Eight suspected cases of human trafficking have been successfully investigated by the police and brought before the courts over the past two years, yielding two convictions, Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Senator Dorothy Lightbourne, Q.C., has disclosed.
Human trafficking is defined as the practice of humans being tricked, lured, coerced or otherwise removed from their home or country, and forced to work with no or low payment, or in terms which are highly exploitative.
Senator Lightbourne was speaking at the opening of a two-day workshop on the theme, “Human Trafficking: A legal, medical/health care, economic and social dilemma”, hosted by the Ministry of Health, at the Mona Visitor Lodge and Conference Centre, University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Andrew, on Tuesday (February 23).
She said that the eight cases investigated incorporated five raids conducted last year, resulting in 22 persons being interviewed, of which four were arrested and three brought before the courts. Two of those cases yielded the convictions.
Senator Lightbourne alluded to the United States Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons 2009 Report which, she said, revealed that the activity had expanded to some 175 countries, reflecting 90.2 per cent of the world’s nations.
She said that, additionally, the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) reported that, globally, there are 12.3 million adults and children and children “at any time” in “forced labour and sexual servitude”, resulting from human trafficking.
“The financial crisis which has affected the world, over the past two years, has led to more workers, especially females, being willing to take greater risks for economic opportunities for themselves and their families, making them more vulnerable to traffickers, who lure them with promises of jobs and other prospects,” the Minister noted.
She pointed out that “reports” indicate that, in Jamaica, it is primarily poor women and girls and, increasingly, boys who are trafficked from rural to urban and tourist areas, for “commercial sexual exploitation.”
She asserted that with human trafficking being the second largest and fastest growing international criminal activity globally, “we must become aware of the legal, medical/healthcare, economic and social aspects of the dilemma in our effort to fight it in Jamaica and the Caribbean.”
Senator Lightbourne advised that administration has undertaken the establishment of legislation and other activities aimed at curbing the incidence of human trafficking, locally. These include passage of the Trafficking in Persons (Suppression and Punishment) Act in 2007 to “advance our national efforts.”
“The Act provides for increased penalties for persons who have committed, facilitated or, knowingly, benefited from human trafficking, with a fine of up to 10 years, or both fine and imprisonment,” she outlined.
She added that the Act also facilitates support for victims, by providing access to medical, psychological, legal and victim protection services.
Other pieces of legislation, which the Minister said have been enacted, specifically aimed at protecting children, are the Childcare and Protection Act, which stipulates a fine or imprisonment of up to 10 years, and the Child Pornography (Prevention) Act, and the Sexual Offences Act, which she pointed out, all “seek to crack down physical and sexual exploitation in forms that can lead to or promote human trafficking.”
Senator Lightbourne also advised that upwards of $25 million was slated to be spent to refurbish three buildings, which will be used as safe shelters for victims of human trafficking in Jamaica.
“These shelters are discreet, but they are located in the northern, southern and central areas of the island and will provide bedrooms, a counselling centre where victims can receive therapy or meet with legal officers, she explained.
They also contain: a sick bay; a training room; a recreational room for adults; and a play room for children; outdoor space for recreational activities; and living quarters for a house mother and a security officer; as well as security fencing around the houses.
The Minister disclosed that one shelter has already been completed at a cost of $10.7 million, adding that the second is 75 per cent complete at a cost, to date, of $8 million. Fifty per cent of the third shelter has been completed, at a cost of $2 million thus far. Cumulatively, they will be able to house 36 persons.
Upon completion, the shelters will be handed over to the Ministry of National Security for their management, and the Ministry of Justice will continue to provide assistance to the victims through the role that the Victim Support Unit (VSU) plays in the justice system, by counselling and other forms of support, Miss Lightbourne said.
She also noted that a Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Unit, within the Organized Crime Investigation Unit (OCID) of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), has also been established. The Unit is staffed by five officers, assigned to investigate cases of trafficking.
The workshop, which ends on Wednesday (February 24), brings together stakeholders from various sectors and interests for discussions on the issue of human trafficking, and the way forward for Jamaica in effectively addressing the matter.
The Ministry of Health is staging the event in collaboration with the Organization for Strategic Development in Jamaica (OSDJ); the Norman Manley Law School, UWI; and the International Leadership Institute.