Friday, 23 March 2012

Action plan on human trafficking

Relevant laws to be reviewed, probes to be victim-centric
By Jennani Durai, The Straits Times, 22 Mar 2012

INVESTIGATORS manning the front line in the fight against human trafficking are to be given specialist training in how to spot victims and shield them from harm.

All laws relating to the crime - often referred to as 'the trade in human misery' - will be reviewed as part of a plan of action launched yesterday.

It aims to prevent trafficking, protect the victims and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Minister of State for Manpower Tan Chuan-Jin said the move would help Singapore tackle the problem in a more strategic way.

He added that while human trafficking is not a severe issue in Singapore, certain forms of it do exist. For example, women may be trafficked in for sex or labourers brought into the country illegally and exploited.

'Singapore, with its high people flows, is an attractive platform for human traffickers,' he said in a speech at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Police received 43 reports of sex trafficking last year, while 67 cases were found to have elements of labour trafficking, Ministry of Manpower statistics show.

The National Plan of Action was put together by an inter-agency task force formed in 2010.

Front-line officers will be trained to identify possible victims, and alter their lines of questioning accordingly. For example, police and Ministry of Manpower investigators will be given cards with pointers on how to identify those who may be victims of trafficking.

These could include finding out whether victims are carrying identification and travel documents or if someone else has control of them.

Officers could also try to establish whether they have been coached about what to say to officials, and if their freedom of movement is being restricted.

They will also adopt a new 'victim-centric' approach to investigating human trafficking cases. 'Few will step forward if they fear being prosecuted for offences they may have been coerced into committing,' said Mr Tan.

The action plan also aims to prevent the crime by uncovering potential cases early, raising public awareness and carrying out research.

One idea being considered is to set up a dedicated hotline for victims.

The next step is to prosecute the traffickers. The task force will take a hard look at Singapore's laws, as well as those of other countries, to see how legislation can be changed to help do this.

It will also join forces with foreign governments, businesses and civil society organisations.

Yesterday, activist groups welcomed the plan, although some felt the Government was still not moving fast enough. For example, Singapore has not yet signed the United Nations' Palermo Protocol on human trafficking.

Ms Saleemah Ismail, of the Singapore Committee for UN Women, said it applauds the new plan, but the changes are not happening fast enough.

'Until now, we still hear the Government say that they are studying the feasibility of acceding to the Palermo Protocol - it's been years,' she said.

'We are a powerhouse, and we have the resources. I implore the Government to step up, align itself with the international agreement.'

She added that Singapore's human trafficking laws are currently 'piecemeal' and called for dedicated legislation to protect victims fully.

'We need a comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation,' she said. 'The victims of trafficking will not come forward if there is not a law to protect them.'

Mr Tan acknowledged the calls to speed up moves such as signing the Palermo Protocol. However, he said that Singapore may need a bit more time.

'I think we need to pace ourselves, conduct a thorough review and ensure that we can fulfil the obligations in an international agreement before we sign on the dotted line.' he said. 'Once we are ready, we will do so.'

The new victim-centric approach to investigating human trafficking will be one of the biggest changes to arise from the action plan, said Ms Jacqueline Poh, who co-chairs the task force and is director of the workplace policy and strategy division at the Ministry of Manpower.

No comments:

Post a Comment