Photo of Kishore Mahbubani Kishore Mahbubani
Singapore working with ASEAN countries to stop child sex tourism, trafficking
Channel NewsAsia, 2 May 2005

SINGAPORE: Singapore is coming down hard on child sex tourism and the exploitation of children by working with other countries in the region.

At the same time, the city state is looking at ways to prevent child abuse in its own backyard.

The government is working to make sure that child sex tourism does not take root in Singapore.

At the Regional Conference on the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, Minister Vivian Balakrishnan says touch action will be taken against those involved.

"We want to make sure that our people behave themselves when they go abroad. We are signalling that this behaviour is intolerable, and incompatible with being a Singaporean, both locally as well as overseas," said Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Dr Vivian Balakrishnan.

"We are also stepping up ways and means to identify and ultimately, prosecute and stop such behaviour," he said. These include making amendments to its laws that will bring those who are caught committing these crimes abroad, back home, to face the music.

This would mean a close collaboration with other ASEAN countries.

Member countries are already working on the ASEAN Traveller's Code to promote responsible tourism, including preventing the abuse and exploitation of people.

Tourism ministers from the various ASEAN countries are expected to meet in January to discuss these issues.

"We want to stop the sexual exploitation of children. I think that countries should take up a position to say that we want to stop this. We will collaborate and prosecute people who engage in this sort of tourism," said Dr Balakrishnan.

In Singapore, Dr Balakrishnan says the number of abused children is small.

Over the last five years, only 40% of about 200 complaints of alleged child abuse reveal real evidence of abuse.

Still, the government is looking to band together the different agencies, including voluntary welfare organisations, educational institutions and hospitals, to make sure abused cases do not slip through the cracks.

Although the number of abuse cases has grown from 61 in 2000 to 90 in 2004, the minister feels that what is significant is that the number of physical abuse cases has dropped between 2003 and 2004.

Child abuse in childcare centres here is also rare. Rather, it's more of a case of mismanagement of children.

"A lot of people use the term child abuse loosely in childcare centres. The correct term is child mismanagement and it could refer to the ways a teacher uses harsh words or belittling of the child," explained Maimom Salim, deputy director of Family Care Branch at the Ministry of Community Development, Youth & Sports (MCYS).

In 2004, there were four such reported cases, while in 2005, there were five.

In one case in 2003, the teacher found to have mismanaged the child had her contract terminated.

But MCYS stressed that there are safeguards in place in childcare centres to ensure a conducive environment for children.

On a larger scale, keynote speaker Kishore Mahbubani, who used to be Singapore's representative to the United Nations says, countries have to exercise political commitment if they want to improve the lives of millions of children.

Averting wars and economic development are key factors in improving the lives of children worldwide.

He warned that while there is zero prospect of war in Europe, it's a different matter in Asia.

"It is remarkable that the two World Wars were enormously disruptive and completely shocked the European psyche. They vowed that never again will there be war in Europe. But the tragedy is that this is not the case yet in Asia. So we have to make an emphasis on that," said Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Policy Studies.

Other issues addressed at this conference include the maltreatment of children and disciplinary practices against children.

Last modified on 23 July, 2007 by Wang Deliang