Changes to the law may protect women from sex traffickers in Singapore


Sex traffickers will soon face tougher penalties as part of the changes to the Women’s Charter, which experts see as an important development while also highlighting inherent problems in bringing offenders to justice.

Traffickers will face stiffer punishments with the amendments to the Women’s Charter – Singapore’s law to keep women and children safe – that were debated and passed in Parliament on November 04.

With the changes, someone found trafficking women or girls, or tricking them into sex work, will face a maximum jail term of up to seven years and a maximum fine of SGD100,000 – a ten-fold increase from the current amount.

However, while the stiffer punishments may act as a deterrent, legal experts said there may still be challenges in bring perpetrators to justice, Ms Gloria James-Civetta, head lawyer at Gloria James-Civetta & Co said.

For instance, the prosecution still needs to prove the act of trafficking occurred and that the accused knew they were bringing women in illegally, Ms James told CNA.

There were also questions raised in Parliament during Monday’s session if changes to the Charter are enough.

Can simply raising penalties curb exploitation, especially if perpetrators know how to circumvent the law, asked Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Ms Anthea Ong.

Alongside more severe punishment, women who are exploited are the “most powerful ally” who can help authorities bring abusers to task, she said. More can be done to protect those in the sex industry, Ms Ong and MP Mr Louis Ng suggested.

The amendments could help arrest and deter those who help facilitate trafficking as well as those who are directly involved, said Ms James.

“The laws are doing their best, as many runners doing the groundwork are being apprehended and in turn, deterring future runners from conducting the groundwork for the masterminds.”

“This may assist in making operation of the syndicate even more difficult for the masterminds with fewer runners.”

She explained the increased penalties may assist victims of sex trafficking indirectly by deterring potential offenders.

However, lawyers CNA spoke to said prosecuting criminals who dupe and traffic remains difficult. This is because of how the syndicates work, with the ringleaders elusive.

“Sex traffickers operate as a syndicate – there are usually many runners conducting the groundwork and there are many layers of hierarchy within the syndicate before reaching the mastermind”, said Ms James.

Even runners are sometimes unaware of the ringleaders’ identities, she said. (Source: CNA)