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The 2010 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report by the State Department listed Singapore, a staunch US ally, along with Thailand and Vietnam as countries that failed to prevent women from being forced into prostitution.
“We have read the latest TIP report. It is rather puzzling because the US has not satisfactorily explained how it had arrived at its conclusions,” Singapore’s foreign ministry said in a written reply to media queries on Tuesday.
“The Singapore government is committed to tackling the TIP issue, and our efforts in dealing with this issue have certainly not weakened since last year. We will respond in detail as appropriate in due course.”
Thousands of women from poorer Asian countries such as China, the Philippines and Thailand work as call girls and bar hostesses in wealthy Singapore, a bustling port city where prostitution is legal in designated zones.
Explaining the downgrade for Singapore to the “Tier Two Watch List” where it sits alongside impoverished countries, the US report said some women were tricked into coming to the city-state with promises of legitimate employment but coerced into the sex trade.
The report said that while Singapore launched “some significant new steps” against trafficking, there were no “quantifiable indicators” that the government was identifying more victims or prosecuting more culprits.
In its reaction, the Singapore foreign ministry said the annual US report “is more a political ritual than an objective study”.
“How, for example, can the US rank itself in Tier One when it is well known that the US has been unable to stem a flood of illegal workers, many of whom are trafficked by organised criminal gangs?” the ministry said.
“It has not been able to cope adequately with the problem and that is among the reasons why immigration is such a hot political issue in the US.
“The US should perhaps examine its own record more carefully before presuming to pronounce on other countries. Then its reports may be more credible,” the Singapore foreign ministry added.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has made women’s and children’s rights a signature issue, called human trafficking a “terrible crime” as she presented the annual report on Monday.
“All of us have a responsibility to bring this practice to an end,” she said.
The report estimated that 12.3 million people were the victims of trafficking in 2009-10, although it said there had been progress over the past decade.
The State Department added a number of Asian nations to its watch list – Afghanistan, Brunei, Laos, Maldives, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Bangladesh, China, India, Micronesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka stayed on the list, unchanged from a year earlier.