The aim of the Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill is to show care and compassion for vulnerable victims, stressed MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC Christopher De Souza as he opened the debate in Parliament on the proposed new law to combat human trafficking.
Mr De Souza had first mooted the idea for such a law in 2013.
"This is a group of individuals that are extremely vulnerable - perhaps the most vulnerable of the vulnerable - and, therefore, we must, out of principle, take steps to protect and care for them. Our role is not just to help them; we need to partner them and give them a sense of hope. We should partner them to restore their dignity - their dignity as a person, as a human being," he said in Parliament on Monday.
Singapore currently does not have dedicated laws to deal with human trafficking.
ACT, MEANS, PURPOSE
The objectives of the new Bill are four-fold, he said.
First, it clarifies the legal regime by providing a formal definition of Trafficking in Persons (TIP) and prescribes penalties to deal with human trafficking in a more targeted and deterrent manner.
Second, it empowers enforcement agencies with the necessary investigation and enforcement levers to tackle TIP.
Third, it provides measures to protect and support trafficked victims, and encourage the reporting of trafficking or suspected trafficking activities.
Fourth, the Bill will bring Singapore closer in line with international standards, and uplift efforts to combat TIP in the country and region.
According to the Bill, there are three elements of proof needed for an offence, to be classified as human trafficking.
There must be an "act" - this could be the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of an individual. Next, this act must be accompanied by "means" - which could be the use of threat, force, or any other form of coercion or deception. Finally, these must be done for the "purpose of exploitation", such as sexual exploitation, forced labour, or organ removal.
As TIP is a serious charge, all three elements must be proven. Cases which fall short of the required thresholds may still be taken up by other existing laws, where appropriate.
The burden of proof is lower for child victims. This is in recognition of their vulnerability to exploitation. To afford a child greater protection under the law, there is no requirement for the prosecution to prove the methods or means used.
It is sufficient for the prosecution to show that there was an act to recruit, transport, transfer, harbour or receive a child victim for the purposes of exploitation.
Recognising the transnational nature of the crime, a trafficking offender is liable in Singapore even if his acts straddles between Singapore and another jurisdiction. Besides traffickers, persons who abet the offence are similarly liable. Penalties include severe fines and caning.
As for victim support, currently victims of abuse - including trafficked victims - are provided a range of services which includes temporary accommodation, food, counselling services, medical care and temporary employment.
Mr De Souza said each victim is assessed thoroughly as the needs differ from individual to individual, and the support measures are tailored and provided accordingly. The new Bill endorses this established approach.
The Director of Social Welfare may provide trafficked victims with help as he considers practicable and necessary.
Mr De Souza said this includes, but is not limited to, temporary shelter and counselling services.
"Human trafficking is real; it is cruel; and it must be stemmed. We, as a society, must speak up for the voiceless and helpless by sending as strong a signal as we can against these serious crimes. This is the ethos behind the Bill," he said.
"To prevent TIP from taking root in our community, our laws have to be comprehensive yet targeted, possess sufficient bite to punish perpetrators and deter would-be offenders, and offer protection and support to those in need. The Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill strengthens these fronts by supplementing our existing suite of laws and measures. It raises our standards of fighting TIP both locally and internationally, and will serve as a beacon to our enforcement officers who are involved in this effort."
DR VIVIAN BALAKRISHNAN CONGRATULATES MR DE SOUZA
Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan congratulated Mr de Souza in a Facebook post after the Bill was passed.
In the post, Mr Balakrishnan said: "Prevention of Human Trafficking Bill passed by Parliament. Congratulations to Christopher de Souza for so masterfully taking this rare private member's bill through Parliament after extensive public consultations. His past experience as a DPP, strong sense of compassion and resolute values were so obvious."