the relevant labor or service, and physical abuse. In a survey of 206 migrant workers who resided at the shelter, 95 percent reported that their employer or employment agency in Singapore held their passport, a known contributing factor to trafficking if done as a means to keep the worker performing a form of labor or service.
The Philippine Embassy in Singapore reported contacts from 136 potential sex trafficking victims whose claims Philippine authorities determined to be credible. Six other diplomatic missions in Singapore reported a combined total of 21 to 23 potential or confirmed sex trafficking victims.
Law enforcement efforts aimed at curbing prostitution may have resulted in victims of sex trafficking being penalized for acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. In 2008, the police arrested 5,047 foreign women for prostitution, who were generally incarcerated and then deported. The number of trafficking victims among this group is unknown; however, government measures to proactively identify potential trafficking victims among this vulnerable population, if any, appear to have been limited during the majority of the reporting period. At least 53 of those reportedly arrested and deported without being formally identified and provided with appropriate protective services were children, who should therefore have been classified as crime victims under Singapore’s amended Penal Code.
The government encourages identified victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and makes available to all foreign victims of crime temporary immigration relief that allows them to reside in Singapore pending conclusion of their criminal case. Singapore does not otherwise provide trafficking victims with a legal alternative to removal to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.
The Singaporean government demonstrated some increased efforts to prevent trafficking in persons during the year. The government expanded its information
campaign that aims to raise awareness among foreign workers of their rights and resources available, in an effort to prevent incidents of trafficking. It continued to
print information on employees’ rights and police hotline numbers for domestic workers on prepaid phone cards.
The Ministry of Manpower has a biannual newsletter, published in multiple languages, that it mails directly to all 180,000 foreign domestic workers. All foreign domestic workers working in Singapore for the first time attend a compulsory course on domestic safety and their employment rights and responsibilities.
The government undertook some administrative actions for violations of labor laws potentially related to trafficking, including employer fines and license suspensions for several employment agencies. It also strengthened the terms of work permits to expressly prohibit employers from making unauthorized deductions from domestic workers’ salaries.
Throughout the reporting period, at least 25 employers were convicted of physically or sexually abusing their foreign domestic workers and sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from a few weeks to over two years, depending on the severity of the abuse. Some male employers convicted of sexual abuse were also sentenced to caning.
The government did not undertake specific measures to reduce demand for commercial sex acts involving adults in the legalized commercial sex industry in Singapore. Singapore has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.