Cablegate: Ambassador Lagon Encourages Gos to Approve

DE RUEHGP #1314/01 1910024
R 100024Z JUL 07




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) Summary: Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking in
Persons (TIP) Mark Lagon urged Singapore to quickly approve
long-delayed anti-TIP Penal Code Amendments during his June
29 visit to Singapore. The GOS explained that the anti-TIP
provisions are part of comprehensive reform of the Penal Code
and predicted Parliament would approve the bill sometime in
the fall of 2007. Ambassador Lagon also encouraged the GOS
to improve labor standards and protections for migrant
workers. Local NGOs detailed the main problems migrant
workers sometimes face, such as shifting contract terms and
high placement fees that can leave workers vulnerable to
exploitation. One NGO claimed some women from Cambodia,
Vietnam and China were trafficked into prostitution, having
been lured here under false pretenses and then finding
themselves indebted and with few options. End Summary.

Penal Code Amendments

2. (SBU) Ambassador-at-Large for Trafficking in Persons Mark
Lagon participated in an interagency meeting with GOS
counterparts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry
of Home Affairs, Ministry of Manpower, and the Ministry for
Community Development, Youth and Sports during his June 29
visit to Singapore. GOS officials offered a lengthy briefing
on GOS law and programs related to prostitution and illegal
immigration, some of which did not directly address
trafficking in persons. Ambassador Lagon explained why, in
the 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report, Singapore was
downgraded from Tier 1 to Tier 2 status. The principal
reason, he noted, was that prostitution was legal for 16 and
17 year olds. In March 2006, the GOS had unveiled proposed
amendments to the Penal Code that would bring TIP legislation
up to international standards by, inter alia, criminalizing
prostitution involving a minor under the age of 18 and
extending extra-territorial jurisdiction over Singaporean
citizens and permanent residents who purchase or solicit
sexual services from minors overseas. Ministry of Home
Affairs officials responded that these provisions were part
of a comprehensive overhaul of the Penal Code and that issues
with many other amendments (unrelated to trafficking) had
taken longer than expected to "iron out." The officials
predicted that Parliament would likely approve the Penal Code
reforms sometime in the fall of 2007.

3. (SBU) Lagon noted some other areas in which the GOS could
better combat trafficking in persons beyond the matter of
legal prostitution for minors, including invigorating a
partnership between government and nimble civil society
organizations, and conceiving of trafficking victims as
indeed victims rather than primarily criminals or illegal
aliens. Lagon assured GOS officials that the USG had,
despite marked improvements, deficiencies in its own evolving
domestic anti-trafficking policy, and offered a partnership
to work together to combat the exploitation of vulnerable

Migrant Labor Issues

4. (SBU) Ambassador Lagon also encouraged the GOS to take a
more expansive view of trafficking and to make efforts to
improve labor standards and protections for migrant workers.
He suggested that trafficking is not so much about the
geographic movement of people as it is about the use of
deception and coercion, which can leave victims highly
vulnerable. GOS officials highlighted a number of recent
efforts to improve standards for migrant workers in
Singapore, such as the model labor contract for domestic
workers, direct deposit of salaries, and training programs
for newly-arrived workers. When there were allegations of
worker abuse, the police investigated and intervened
promptly, they said. However, in "contractual disputes" over
the terms of employment, the employer and employee are
encouraged to pursue mediation first or resolve their dispute
through the civil courts.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Protection for Migrant Laborers Limited, NGOs Claim
--------------------------------------------- ------

5. (SBU) NGOs such as Humanitarian Organization for Migration
Economics (HOME) and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) told
Ambassador Lagon that recent GOS initiatives had improved the
situation for migrant workers somewhat, but said they did not
go far enough and had had a limited impact so far. They said
some foreign laborers (largely unskilled or semi-skilled)
found that contracts terms they were offered upon arrival in
Singapore differed from what recruiting agents had promised

SINGAPORE 00001314 002 OF 002

in their home country. They asserted that some foreign
domestic workers owed maid agencies up to a year,s salary
for placement fees and expenses upon arrival and sometimes
were forced (illegally) to surrender their passports until
the debt was repaid. This could inhibit the worker,s
ability to leave abusive employers. Those who did leave and
file complaints were referred to organizations such as HOME
for shelter. Victims who wished to work could obtain a
special employment pass while their claims were adjudicated,
but the adjudication process could drag on in some cases for
years. The majority had their claims upheld, but were not
provided any compensation other than the salary owed before
they left the employer.

Prostitution in Singapore

6. (SBU) Dr. Edward Job, Founder of the Christian Outreach
Center, told Ambassador Lagon that many women from Malaysia
and Indonesia knew they were coming to Singapore to engage in
prostitution, but that nonetheless they often were severely
exploited by pimps and loan sharks. Some women in
prostitution from nearby Indonesian islands came to Singapore
to work on weekends and returned to Indonesia during the
week. However, in some cases women from Cambodia, Vietnam
and China were trafficked into the sex trade after being
lured here with false promises of work in other industries.
Heavily indebted and lacking other options, they were at the
mercy of unscrupulous agents who forced them into

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