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People trafficking 'a problem in T&T'

...US laments lack of prosecutions

By Richard Charan richard.charan@trinidadexpress.com

AS many as 27 million people are living in slavery around the world, including Trinidad and Tobago, which has been identified as a destination, source and transit point for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.

This country has also been cited for not fully complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.

And despite the passing of the Trafficking in Persons Act last year, the law has yet to be enacted, and there have been no prosecutions related to labour or sex trafficking.

The findings are contained in the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report 2012, which was published yesterday.

Trinidad and Tobago is ranked Tier 2, a country whose government does not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act's minimum standard, but is making an effort to comply with the standards.

The annual report analyses trafficking in 186 countries and ranks them on how effectively they fight the problem.

Cuba is the only Western Hemisphere country among 17 nations that have failed to meet minimum international standards to curb trafficking.

Forty-one other countries are on the State Department's watch list.

Thirty-three countries are listed as having fully complied with laws fighting to end human trafficking.

According to the report related to Trinidad and Tobago, "Women and girls from South America and the Dominican Republic are subjected to sex trafficking in Trinbagonian brothels and clubs. A high- risk group for sex trafficking and forced criminal activity with Trinidad and Tobago are Trinbagonian homeless children or children from difficult family circumstances".

Over the years, a large number of South American women have been arrested at brothels, detained in prison, and convicted, fined and jailed, or deported for illegally entering Trinidad.

The report also states "Economic migrants from the Caribbean regional and from Asia, including India and China, may be vulnerable to forced labour. Some companies operating in Trinidad and Tobago reportedly hold the passports of foreign employees, a common indicator of human trafficking, until departure. There have also been instances on migrants in forced domestic service.

A small number of trafficking victims from Trinidad and Tobago have in the past been identified in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Government has been credited in the report with making significant efforts to comply with international standards.

However, the report notes that despite the new laws (passed June 9, 2011) no trafficking offenders were prosecuted.

According to the report, the 2011 law mandated that a ministerial task force monitor and evaluate government's anti-trafficking efforts, although no such efforts were reported as of April of this year.

"The government identified few victims of trafficking, raising concerns that its procedures for the pro-active identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable groups such as foreign women in prostitution, migrant workers, and homeless children, was insufficient," the report stated.

The report recommended that this country "vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking offences and convict and sentence offenders, including any official who may be complicit in human trafficking".

In addition, the report recommended that officials identify and assist victims of trafficking, and ensure that suspected victims are taken to a safe location while conducting investigations.

Government was also urged to "implement a national public awareness campaign in multiple languages that addresses all forms of trafficking, including the prostitution of Trinbagonian children and forced labour as well as the demand for commercial sex and forced labour".

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