Singapore has questioned a U.S. government assessment that it has become a sex slave center and asked Washington to back its charges with evidence.
The U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking says Singapore has a “significant” trafficking problem with more than 100 women and girls sent to the wealthy Southeast Asian island-state every year.
Citing new information, Washington put Singapore on par with Cambodia, China and Indonesia as “countries that do not fully comply with the minimum standards” to eliminate trafficking of women and girls for sex.
In a four-page statement, Singapore — which was not on the list last year — forcefully defended itself.
“In the interest of transparency, we would like the U.S. government to share with us the ‘newly available information’ and its source,” the Home Affairs Ministry said.
“While Singapore is not spared from vice activities, forced prostitution is very rare here,” it said.
Prostitution is legal in Singapore and there are several red-light areas where Thai, Indonesian, Malaysian, Indian and Chinese women ply their trade. Sex workers must carry a yellow health card and submit to medical checks. Forced prostitution The U.S. report, issued in June, said Singapore did not consider it had a major problem in sex trafficking and criticized the city-state for lacking a plan to deal with the issue, noting 7 reported cases of alleged forced prostitution in 2003 and 2 convictions.
Singapore’s government said only two of 18 reports of forced prostitution in 2002 and 2003 were substantiated. “In these two cases, the women were given the impression that they would be working as domestic workers in Singapore,” it said.
“However, after entering Singapore, they were told these jobs were no longer available and were then persuaded to engage in commercial sex activities,” the government statement added.
The United States also highlighted a number of sex-trade issues in Singapore, noting in particular that sex with prostitutes aged 16-17 was legal. Singapore explained this partly as a reflection of different values.
“Given the different cultural values and societal norms, different countries will adopt different cut-off ages with regards to the protection of minors,” it said. “There is no evidence to suggest that persons between 16 and 18 years old are as vulnerable as those below the age of 16.”
Foreign women who work as prostitutes often enter Singapore on tourist visas. A recent influx from China has sparked media headlines that prostitutes are moving into normally quiet residential areas. Police arrested 2,670 foreign sex workers in the first half of 2004, up nearly 50 percent from a year earlier.