13YO Girl Recruited for Sex Sheds Light on S’pore Human Trafficking Scene

The emergence of sexual harassment cases in local Universities in the past few years might make it seem like it was only recently that Singapore has had problems with anything related to sexual abuse. 

In reality, such crimes in Singapore have always been around—though we’ve always been told that Singapore has a low crime rate. 

Recently, Singaporeans have been paying more attention to another type of crime in Singapore: human trafficking.

13YO Girl Recruited Online for Sex 

When one talks about the issue of human trafficking, one might only imagine people being smuggled across borders. However, crimes that do not entail people being smuggled across the country’s borders can also fall under the offence of human trafficking.

On Tuesday (25 May), 25-year-old Jonathan Ching Wang De was convicted under the Prevention of Human Trafficking Act (PHTA).

He was guilty of recruiting a 13-year-old girl on Instagram to perform sexual acts on a 30-year-old man, Mohammed Ayub P.N. Shahul Hameed, back in March 2018. He had promised her fast cash in return, despite having no intention of doing so.

He then got the man to film the act and pressed for the video to be sent over. Ching also pleaded guilty to one count of cheating and one count of transmitting obscene material.

More on the case can be read here.

Mohammed Ayub had been charged in court back in August 2019. He was sentenced to 2 years in jail for having sex with a minor.

Ching is scheduled to be sentenced on 18 June.

Under the PHTA, recruiting a child below 18 for the purpose of exploitation is an offence. One found guilty of this offence can be sentenced of up to 10 years’ jail, fined up to S$100,000, and liable for up to 6 strokes of the cane.

For repeated offenders, one can be sentenced of up to 15 years of jail, fined up to S$150,000, and liable for up to 9 strokes of the cane.

The Human Trafficking Issue in Singapore

Human trafficking offences actually carry higher penalties than crimes related to prostitution.

In comparison to the PHTA, under the Women’s Charter, one found guilty of offences against women and girls relating to prostitution can be sentenced of up to 7 years’ jail and a fine of up to S$100,000.

Believe it or not, the PHTA was only enacted in 2015.

As Minister for Home Affairs and Law L. Shanmugam told Parliament on 10 May, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Singapore Police Force (SPF) have investigated 260 cases of alleged sex and labour trafficking since then.

Of the 260 cases, only 12 have been prosecuted, while only six sex trafficking cases have ended in convictions. Another sex trafficking case was before the court at that time.

According to data from the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons, there had been 12 sex trafficking cases last year. In 2019, there had been 30 sex trafficking cases. However, the Taskforce said that it was unclear whether this fall in cases could be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

S’pore Improves on US Watchlist for Human Trafficking

According to The Straits TimesSingapore was on the Tier 2 watch list of the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report by the United States’ State Department’s Office back in 2010.

Last year, Singapore progressed to Tier 1 of the watch list.

If you got confused like me, this progression is actually a good thing. According to the report, countries in Tier 2 are those whose governments “do not fully comply with the Act’s minimum standards but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.”

Our progression to Tier 1 means that our government has “fully met the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” set out by the report.

Everyone, say hurray for the PTHA. It only took a few decades, but better late than never right?

The June 2020 TIP report attributed this progression partly to the conviction of the first labour trafficking case last year, and the overall increase in convictions.

The report also stated that it was also partly due to the steps taken by the Government, including identifying more trafficking victims and increasing dialogue with non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

According to Mr Shanmugam, the Government has been supporting and funding NGOs that provide victim support services such as shelter, sustenance and counselling.

In South-east Asia (SEA), only Singapore and the Philippines are in Tier 2 of the watchlist. The SEA region has often been described as a hotbed for human trafficking.

Measures Taken By S’pore Government

Speaking to The Straits Times, The Singapore TIP Taskforce said that front-line service and enforcement officers from the SPF, MOM and the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) are trained to detect potential cases of human trafficking.

They added that this included noticing the traveller’s body language, baggage, belongings and documents.

The Straits Times also reported that officers are also trained to spot signs of restriction of movement or confinement, the withholding of documents such as passports, as well as signs of coercion, deception and physical harm. The TIP Taskforce added that officers are taught to “manage the victims in a sensitive manner.”

Singapore has also been working with international partners such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and Interpol, who have conducted training and seminars in human trafficking detection.

On the topic of the provision of human trafficking victim support services, the pandemic has made providing support more challenging. Hagar Singapore, an NGO that focuses on women and children who’ve been a victim of abuse, had has to move counselling online.

Ah, hello darkness my old friend. You again, COVID-19?

Executive director of Hagar Singapore, Michael Chiam, spoke about how the pandemic has also affected the poor and vulnerable, more so than others. He also said that it has exposed inequalities more starkly.

According to Mr Chiam, “People are becoming more vulnerable to exploitative employment. Struggling to make ends meet, vulnerable persons turn to risky job offers even though the terms are unfair—which is very worrying”.

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