THERE are reports of people from small Caribbean islands being held as virtual slaves in homes in Trinidad, said Foreign Affairs Minister Surujrattan Rambachan.
"From time to time, you hear in this country, up to this day, about people who are virtually slaves in homes of people in this country. Who have been brought from Guyana... (or) other small islands and working as supposedly maidservants in homes, their passports taken away and they cannot get out of their homes and begging people to get out of the country," Rambachan said.
He was speaking in Parliament on Friday during debate on the Human Trafficking bill at the Red House, Port of Spain.
He said in a United States 2010 trafficking report, Trinidad and Tobago was described as a destination for forced prostitution of women and children and forced labour for men.
Rambachan said in 2007, 71 women and children in Marabella were held by authorities, many with fraudulent passports and some had previously been deported from T&T.
On the issue of smuggling, he said there were reports of people being smuggled into this country through Moruga, Carli Bay and Cedros. He also noted that many people from Asian countries were setting up businesses in T&T, advising that immigration officers look into whether there were any situations of forced labour.
"Chinese labour," Minister in the Ministry of Labour Rudy Indarsingh chimed in.
Rambachan also read from media reports about human trafficking in Trinidad and wondered what the People's National Movement (PNM) did about it and why legislation was not brought to Parliament. He said the previous administration "always had an excuse" and downplayed the problem.
Point Fortin MP and former foreign affairs minister Paula Gopee-Scoon said the PNM government had ratified an international protocol on human trafficking, drafted legislation, set up a multi-agency task force and had authorities being trained by the International Organisation for Migration.
She said while Trinidad and Tobago was on the international Tier 2 Special Watch List in the June 2010 report for not having legislation to address human trafficking, it also noted that this country was making significant efforts.
Rambachan said the PNM had delayed for years to bring human trafficking legislation and it was this Government that implemented it in ten months. "Action was required and the People's Partnership is about action," he boasted.
He said the conservative estimate globally of human trafficking at any one time was 2.5 million, and profits from the illegal trade generated tens of billions of dollars. He said there were also reports that people were being trafficked into this country to serve as sex slaves or used as pay-offs for drug lords.
Rambachan described human trafficking was a "grievous sin" that should be wiped from the face of the earth. "Can you imagine... the pain, the agony, that a child who has been snatched would be suffering as a victim of human trafficking?" he asked.
Gopee-Scoon said she believed the bill was brought to Parliament because the results of the Human Trafficking in Persons Report 2011 are to be released by the US in June 2011. She said if the legislation was not brought, this country will be downgraded to Tier 3, which has "serious consequences", including reduced assistance grants.
She said the Opposition will support the legislation. • See Page 17