Singapore hits back at US sex slave claim

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The Independent Online

Singapore, seldom seen as a fleshpot of Asia, has challenged a US State Department report that lists it as a centre for trafficking sex slaves, claiming more than 100 women and girls a year go through the city state into the sex industry.

Singapore, seldom seen as a fleshpot of Asia, has challenged a US State Department report that lists it as a centre for trafficking sex slaves, claiming more than 100 women and girls a year go through the city state into the sex industry.

Singapore demanded that Washington share any evidence that placed it on a roster of 54 countries that face "significant" human trafficking problems. The home affairs ministry said: "In the interest of transparency, we would like the US government to share with us the 'newly available information' and its source. While Singapore is not spared from vice activities, forced prostitution is very rare here."

In fact, although Singapore used to be notorious for its blatantly homophobic legislation that banned gays from the civil service, female prostitutes are government-approved. There are six official red-light districtsand a total of 400 legal brothels, each employing 10 to 20 registered prostitutes who must have bi-weekly health checks. Sex for sale is legal, if it is heterosexual and within licensed zones, so tax can be collected.

But one grey area concerns the legality of sex with girls aged 16 and 17. Bureaucrats say female prostitutes over the age of 16 should be entitled to work, consistent with national child employment guidelines.

The US report, called Trafficking in Persons 2004, cited seven cases of alleged forced prostitution in 2003 and two convictions. Singapore says just two of a total of 18 cases in 2002 and 2003 were substantiated.

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