The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Trafficking in Persons: Importance of identifying what is and what is not

Posted in NTS Plus by NTSblog on June 19, 2012

Trafficking in Persons (TIP) is one of the most serious transnational crimes. An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are believed to be trafficked across international borders each year and annual profits generated by TIP are estimated at USD32 billion. This makes it the second most profitable transnational crime in the world after drug trafficking.

Singapore has long argued that it does not have a serious TIP problem. However, it has developed renewed interests on the issue in recent years. According to Mr S. Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade and Industry, Singapore is “an attractive hub of economic activity with high people flows……and would be seen as an attractive destination country by human trafficking syndicates”. Although it is difficult to estimate the scope and scale of TIP in Singapore, it is probable that an unspecified number of the estimated 200,000 to 250,000 women and children who are trafficked from Southeast Asia each year could potentially have been destined for Singapore or could have transited through it. This probability is supported by US Department of State and ECPAT International reports that have identified Singapore as a destination and transit country for both sex and labour trafficking. Finally, Singapore has always taken pride in maintaining a reputation as a highly competitive, uncorrupt location with an excellent business environment. In contrast, its performance in reports that ranked countries based on their efforts to combat TIP is far from stellar. TIP is thus seen as detrimental to Singapore’s global image and reputation. As a result of these factors, Singapore established an Inter-Agency Taskforce on TIP in 2010 and has also launched a National Plan of Action (NPA) on 21 March 2012 to guide the Taskforce in combating TIP.

Singapore’s efforts to combat TIP however risked becoming mired in confusion and its effectiveness compromised. This is because distinctions have not been made between exploitation in general and the exploitation outcome of trafficking. The failure to make this distinction could lead to TIP becoming a byword for exploitation in general. For example, one prominent advocate believes that confiscation of passports, intimidation and threat, non-payment of salaries, and wrongful confinement equals trafficking. Most importantly, she also asserts that exploited domestic workers are victims of trafficking. However, according to the UN Trafficking Protocol, trafficked victims are those who are recruited and transported by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception or of the abuse of power for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labour, slavery, and removal of organs. Thus, not all forms of exploitation and not everyone who endured exploitation are cases of TIP.

Effectively addressing TIP requires a clear distinction between exploitation and the exploitation outcome of trafficking. The failure to make such distinctions could compromise the effectiveness of the highly essential targeted responses and will lead to the wastage of valuable resources.

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