SINGAPORE: Tier 2
The Government of Singapore does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Singapore remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by imposing strong sentences against convicted traffickers, improving freedom of movement for adult victims by funding the return to their country of origin prior to court proceedings, and increasing new migrant workers’ awareness of their rights. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Large numbers of migrant workers experienced conditions indicative of labor trafficking in Singapore, and, although the government continued to prosecute labor trafficking cases, it had yet to secure the conviction of a labor trafficker under the trafficking law. Authorities did not effectively identify victims compelled into service through psychological coercion or debt bondage, leaving some victims unidentified and subject to punishment or deportation.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR SINGAPORE
Using the 2015 anti-trafficking law, increase investigations and prosecutions of sex and labor trafficking offenses, including debt bondage, and convict and stringently sentence traffickers; increase resources for investigative and prosecutorial training on human trafficking for Ministry of Manpower officials who handle labor violations; strengthen efforts to identify trafficking victims, including by conducting training for front-line law enforcement officials with a focus on screening for psychological coercion among women in prostitution and individuals in debt bondage; strengthen the legal framework to enhance protection for victims from punishment for acts committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking; develop formal policies to provide all victims the right to robust protective services, regardless of their individual circumstances; and strengthen cooperation with NGOs for developing and implementing anti-trafficking policies and assisting victims.
The government maintained efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers. The Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA) criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment and fines up to 100,000 Singapore dollars ($74,850), which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes such as rape. The government investigated most suspected labor trafficking cases as labor law offenses under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA) or the Employment Act; these laws carried significantly lower penalties than the anti-trafficking law and excluded domestic workers and fishing crews.
In 2017, authorities investigated 34 trafficking cases, compared to 33 in 2016. Of these, 22 were cases of suspected sex trafficking, compared to 20 cases in 2016. The Ministry of Manpower investigated 12 suspected labor trafficking cases involving four suspects under the anti-trafficking law, compared with 13 cases involving three suspects in 2016; however, the government determined that none of the cases in 2017 violated trafficking laws. The government prosecuted 10 suspected traffickers (one labor trafficking suspect and nine sex trafficking suspects) and convicted four persons, compared to 13 prosecutions (10 sex trafficking and three labor trafficking suspects) and three convictions in 2016. One convicted trafficker received a sentence of six years and eight months imprisonment and a fine of 2,000 Singapore dollars ($1,500). In a previously reported case involving two defendants convicted in 2016 for starving a domestic worker, the government reported the appeal resulted in an increased sentence of 10 months for both. Through appeals by prosecutors, two similar cases involving abuse of domestic workers received increased sentences in 2017; however, the government had yet to obtain a labor trafficking conviction under the trafficking law, nor had it ever prosecuted any cases of domestic servitude under the trafficking law.
Law enforcement partnered with a local NGO to create a video to train officers on psychological trauma of sex crime survivors so officers can employ more appropriate interviewing techniques. The Ministry of Manpower collaborated with a foreign government to develop a course for its labor investigators to build their capacity, including the investigation of human trafficking cases. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking. The government continued to work closely with international counterparts, including continuing to investigate a cross-border case initiated in February 2017 that alleged a foreign national resident of Singapore was promoting commercial sex tours involving minors.
The government increased protection efforts. The government reported identifying 25 alleged victims (eight sex trafficking victims and 17 labor trafficking victims), compared to 33 alleged victims (20 sex trafficking and 13 labor trafficking victims) in 2016. The government identified two child victims in 2016 and eight in 2017. Police, labor, and immigration officials had standard operating procedures for identifying victims, and the government had a victim referral process among government officials, civil society organizations, and foreign embassies. Immigration officials referred suspected victims to lead investigative agencies. All police officers received basic training in victim identification; however, several NGOs reported officials failed to recognize key indicators of trafficking when interviewing potential victims, particularly in cases involving sex or labor exploitation through various forms of psychological coercion or debt bondage, and among migrant workers. NGOs reported authorities’ opaque victim identification and referral standards sometimes complicated effective use of the government’s referral mechanism.
The government provided 80 percent of the cost of some services, including funding for shelters to accommodate adult and child victims. The government designated one shelter exclusively for adult female trafficking victims. Authorities permitted freedom of movement outside of the shelter for most residents, but restricted movement for any residents deemed to be under physical threat or in need of psychological care. Although the government did not identify any male victims during the year, it designated one shelter for male victims. The government allocated funding for an NGO that provided trauma recovery services including counseling and medical care for female victims. The government provided a range of additional support measures, including interpreters, medical services, temporary work permits, and resettlement assistance. However, absent a formal policy mandating the provision of these services to all victims, and due to front-line officers’ incomplete understanding of psychological coercion, some victims likely did not benefit from these services. NGOs reported police did not consistently screen for trafficking indicators among women apprehended in law enforcement operations; the government may have prosecuted and punished unidentified sex trafficking victims for immigration violations or soliciting.
To provide freedom of movement, the government implemented a new policy initiative in 2017 permitting victims who were material witnesses in court cases against their former employers to leave the country, at the government’s expense, pending trial procedures. Four victims benefited from this policy during the year. The government offered assistance such as shelter and food for victims participating in investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses. The government granted six victims short-term work permits, available for the duration of their legal processes, compared to 12 in 2016. NGOs reported that the government facilitated pro bono legal assistance for victims of trafficking to pursue civil court claims for restitution; most declined the offer, but one victim received five years of unpaid wages in a civil claim. The government did not provide long-term alternatives to removal to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The interagency task force continued coordination of anti-trafficking efforts outlined in Singapore’s “National Approach against Trafficking in Persons,” which launched in 2016. The task force conducted campaigns through social media, news outlets, and other outreach materials to educate workers on their rights, raise public awareness of trafficking, and publicize efforts to punish employers for trafficking-related violations. NGOs received public grants totaling 80,000 Singapore dollars ($59,880) to assist with conducting awareness raising campaigns. The government launched new initiatives in 2017 to improve communication with vulnerable foreign workers, including a new mobile phone app and a one-day mandatory course to inform new arrivals of their rights. The government provided a pre-departure video at overseas testing centers to educate foreign workers on regulations prior to migrating to Singapore. The government prosecuted two unlicensed employment agents illegally collecting fees from migrant workers in Singapore. The government also conducted ongoing campaigns to inform employers of the consequences for withholding passports or salaries. The government made some efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor.
As reported over the past five years, Singapore is a destination country for men, women, and girls from other Asian countries subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, a source country for Singaporean women and children subjected to sex trafficking, and a transit country for Asian men subjected to forced labor on fishing vessels that transit through Singapore or its territorial waters. Some of the 965,000 foreign work permit holders that comprise more than one-quarter of Singapore’s total labor force are vulnerable to trafficking; most victims migrate willingly for work in construction, domestic service, performing arts, manufacturing, the service industry, or commercial sex. Traffickers compel victims into sex or labor exploitation through illegal withholding of their pay, threats of forced repatriation without pay, restrictions on movement, and physical and sexual abuse. Withholding travel documents, such as passports, is illegal in Singapore; however, it remains a common practice for some employers. Although Singaporean law limits agency fees and mandates prosecution for those who exceed them, many foreign workers assume large debts to recruitment agencies or individual recruiters in their home countries and sometimes in Singapore, making them vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage. Some recruitment agencies illegally engage in contract switching and charge workers fees over the legal limit. Foreign workers have credible fears of losing their work visas and deportation, since employers have the ability to repatriate workers legally at any time during their contracts with minimal notice. Unscrupulous employers exploit the non-transferability of low-skilled work visas to control or manipulate workers. Some employers rely on repatriation companies to seize, confine, and escort foreign workers to the airport for departure from Singapore, including through the use of assaults, threats, and coercion, to prevent them from complaining about abuses to authorities.
Foreign women sometimes arrive in Singapore with the intention of engaging in prostitution, but under the threat of serious harm or other forms of coercion, they become victims of sex trafficking. A small number of Singapore residents facilitate and engage in child sex tourism abroad. Some captains used physical abuse to force men to perform labor on long-haul fishing vessels that transit or dock at Singaporean ports, and some agencies in Singapore use deceptive tactics to recruit Asian men for this work.