Human-trafficking in Singapore...with work-permits

Jocelyn (txt msg):
"A lot of girls r complaining to this kind of work. Our permit is performing artist for 5 months not as a prostitute. All of us here wer like prisoner a clone without feelings.."

In the past month, I’ve encountered quite a few Filipinas whom have been lured to singapore by pubs by job offers of ‘dancers’ or ‘waitresses’ validated by months-long work permits, but whom, upon arrival are forced into prostitution via ‘barfines’.

Some of those i’ve encountered were enticed over by ‘well-meaning’ friends whom are currently working in pubs in Singapore with the promise of the aforementioned positions and for which they get commissions or debt-reductions for every girl they help the pub lure over.

Said one Jocelyn (not her real name),

“I used to work in Japan as a dancer and we just dance. So when my friend told me I can be dancer in singapore, i come. But when we are here, me and my friend (she points at a friend ‘entertaining’ a customer at a nearby table) find out we must ‘landi landi’ (get physical) with customer and have to do ‘barfine’ (where a customer pays the pub anywhere between $150-$300 to take her out of the pub for a ‘night’). I have work permit for work here for a few months as dancer but I don’t want to work here like this, i want to go back Philippines, I don’t want to be prostitute...what will my mother say if she find out...For some girls it’s ok, but for me I don’t like.”

(at this point she breaks into tears, whilst looking fearfully at the manager and bouncers hoping that they aren’t noticing, whilst wiping off her tears quickly)

In addition to this, some of the girls who refuse are made to pay ‘penalties’ by the pub - between $50-$100 - and these are added on to their ‘otang’ (amount owed to the pub for the cost of their flight, food, lodging & transportation to and from the pub that is slowly, if ever, cleared by their being bought ladies’ drinks priced between $10-$50). And besides this, if they fail to bring in their ‘quota’ of drinks per night - usually between 15-20 - they are further fined ‘penalties’ and these are added on to their existing debt. Some, even after a few months, would not have cleared their thus-increased debts or earned a single dollar. The pubs however, earn huge amounts as the ladies’ drinks are usually watered down alcohol or soft drinks disguised as alcoholic ones.

Where the girls aren’t directly forced to do ‘barfines’ - a new innovation by pubs in singapore - they are indirectly compelled to do so out of desperation by their not making any money month after month. Currently, according to one report, the ‘otang’ of some of the girls on a 5 month work permit amounts to $5000. Previously, a few years ago, it used to be around the region of $2000 for those brought in on a ‘social visit’ pass. Given this huge debt immediately incurred upon arrival, some of these girls do inevitably turn to prostitution as not enough ‘points‘ can be acquired just from drinks. Besides this, the girls are kept virtual prisoners and their only view of singapore is from the vantage of transport to and from ‘work’. At best, they might be able to get an ‘off-day’ on a Sunday every now and then.

This is an absolutely appalling situation.

Something has to be done about this. Whilst some of the girls are not coerced and, as 2nd or 3rd timers in singapore plying the same trade, are well aware of the ‘job requirements’, others, many of the ‘1st timers’, aren’t. But over time, as I’ve found the Filipinas are highly adaptable creatures, and given their economic condition, many grow to accept their positions and move on to being 2nd and 3rd timers. Sad. Something has to be done about this. I hope that the pressure of ‘netizens’, AWARE, amongst others may be brought on the relevant authorities to save the souls that traverse the nocturnal side of life in an otherwise 1st world state.

I’ll leave the reader with the following text messages received...

“I’m still not doing the barfine thing. Just this morning we went back at the house at 7.30am. Our boss talk to the new ones. Becoz I never do barfine, he talk to me and ask me how i want to make money. I said just work except for the barfine thing. Really sir, I cannot do that I said.”

“You see we don’t have that big sales this past 10 days we stay here and he is blaming all the new ones. He ask us what is happening and why we don’t have customers. I said, 1st thing, we’re just new here, 2nd there is no one coming around the bar, 3rd I always encounter uneducated customers, all of them want to take me out but I refuse them. My boss get mad bcoz I never do barfine.”

A message received from another...

I’m kinda scared of this job...But I talk to them diplomatically, and they won’t listen, I go to the embassy.”

And finally,

"Please try to write something about our work. I tell u there’s a lot more filipinas who are suffering in this kind of job here in singa4.”

[such pubs include those found in Tanjong Pagar, (former) Seletar Camp, Balestier Complex, and Orchard Towers.]




  1. It's indeed appalling. Such tactics used by these pubs to get or 'force' the girls to 'prostitute' themselves is unscrupulous and unacceptable. I do believe that it is already hard that these girls have not much options and have to chose to leave their country to find work outside and it is even worst to find themselves in a situation that they are helpless and are 'coerced' into prostitution. This has to stop to prevent more from being victims.

  2. .
    If you think about it, the self-absorption, and fascist and bigoted nature of the people and political parties in Singapore that sees the vilification of 'foreigners' complements the exploitation of foreigners such as these filipinas.

    Let's put it this way, if the former wasn't true, more would have already been done to eradicate the latter. Where the former is true, the latter will be around longer. It exists in more empathetic countries such as the UK, but there, it is generally underground and not as blatant as it is here.

    And the fact that the political parties and bloggers are not joining in this cry against the exploitation of filipinas, amongst others, but generally kick up a fuss only when the interests of the racially-defined majority are affected, says much about singaporeans. The absence of comments in these articles is itself an validation of this isn't it.

    This might feed the notion amongst some that, as far as the Chinese are concerned, 'if it doesn't happen to them, it doesn't happen at all'.

  3. Hi ed,

    This is very off-topic, and from what I have seen so far, you don't tend to comment on 'system' stuff in politics. I am not saying that you have to; just that you may not have an interest in it.

    The opposition parties as well as their supporters are consistently calling for the abolishment of the GRC feature in the elctoral system, and a reversion to the SMCs-only system. However, absolutely nothing is ever mentioned about what I see as the need to guarantee Indian and Malay representation. JBJ is always the minority race opposition member cited as proof that it is 'possible' for Indians ans Malays from opposition parties to be elected. I have serious doubts about it.

    KJ has set up an FB specifically for this project but he was very defensive over this question when I posed it to him accusing me of 'baiting' him; I have since decided on the basis of the exchange that he is quite the psycho.

    What are you thots on this?

  4. .
    Hello Robox,

    nice to hear from you again,

    What do you mean by 'system stuff'? Are you referring to the technical realities of life in Singapore, i.e. GRC vs SMCs-only system?

    If so, it's not that I have no interest in them, but am aware that if the foundation is not corrected - perspectivally, philosophically, etc - the best that we can do is to refine evil, not eradicate it. In such a situation, democratic movements simultaneously become a movement to refine fascism (in the singaporean context) as opposed to advancing democracy. This is the problem with 'modernity' - which i've written on in previous sites some years ago.

    Yes, this is quite off-topic as you put it, but it is a topic worthy of discussion all the same.

    However, if you'll forgive my candour, affording 'our concerns' a comment, and especially in the comments section of an article calling for empathy for exploited Filipina pub-workers, is nothing short of an insult to them and an indication of our own gross self-absorption.

    That, along with the fact that these articles have elicited no comment, tells a story about this country does it not.

    Just some food for thought Robox.

  5. So besides blogging about it, what have you done about this? It's all too easy to write a post, post some text messages, then sit on a high chair and accuse all the rest of the country as not-caring/not-bothering.

    Those who really get their hands dirty often do not see the need to brag about it, nor do they run around and complain about the lack of effort from others.

  6. So increasing awareness through blogging about it doesn't help? Awareness comes first. And then doing something about it comes after that. Maybe mobilisation then. But awareness first. ed is doing his part in increasing awareness. He's right when he says nobody is bothered about this since no one is talking about it unlike HDB prices, foreign talents, etc. Your logic is upside down anonymous.

  7. Please note in my post above that I did not say blogging about it does not help. Hope you can tell the difference.

    My beef is that just because you have blogged about it, doesn't give you the right to act like some saviour and throw labels/accuse everyone else of in-action.

    For all you know, there are others out there on the ground doing the 'dirty work'. The world doesn't only consist of what exist in the blogging sphere.

  8. "My beef is that just because you have blogged about it, doesn't give you the right to act like some saviour and throw labels/accuse everyone else of in-action."

    Why not? What if it's true? Like ed said, there are little comments or posts about it. You can use your eyes and see for yourself. I also have been to these pubs and seen for myself. Very few are talking about it right? What does that show?

    There might be other people who are doing something about it but that still does not mean that everyone cares about it or there is enough care among netizens to add pressure for change right or that such care is not important right? Don't talk cock la bro.

    How do you think people in other countries do it? By just keeping quiet in blogs and in conversations with people and just talking about their own problems is it? Does that stimulate change? And you also don't have anything to say about it and just criticise because he said people here do not show care. That shows you only care about your own self right?

    I can tell the difference but what you said implies that blogging about it is no big deal. Bloggers inform and educate people and each other also. That's how movements can start also. Hope you can tell the difference anonymous.

  9. .
    To anonymous,

    Well, actually, I've done more than 'write a post' about it. But, for certain reasons, i'd rather keep mum about it for now.

    However, despite that, or even in its absence, the progress of an idea requires information, or 'the simple blog post', article, documentary, party manifesto, etc, for starters.

    Let's focus on the plight of the 'pub girl' and not get defensively sidetracked shall we. In case you didn't realise it, that just further serves to support my allegation of mass apathy-cum-self absorption.


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