The Caribbean and its Depressing Record of Human Trafficking

Human Trafficking Hands

by Tony Best
Special to the NNPA from the New York Carib News

Human trafficking appears to be very much alive and, unfortunately, flourishing across the Caribbean.

And that awful fact of life is a reality in countries that range from the largest to the smallest and that cuts across language barriers, whether English, Creole, Spanish or Dutch-speaking. The nations with some of the worst records in the region run the gamut from Barbados, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana to Haiti. In almost every place, according to the U.S. State Department in its annual human trafficking report, the island-nations and coastal states are “destination and source” countries “for men, women and children who are being forced into labor and sex trafficking.

The records of four countries, Barbados, Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana were considered so poor that they were placed on the “watch list,” a group reserved for countries that are in danger of being downgraded to Tier 3, the worst of the countries worldwide that have failed to address the problem. Jamaica, on the other hand, was removed from that list because it has made significant efforts in recent times to reduce the negative impact of trafficking. However, its record remains poor.

Like its Caribbean neighbors, the Bahamas is in a tier two state but it’s also a source for human trafficking along with being a destination and a transit country as well. But it avoided being placed on the “watch list because of the steps it has taken to come to grips with the plague of human trafficking. When it came to the Dominican Republic, it was described as a leading source of prostitutes, not simply in the Caribbean but around the world. Indeed, a UNICEF study showed that tens of thousands of Dominican women were victims of trafficking “worldwide.”

Here then is a sketch of the trafficking conditions in some of the region’s best-known countries.

Jamaica, which was removed from the “watch list” remains a country where children were being exploited by traffickers in the sex trade, so much so that Washington called it a “serious problem.” Sex trafficking of children and adults “likely occurs on the street, in night clubs, bars and private homes throughout Jamaica, including resort towns.” But that’s not all. “Massage parlors in Jamaica often lure women into prostitution under the false pretense of employment as massage therapists and then withhold their wages and restrict their movement – key indicators of human trafficking.”

Jamaicans at risk were residents of “poverty stricken garrison communities, territories ruled by criminal ‘dons.” However, although the country didn’t fully comply with the “minimum standards” for the elimination of trafficking, it was making significant strides to reach that level. For instance it has raised awareness of trafficking and had adopted a pro-active, victim-centered approach in identifying and assisting people forced into the illicit business. Just as important it had made good faith attempts to prosecute perpetrators.

Trinidad and Tobago is on the watch list and many of its nationals have been trafficked to the U.K. and the U.S. while women and girls from South America and the Dominican Republic can be found in brothels in brothels in the twin-island state. In addition, “economic migrants” China and India “were vulnerable to force labor,” was the way it was put. Some companies bring victims into the country seize their passport and hold the documents until they leave. Nigerians too are the victims of trafficking in Trinidad and Tobago, working as security guards. There is more. Children are being forced into scavenging garbage.

As in the case of Jamaica and other countries in the region Trinidad and Tobago doesn’t meet the bare minimum standards to end trafficking but, according to Washington “it is making significant efforts to do so.

Barbados is another country which is experiencing some of Trinidad’s nightmares. For instance, “there is evidence that foreign women” are being forced into prostitution, with illegal immigrants from Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Guyana among the prime victims. Children too were into prostitution, including Bajan and immigrant youths who are engaging in “transactional sex with older men for material goods, a phenomenon” documented across the Eastern Caribbean by UNICEF.  A major headache is the government inability to show any evidence of increasing efforts to crack down on the scourge. Barbados was given a waiver that avoided its downgrade to tier 3 and that happened after the government came up with a written plan designed to meet minimum international standard to end trafficking, the problem  is the scheme hasn’t been implemented.

Guyana too is a problem country which doesn’t fully comply with minimum standards but unlike Barbados it has made “significant strides” to improve its situation. Women and children are engaging in prostitution and many youngsters are being exploited in the mining industry, agriculture and forestry sectors of the economy. More and more Venezuelan and Brazilian women are prostitutes in South America’s lone English-speaking country. A major problem is the country’s failure to haul traffickers before the courts.

The picture painted of Haiti tells a similar story. Women and children being forced into sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Indeed, as many as 500,000 children are being compelled to work in households and are “vulnerable to beatings, sexual assaults and other abuses by family members. Far too many children live on the streets of the country after escaping from forced labor in homes, ending up as prostitutes, beggars or members of criminal gangs. The situation becomes even more sordid because of Haitians being forced into labor camps in the Dominican Republic and people in the Creole speaking nation forcing Dominicans into prostitution in Haiti.

Antigua & Barbuda is a place where forced prostitution occurs in bars, taverns and brothels. Although the government doesn’t fully live up to international standards it is making an effort to do so, Washington asserted.