Singapore is a destination country for men, women, and girls from China, India, the Philippines, Burma, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, and elsewhere in Southeast Asia subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, and a transit country for Cambodian and Filipino men subjected to forced labor on fishing vessels that stop at ports in Singapore. There are more than 1.4 million foreign workers in Singapore comprising more than one-third of Singapore’s total labor force. The majority are unskilled and low-skilled workers who migrate willingly for work in the construction, domestic service, or hospitality industries. Some are subsequently subjected to sex trafficking or forced labor in these sectors. There were reports of men subjected to forced labor on long-haul fishing vessels that depart from Singapore or dock in Singaporean ports; men from the Philippines and Cambodia are recruited for this work through deceptive practices by agencies operating in Singapore. There were reports that some foreign seamen endured severe abuse by fishing boat captains, the inability to disembark from their vessels—sometimes for years—the inability to terminate their contracts, and the nonpayment of wages. Some of these men transit Singapore before embarking onto vessels from ports in other countries.
Many foreign workers have assumed large debts to recruitment agencies in both Singapore and their home countries, making them vulnerable to forced labor, including debt bondage. Some foreign workers reported confiscation of their passports, restrictions on their movement, illegal withholding of their pay, threats of forced repatriation without pay, and physical and sexual abuse—all indicators of potential trafficking. Foreign workers have credible fears of losing their work visas and being deported, since employers have the ability to repatriate workers at any time during their contracts with minimal notice. Low-skilled workers face restrictions in seeking alternative employment or changing employers, and unscrupulous Singaporean employers can submit unfounded complaints about workers and encourage the government to place employment bans on them. Some employers in Singapore have relied 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. Some foreign workers enter Singapore with the intention of engaging in prostitution, but upon arrival are subjected to forced prostitution under the threat of serious harm, including financial harm, or other forms of coercion. There are cases of child sex trafficking in Singapore.
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. The government imposed stringent sentences on two convicted sex traffickers, but it did not prosecute or convict any labor traffickers. It developed an improved mechanism for case referral among government, civil society, and foreign embassies. However, it continued to face difficulties in identifying and building evidence in cases. After investigating 294 new labor cases and 53 sex trafficking cases, the government substantiated 24 sex trafficking cases and one labor trafficking case.
Recommendations for Singapore:
Increase investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses, including debt bondage, and convictions and punishments of both sex and labor trafficking offenders; draft and enact legislation to prohibit all forms of trafficking, apply stringent penalties to all convicted offenders, provide for consistency in interpretation and application of anti-trafficking regulations across government agencies, and legally mandate a victim-centered approach when investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases; increase specialized training for front-line officers in the identification of sex and labor trafficking and for investigators in building cases, with a focus on identifying non-physical forms of coercion; use multi-disciplinary groups, including victim service organizations or social workers during victim-screening interviews; provide funding to all non-governmental shelters providing protections to potential trafficking victims; provide all potential victims adequate protections regardless of whether their cases are fully substantiated or lead to prosecutions; consistently implement procedures to ensure anti-trafficking efforts consistently employ a victim-centered approach, particularly with regard to child sex trafficking; implement a policy to allow all victims assisting in investigations to obtain temporary employment passes; continue and expand meaningful cooperation with civil society organizations, particularly in victim protection and support; continue and increase the use of existing laws to impose serious penalties on employers and employment agencies who unlawfully confiscate workers’ passports or commit other labor violations used to facilitate forced labor; continue and increase awareness campaigns to encourage public support of anti-trafficking efforts; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of Singapore demonstrated limited efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers, but applied serious penalties against the two sex traffickers who were convicted. Singaporean law prohibits some forms of trafficking through its penal code and Women’s Charter (a statute that includes provisions that criminalize certain offenses against women and girls). Singaporean law does not prohibit the forced prostitution of men. Article 140 of the Women’s Charter prohibits forced prostitution involving detention or physical force, though it does not include non-physical forms of coercion, such as debt bondage or threat of abuse of the legal process. Article 141 only prohibits the movement of women and girls for “trafficking” but does not define the term “trafficking.” Penalties prescribed for sex trafficking offenses in the Women’s Charter include a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. The fact that the criminal code does not define trafficking in a manner that is consistent with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol continued to limit the government’s ability to prosecute trafficking cases, particularly in situations of debt bondage or when the victim initially consented to migrate to Singapore for work in a specific sector and was subsequently subjected to trafficking in that sector.
During the year, the government investigated 53 potential sex trafficking cases, prosecuted 9 defendants for sex trafficking offenses, and convicted two child sex traffickers, compared with one conviction during the previous year. One convicted trafficker was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment, and one was sentenced to seven years’ corrective training, which is a form of imprisonment. The government investigated 294 suspected cases of labor trafficking; it substantiated one case as amounting to labor trafficking and did not convict or punish any labor traffickers during the year. Officials continued to face challenges in identifying and building evidence in labor and sex trafficking cases. Authorities may have failed to recognize the elements of trafficking among individuals who reportedly migrated to Singapore willingly or who did not experience physical confinement or abuse. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The government continued modest efforts to protect trafficking victims on a case-by-case basis. The government and civil society organizations continued to disagree as to whether specific cases amounted to trafficking. Civil society organizations referred 867 possible trafficking cases involving an unknown number of victims through the government’s referral system. Of these, the government determined 228 victims in 93 cases (49 involving labor exploitation and 44 involving sexual exploitation) as having been subjected to trafficking or trafficking-related exploitation.
The government began implementing standard operating procedures, developed during the previous reporting period, to guide police and labor officials in identifying labor and sex trafficking victims and referring them to service providers. In August 2013, the interagency taskforce began implementing a new case referral process among government officials, civil society organizations, and foreign embassies. NGOs and foreign embassies reported that although the referral mechanism has improved coordination between public and private stakeholders, lack of transparency regarding ongoing cases remained a problem and interfered with service providers’ ability to assist victims. Authorities identified the majority of sex trafficking cases during anti-prostitution operations. In 2013, the police established a dedicated team to identify and investigate sex trafficking cases. Authorities continued to use sex trafficking indicator cards to identify victims during operations involving individuals in prostitution; however, victims’ fears of detention or deportation may have made them reluctant to communicate with law enforcement officers, leaving some victims unidentified. The government did not consistently ensure that social service professionals were present during screening interviews, though NGOs reported an improvement in this area during the reporting period. The government did not consistently protect child victims’ rights; during the year, media outlets at times published the names and photos of child sex trafficking victims.
The government continued to provide partial funding to 27 shelters (22 serving adults and 5 for children) serving vulnerable populations, including 49 suspected trafficking victims, but it did not operate any trafficking-specific shelters. Many children’s shelters housed both victims of abuse and children in conflict with the law. The government provided sex trafficking victims in government facilities with counseling; it did not provide these services to labor trafficking victims. Most victims, including those not counted in the government’s statistics, were cared for in NGO facilities that did not receive support from the government or shelters maintained by foreign embassies. Some victims whose cases did not result in prosecution were repatriated within two to four weeks; long-term support from the government was only available to victims whose cases resulted in a prosecution. Identified victims were not punished for crimes committed as a result of being trafficked. According to NGOs and foreign embassies, inadequate victim identification resulted in the possibility that trafficking victims were among the individuals arrested for prostitution violations during the year; such individuals may have been subjected to penalties.
The government requested victims considered key witnesses to remain in Singapore and participate in court proceedings. The government provided limited benefits for victims participating in investigations and prosecutions of trafficking offenses, such as allowing some victims to change employers and arranging for their accommodation in shelters or other housing. The government did not provide incentives such as legal aid for the pursuit of civil suits. There were reports that victims of trafficking did not wish to file official complaints with Singaporean authorities for fear of losing work permits or being forced to remain in the country and participate in a prosecution. An unknown number of trafficking victims received special passes that allowed them to stay legally in Singapore for a temporary period. The government allowed 42 labor trafficking victims to change employers, which is typically not permitted without an employer’s consent. It granted six labor trafficking victims temporary work permits during the course of their participation in prosecutions.
Domestic workers in Singapore remained excluded from the employment act, which includes a number of basic worker protections. The government contributed funding to an NGO-run drop-in center that opened in January 2014 to refer distressed fishermen, including potential trafficking victims, to their embassies; however, fishermen who lacked Singapore work visas were not eligible for any form of protective services or legal redress in Singapore. The government did not provide long-term alternatives to removal to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution.
The government increased efforts to raise awareness of the dangers of human trafficking, often through partnerships with universities, civil society organizations, and foreign embassies. The government’s interagency taskforce continued implementation of Singapore’s national action plan to combat trafficking. Nevertheless, government officials’ and the general public’s awareness of anti-trafficking policies was generally low. The taskforce conducted campaigns through social media, newspapers, television, posters, and other outreach materials to educate workers on their rights, raise the public’s awareness of trafficking, and publicize efforts to punish employers for trafficking-related violations. The Ministry of Manpower provided workers with information for filing complaints and disseminated information to employers about the mandated weekly day off for domestic workers. The government maintained a dedicated help line for foreign domestic workers in distress, but the government did not report whether this line received any trafficking-related calls during the year. The government increased its efforts to jointly participate in public events, including conferences and panel discussions, with civil society organizations. In February 2014, it convened a meeting with representatives from civil society, the private sector, and the parliament to solicit feedback on draft anti-trafficking legislation. Also in February 2014, the government announced a new grant in the equivalent of approximately $64,000 for organizations to raise awareness of human trafficking.
The government enacted amendments to its Employment of Foreign Manpower Act (EFMA), increasing penalties for employers who fail to pay a worker’s salary and imposing a legal limit on salary deductions for employer-provided accommodation and amenities. The government investigated employers for violations under the EFMA that could facilitate trafficking, and imposed fines—and in one case six weeks’ imprisonment—on some employers for failing to pay wages, charging illegal commissions or excess fees to foreign workers, and operating employment agencies without proper licensing. Twenty-two individuals received sentences ranging from 18 months’ probation to three months’ imprisonment for the commercial sexual exploitation of children in Singapore. The government made limited efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or for commercial sex. Singaporean law provides for extraterritorial jurisdiction over Singaporean citizens and permanent residents who sexually exploit children in other countries. There were no reports of investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for child sex tourism. Singapore is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.