TTRP features in an article by Georgina Vass on Public House Singapore. The article gives an impression of who TTRP are and what we are trying to achieve.
More than just sex trafficking
By Georgina Vass
Introducing The Trafficking Research Project.
Georgina Vass speaks to Kathryn Baer and Caroline Parkes about “The Trafficking Research Project“, which is aimed at making a positive and pragmatic contribution to the current policy and research developments on the issue of human trafficking.
Kathryn Baer and Caroline Parkes met last November in a coffee queue at a human trafficking conference in Singapore. They immediately agreed that it was difficult to discuss trafficking in Singapore in detail because so little is understood about the situation here. Baer and Parkes realized they were in a unique position to develop a research project on the subject given their past work experience: Baer has a background in woman’s rights and social policy while Parkes worked in human rights. Two months later, The Trafficking Research Project (TTRP) was “live” and seeking to fill a policy research gap in the fledgling Non-Government Organization, (NGO) sector in Singapore.
Baer and Parkes have conducted background research, attended meetings with established organizations doing work on trafficking in Singapore, and even co-convened the very first forum of anti-trafficking advocates. The most visible element of TTRP is its blog which features its findings, opinions, and publications. Posts range from their response to the United States Trafficking in Persons Report to guest contributions from experts working in the field. Baer and Parkes believe there is plenty of work for TTRP to do given the lack of information on the types of trafficking which exist, the numbers of victims and the victim’s treatment. They go on to say, “With well-conducted research, we would be better able to assess who is affected as well as developing a systematic process for gathering data.”
One example of an area where there is a need for further research is the issue of fisherman. While there is no official data on the scope of trafficked fisherman in Singapore, John Gee of Transient Workers Count Too, (TWC2) says, “Yes this is a problem. It is hard to quantify but we have handled a case [involving crew members].” Trafficked fisherman in Singapore have also been recognized in the 2012 United States Trafficking in Persons Report. It says “there was greater reporting on victims of forced labour identified by NGOs and foreign missions on long-haul fishing boats that dock in Southeast Asian ports, including Singapore. Workers reported severe abuse by fishing boat captains, the inability to disembark from their vessels, the inability to terminate their contracts, and the non-payment of wages”.
However, the Singapore Inter-Agency Taskforce on Trafficking in Persons claims jurisdiction is a key difficulty in addressing these concerns: “While we share similar concerns about their work conditions, Singapore does not have jurisdiction over foreign fishermen working in off-shore waters on non-Singapore flags”. Gee says, “Last year’s State Department TIP report contained an inaccuracy… implying that Singapore companies operated the boats. In fact, in all the cases we know of, the boats were Taiwanese-owned.”
In addition to the need for further research on human trafficking, TTRP has found that assumptions made about trafficking and ways to tackle it are rarely challenged by existing programs and organisations targeting the issue. For instance, the trafficked population in Singapore extends from sex workers to domestic workers, construction workers and fisherman. Although the types of trafficked persons are varied, the group most often in the news and attracting the most attention are usually the sex workers. TTRP believes that the reason sex trafficking victims make it to the news more than fisherman is because sex sells. TTRP blog says, “Images of [fisherman] trafficking don’t conform to the established ‘picture’ of trafficking… the impact of under-aged sexual exploitation is often sold as the story of human trafficking.” Media portrayals of young women who have been sex trafficked is very widespread. Regrettably these reports, documentaries, and photographs, while altruistic in nature and often interesting in themselves, do help reinforce a one dimensional perception of trafficking that potentially ignores a broader population of trafficked persons.
Currently, Singapore does not have a specific anti-trafficking law. However, the government is actively working to change its approach to the issue of human trafficking. The National Plan of Action was unveiled in March which centers on a 4 ‘P’s strategy : prevention, prosecution, protection and partnership. Baer and Parkes firmly believe that if the government works with local NGOs to develop systems now, it would be possible to ensure that the needs of those who have been exploited are addressed. “Singapore is in a good position to engage with all stakeholders regarding issues of labor exploitation and human trafficking and should continue to do so in keeping its commitments outlined in the National Plan of Action”, says Baer.