Should Singapore’s Home Minister be thrown into a Vietnamese jail?

The Sunday Times sheepishly carried the story, 3 January 2010, of four “marriage brokers” being convicted and jailed by a Vietnamese court for human trafficking. This is a volte-face from the newspaper’s previous rah-rah promotion of Vietnamese brides, which I have deplored in six previous articles. Six.

Back in 2003, I thought the practice was morally troubling and the Sunday Times naive. As more information came in, by 2005, I was convinced it was human trafficking and the newspaper a knowing accomplice. Now at last, I see the Vietnamese authorities act.

Here is the story from last weekend:

3 January 2010
Sunday Times

4 human traffickers jailed for selling 86 women

Hanoi – Four people have been sentenced to a total of 25 years in prison in the southern province of Tay Ninh for selling 86 women to Singaporean and Malaysian bidders.

The People’s Court also ordered them to pay compensation to the victims when the sentencing was announced last Wednesday, Vietnamese media reported.

According to the indictment, Nguyen Thi Ngoc Yen, 53, was the trafficking ring’s mastermind.

Prosecutors say Yen hired 60-year-old woman Nguyen Thi Khuan to entice young women to leave for foreign countries with the promise of jobs or marriages to wealthy men.

Yen would then sell them to a Malaysian named Lee. The women were bought by Malaysian and Singaporean men as wives, said a report in the thanhniennews website.

Police investigations showed that Yen earned US$1,000 (S$1,400), and paid Khuan two million dong (S$150), for each woman sold.

Khuan paid Pham Thi Phi, 50, who helped her keep records of the women, up to one million dong a month.

The ring was busted in November 2008 when Tay Ninh police and the Criminal Investigation Bureau caught Yen’s accomplices while they were trying to fly three women to Malaysia at Ho Chi Minh City’s airport, the website said.

Further investigations then found that Khuan also worked for another ring led by 31-year-old Nguyen The Phong.

Yen was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment and The Phong was given seven years after being found guilty of human trafficking.

Khuan and Phi were sent to prison for four and two years respectively, thanhniennews reported.

I hope the Vietnamese police track down the identities of the Singaporean counterparts to the so-called marriage brokers, and when these Singaporeans step into Vietnam again, they are arrested and thrown into a rat-hole of a Vietnamese prison. It shouldn’t be hard to trace them; just look up the old editions of the Sunday Times whose stories gave them free publicity. In fact, while they’re at it, the Vietnamese might want to arrest the Sunday Times writers and editors responsible for promoting the said business.

All of them conspired to present a purchase of females after (a) a flesh parade in the broker’s shop and (b) a cursory date with an interpreter interposed between the couple, as some kind of romance. A quickly-organised wedding follows and then the woman is brought to Singapore as a life-long serf, either to be a baby factory, or a handmaiden to aged parents, or an assistant in some hawker stall. More likely, all three.

The baby factory part is key to the scheme. The Singapore government probably likes the idea of more babies being produced; the Sunday Times probably thinks it has a “nation-building” duty to talk it up in the hope that more unmarried male Singaporeans would follow the example.

Nobody stops to think about the moral depravity and criminality of the whole thing.

The Singapore government does not have clean hands either. Firstly, as happened 2004, whenever the US State Department mentions human trafficking as a blot on Singapore’s human rights record in its annual surveys, the Singapore government always dismisses such reports. Why don’t they spend time looking into them instead?

Secondly, Singapore’s immigration rules help entrap the women, leaving them at the mercy of their husbands. How do the rules do this? Typically, the wife is given no more than permanent residency, not citizenship. That status is subject to renewal every five years, and is linked to staying married to the Singaporean man.

The problem arises when the couple have a baby — which is the whole point of it. The baby is a Singapore citizen. Naturally, the mother is emotionally attached to her child. If she is abused by her husband or her husband’s family, how can she sue for divorce, even if theoretically the route is open to her? Because, if she succeeds in getting her divorce, her permanent residency may be cancelled, whereupon she is sent back to Vietnam and separated from her child.

So for all practical purposes, she is trapped for life, and has to bear whatever abuse is thrown at her. She can’t even refuse sex, for then the husband could divorce her!

Yes, our own government has been more than just turning a blind eye to human trafficking; they have been complicit in it.

The Singapore government also rewards men who partake of bride-buying. Once married, they are eligible to buy new HDB (public housing) flats, for which singles aren’t. If a bride-buyer prefers to buy an HDB flat from the resale market, he gets S$30,000 subsidy under the CPF Housing Grant. (S$40,000 if the flat he chooses is within 2 kilometres of his parents’ flat).

The CPF Housing Grant is open to married couples who are both Singapore citizens, or which comprise a citizen and a permanent resident, provided they have not availed of the grant before in earlier flat purchases.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it is utterly disgusting to me that gay couples who have genuinely been in love for years cannot get married under Singapore law and are excluded from these benefits — paid for by the taxes they have pay.

It seems in Singapore we value human traffickers more highly than our own gay citizens. I hope the US State Department takes note the next time they write up their human rights report on Singapore.

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