A talk on the phenomenon was an eye opener for participants
Some 100 people learnt more about human trafficking, including the situation in Singapore, during a forum organised by the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
JRS aims to advocate and educate the public on this issue “because we found out that many Singaporeans don’t know about this”, JRS country director Gordon Pinto told Catholic News.
On Aug 14, JRS, together with EmancipAsia, a not-for-profit body which raises awareness about the issue, organised a talk on The Flourishing Trade of Human Trafficking.
The event was held at the Church of St Ignatius.
In Singapore, 53 cases of sex trafficking and 49 cases of labour trafficking were reported in 2013, revealed EmancipAsia founder Sylvia Lee.
In her talk, she shared examples of human trafficking in Singapore, such as the case of an indebted Indonesian woman who stood on the streets of Geylang to sell her body.
Two nuns also spoke about their ministry to trafficking victims.
Sr Sylvia Ng from the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary, together with 12-15 other volunteers, has been bringing the “presence of God to Geylang”, she shared.
She described the scene there as similar to a pasar malam or night market, where throngs of mostly foreign women walk the streets in search of customers. “It’s not that they are desperate. They have no choice,” she said.
Sr Sylvia said that some of the sex workers are on their feet for as long as 11 hours and on empty stomachs.
The nun says she and her volunteers pray with some of the women. Some of the volunteers can speak “five or six languages” including Telugu and Vietnamese.
“The universal gesture for prayer is understood,” she said, adding that the Indian sex workers there “really want to pray”. Some of these women also bring along their scripture and “pray in the morning for protection”.
However, the pimps get angry at the volunteers as they are seen to be distracting the women from their work, she said.
Apart from prayer, the volunteers also assist the women materially, such as handing out drinks, snacks and bandages to them. A volunteer nurse also gives paracetemol to those who are ill. “We do what we can,” said Sr Sylvia.
Speaking to CatholicNews later, Sr Sylvia revealed that her group’s Peacewalk Outreach Mission was launched in 2009.
She also shared that the pimps in Geylang are good at “covering their tracks”.
Good Shepherd Sr Jantana Jantorn, leader of the Anti-Human Trafficking team for Caritas Thailand, told the crowd that there are centres housing young women and children who have been trafficked to cities such as Pattaya and Phuket.
Centre workers take such girls, who come from countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia, off the streets and give them education, basic skills training and counselling, she said.
The Fatima Self Help Centre in Bangkok also provides skills training and basic Thai lessons for such people, she added.
The women are taught dressmaking and how to make handicrafts so that they “can learn self-respect” and “be independent”, said Sr Jantana.
Similarly, the Youth Centre in Chiangrai which is home to 40 girls, provides education, skill training and counselling, she said.
After the presentations, the audience was invited to share their feelings and ask questions.One male participant said he found what he had learnt “very shocking, interesting and disturbing”.
Mr Pinto told CatholicNews he hopes more people would become aware of the trafficking situation and “take action to do something”.
Currently, members of the Good Shepherd Sisters and Franciscan Missionaries of Mary look after trafficked victims in a shelter.
By Lorna O’Hara