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‘Modern day slavery’

by Latoya Burnham

humantraffickingwithagBarbados needs to be sensitised on the real issues and dangers associated with human trafficking. It is not just a term to be bandied around but it has a real human face.

Seldom has the island been more shocked than over the past couple of days since two persons were charged with operating a brothel — the even more serious implications being the link to human trafficking.

Even as an organisation that has spoken out about such occurrences in the past added its voice, however anonymously, to the issue this week with Barbados TODAY, it was clear that much is still not clear in the public about the issues close to trafficking.

In fact, the publication of the names of the victims, sparked that anti-trafficking organisation to respond, when it said it otherwise would not have.

“With human trafficking, privacy and confidentiality are key because it is a well-connected affair… If you hear that a brothel has been penetrated, you know that it is connected and the girls are being trafficked. Publicising the names of these women, does not help the situation because if we are protecting the victims this does not help.”

In fact, the human rights source said confidentiality was a high factor that needed to be taken seriously, and not just as a case of “prostitutes” getting busted or exposed.

“Human trafficking is as serious as the drug trade. You see how connected the drug trade is; human trafficking is as connected. So there is never just one or two persons, it is a whole ring because there is a lot of money involved. You have to bear in mind as well that a human can be used several times over and over again, when you use drugs, the drugs gone.

“People sometimes yes, knowingly come here as sex workers, others are recruited otherwise and are told they will be working a salon or this or that place but when they get here then their passports are seized and they have a debt to pay. The airfare might have been $1,000, but all of a sudden they have a $5,000 debt to pay. So you have to pay that debt and then they have to work with the club owner as well ’til they are satisfied and then they send them back.

“So that is one situation. The other could be labour exploitation in the same sense. They come and they get low wage labour. They [perpetrators] seize their passports, make the person live and work in substandard conditions for minimum or below minimum wage and when they are satisfied, hand them back their passports with little money and that is it. Human trafficking is modern day slavery – bottom line.”

According to documentation from the International Organisation on Migration, in the Caribbean the most common forms of exploitation in human trafficking include domestic servitude, forced labour and sexual slavery.

Domestic servitude, the organisation says, is where victims can be forced into child care, house cleaning, domestic tasks, accompanied by sexual exploitation. With forced labour, the victims may be working for little or no pay often under brutal conditions in agriculture, mining, construction, fishing, markets and restaurants.

Sexual slavery is where the victims are forced into various forms of sexual exploitation including exotic dancing, massage, striptease, pornography or prostitution.

Almost every digital report accessed on human trafficking regarding Barbados points back to the 2012 report of the US Department of State which slammed Barbados as a Tier Two Watch List nation, stating that it was “a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour”.

It was not however, the first time that the island had been linked by this report to human trafficking, as back in 2009, then Minister of Family, Dr. Esther Byer-Suckoo had spoken out against our listing in Tier Two where countries reportedly make “minimal efforts to satisfy the United Nations’ anti-trafficking in persons’ requirement”.

Classifying the listing as a “heinous crime” then, the minister had noted that the Bureau of Gender Affairs would have been meeting soon with four sectors to finalise Government’s own protocol.

“The gravity and inhumane nature of this practice demands that we attack it on all fronts. We have to remain ahead of those unprincipled persons, so as to prevent human trafficking from occurring here, but if it does, we have to ensure mechanisms are in place to assist those victims…

“They will meet with officials in the areas of law enforcement and social services, non-governmental organisations and other government departments to analyse their responsibilities under the draft protocol and determine whether they have any challenges in meeting the stated commitments,” she had said.

In 2010, Barbados passed a Transnational Organised Crime Bill, to give effect to a same named Convention signed in New York in 2000.

Part III, Section 8 of the Bill speaks specifically to human trafficking and smuggling, with Part IV, beginning at Section 10 speaking to penalties that can be dealt – ranging from fines of $1.5 million to $2 million, to 15 years or up to life imprisonment.

According to the recognised US tiers for human trafficking: Tier One refers to “countries whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards”. Tier Two represents “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards”.

The Tier 2 Watch List, where Barbados has been placed, states that these are “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA’s minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards and:

a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing;

b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or

c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year”.

Finally, Tier Three countries are those “whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so”.

Since 2009, much has been done to push Barbados’ efforts against human trafficking. In April last year, Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite convened the inaugural meeting of the National Task Force for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons.

He too had indicated at the time that the role of the task force was to create and develop a National Plan, so Barbados could respond to the issue of trafficking in persons. Up to then, he had indicated there was no coordinated strategy.

“For example, if they [the victims] are in need of medical attention, then we need to ensure that they get it… if the victims are children, then, while they are here, we need to make sure they are educated; and if the victims are minors then we are expected to provide housing, and I do not mean housing them in detention centres nor housing them at Dodds.

“We need to make sure that the agencies understand that they have tenant rights, as well as free health care, and really the plan is to ensure that the response is coordinated and that all the actors involved understand their responsibility,” the Attorney General said in a Government statement.

Additionally, local organisations, especially NGOs began working with Government in a sponsored International Organisation of Migration project to alert Barbadians about the nature and characteristics of human trafficking.

This week as the issue became one for public discussion once again, Brathwaite told Barbadians that the island would not stop it’s fight to eliminate human trafficking, stating, “in 2013…there’s no place for that type of behaviour in modern Barbados…”.

“Unfortunately, one thing that history has taught us is that there is nothing new so that in 2013 the ‘slave trade’ is probably even more profitable than it was when slavery began about 350 years ago… What is happening today is just as bad if not worse and is something that as individuals, and as a country we need to pay attention to,” the Attorney General added.

He further pledged to address the inefficiencies in the response mechanism, adding that the task force was looking more at the elimination of trafficking than at prostitution.

The human rights organisation source praised the National Task Force for the work it has done thus far, but noted that for Barbados and that committee, it has really only just begun.

“We have been on the watch list of the US tracking tool for countries in terms of human trafficking. So Tier One is ideal, Tier Two is not ideal but you are doing something about it; Tier Three is bad. We barely catch Tier Two because of the work of the Task Force and the work plan we had.

“The Bureau of Gender Affairs is the secretariat for the task force which has on immigration, police, some NGOs, labour, foreign affairs, so the work is still new. As we do what we have to do, when anything crops up, we respond accordingly. Medical personnel need to be trained, we will help train them. Media have to be trained so we will facilitate that. So the [information] will come via the Task Force and also the internal capacity building which is necessary,” said the source.

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