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US: TT Gov’t tackling human trafficking

By SEAN DOUGLAS Saturday, June 21 2014

“WOMEN and girls from the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Venezuela, and Colombia are subjected to sex trafficking in Trinbagonian brothels and clubs,” according to the 2014 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report published by the United States Department of State yesterday. Apparently referring to foreign persons, the report said a 2013 study showed that brothels and nightclubs recruit women and girls for the commercial sex trade and keep their passports, the latter a common indicator of human trafficking.

The report said “human trafficking” is “the act of recruiting, harbouring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labour or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion”. The victim need not have been moved between locations to be considered to have been trafficked, it added. The report noted that “Law enforcement officials have reported that Trinbagonian children were vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labour, including being coerced into the selling of drugs”. Previously, the 2013 TIP Report had alleged, “Experts report Trinbagonian children were vulnerable to forced labour including forced scavenging of trash”. Yet the report also gave TT a better rating than 2013, saying, “(While) the Government of Trinidad and Tobago does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it is making significant efforts to do so.”

“During the reporting period, the Government vigorously investigated trafficking offences and, for the first time, formally charged suspected trafficking offenders under its 2011 anti trafficking law. Officials in the Anti-Trafficking unit identified an increased number of trafficking victims and referred them for care. The Government proactively investigated government officials for trafficking-related complicity. However, it has yet to convict any individuals under its Anti-Trafficking law.” The report said economic migrants from the Caribbean and Asia (including India and China) are vulnerable to forced labour, including in domestic service and in the retail sector. Economic migrants without legal status may be exposed to exploitation and abuse, indicative of human trafficking. “As an island-nation outside the hurricane belt, Trinidad and Tobago experiences a steady flow of vessels transiting its territorial waters, some of which may be engaged in illicit and illegal activities, including forced labour in the global fishing industry.” The report said the Government is trying hard to eliminate trafficking.

On a scale ranging from “Tier 1” (countries that fully comply with the 2000 US law, the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA)) to “Tier 3” (countries that are not trying hard enough to comply), the report showed that TT had improved in the past year. TT is now at “Tier 2” status (countries which do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to do so), up from its 2013 status on the “Tier 2 watch list” (countries not fully complying with the TVPA, but trying hard to do so, which have a “very significant” or “significantly increasing” number of victims of severe forms of trafficking, where there is little proof of efforts to combat this, and where any suggestion of improvement relies on commitments over the next year. The report recommended the prosecution of traffickers under the Trafficking in Persons Act 2011, including certain, supposed “Government officials” allegedly complicit in trafficking. The Government should give more resources to the Anti-Trafficking Unit, develop a National Action Plan and run a public awareness campaign, urged the State Department. The report hailed the 2011 Act for banning trafficking, for giving extensive protection to victims and for imposing a “sufficiently stringent” 15 year jail-term (with fines) for traffickers.

The report said in the past year the Anti-Trafficking Unit has investigated 22 alleged cases of trafficking for which 12 defendants had been charged under the 2011 Act, including three current or former “Government officials”.

All 22 cases involved foreign victims, of which three were cases of forced labour (including two cases of domestic servitude), but with most case involving suspected sex-trafficking. “Law enforcement and civil society reported that some police and immigration officers facilitated human trafficking in the country, with some ‘Government officials’ directly exploiting the victims.”

The report bemoaned that the Government has yet to convict any human trafficker, and complained that sources say that off-duty police officers provide security services for sex-trade establishments.

The report lamented that the Government did not undertake measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex, nor run a publicity campaign nor publicise its anti-trafficking efforts in 2013.

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