Trinidad and Tobago has slightly improved its status in relation to the trafficking of persons.
The US Department of State's 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report released today, has given Trinidad and Tobago on Tier 2 ranking, a slight improvement from the Tier 2 Watch List ranking earned in 2016.
The report says that while this country has not as yet fully met the minimum requirements to address child trafficking, it has made significant improvement.
The report has, however, made several recommendations to T&T in relation to investigations, prosecutions and training.
The following is the section of the report as it relations to Trinidad and Tobago:
"The Government of Trinidad and Tobago does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Trinidad and Tobago was upgraded to Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by adopting and beginning to implement a new national action plan for 2016-2020, advancing prosecutions to the high court, addressing inefficiencies in the judicial system, and identifying more victims. It also changed immigration procedures to increase accountability and minimize the opportunities for immigration officials to receive bribes. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. It has yet to secure a conviction under its anti-trafficking law. The government decreased funding for its anti-trafficking unit and victim care. Victims were not provided specialized services, including during legal proceedings. The government did not have policies or laws regulating foreign labor recruiters and had no basis for holding them civilly and criminally liable for fraudulent recruitment.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit government officials; train law enforcement and prosecutors in proactively identifying, obtaining, preserving, and corroborating evidence; provide adequate funding for robust victim services and anti-trafficking efforts; improve coordination and communication between the counter-trafficking unit, relevant agencies, and NGOs; implement procedures to guide front-line officials in the identification and referral of potential sex and labor trafficking victims, especially among foreign women in prostitution, migrant workers, and children; improve regulation of private labor recruitment agencies; and raise public awareness, especially among the migrant population, about forced labor.
The government increased law enforcement efforts, but it had yet to convict a trafficker; official complicity and inefficiencies in its judicial system continued to hamper government efforts. The Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011 prohibits both sex trafficking and forced labor and prescribes penalties of 15 years to life imprisonment and fines, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, the government’s anti-trafficking unit investigated 46 possible cases of trafficking, compared with 53 cases in 2015 and 35 in 2014. The government initiated the prosecution of five suspects for sex trafficking under the anti-trafficking law (five in 2015 and one in 2014). Additionally, two previously charged traffickers had hearings before the magistrate court and were committed to stand trial in high court. From previous reporting periods, a total of 23 prosecution cases awaited scheduling at the magistrate court. Experts noted the improving quality of investigations by the counter-trafficking unit (CTU) within the national security ministry, which has led to more efficiency in bringing cases to prosecution. The CTU led efforts to investigate sex trafficking and forced labor but continued to suffer from poor coordination and communication among stakeholders; police and immigration officers on the CTU reported to their respective agencies and not to the head of the unit. The government decreased the unit’s budget to three million Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TTD) ($448,430) for FY 2016-2017, compared to eight million TTD ($1.2 million) for FY 2015-2016, and five million TTD ($747,384) for FY 2014-2015. Due to decreased government revenues related to lower oil and gas export earnings, all government ministries received significantly reduced budgets during the reporting period. Nonetheless, to address overall inefficiencies in the judicial system that resulted in a significant backlog of cases, the attorney general hired 30 new prosecutors to help bring cases to trial more expeditiously. Law enforcement and civil society organizations reported some police and immigration officers allegedly facilitated trafficking and exploited sex trafficking victims, but the government did not report any new prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses during the reporting period. Experts noted some victims feared police complicity and were reluctant to report their cases to the CTU. Immigration authorities arrested and charged one officer with selling visa extensions, but it was unclear if this was related to trafficking. The CTU conducted anti-trafficking training with assistance from an international organization for more than 115 new police and prison officers, compared to 100 officers trained in 2015. There were 18 labor inspectors in 2016, compared with 10 in 2015, trained to identify and report on indicators of forced labor involving children. The government collaborated with authorities in St. Vincent and the Grenadines on a child trafficking case.
The government increased protection efforts. The government identified and referred 13 trafficking victims to care (five in 2015 and eight in 2014). The 13 victims included one male child, three male adults, and seven female adults exploited for labor trafficking, and two female adults exploited for sex trafficking. The victims originated from Venezuela, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, India, and Nepal. Some experts asserted labor and internal trafficking cases, including of children, were under-reported. The government trained all new immigration officers on the antitrafficking law and screening procedures to identify potential trafficking victims. The government trained school officials, social workers, labor inspectors, and officials who worked with child protective services on identification and screening techniques related to trafficking. The CTU, via Interpol, provided sensitization training to judges to avoid re-traumatization of trafficking victims during court proceedings. Authorities referred all suspected adult human trafficking cases to the CTU. Authorities referred child victims through the child protective services agency. The CTU and child protective services reported working to clarify the procedures for referrals between their agencies. The CTU spent approximately 700,000 TTD ($104,634) on victim care and protection, a decrease from one million TTD ($149,477) in 2015 and 2014. The government separately provided additional funding to NGOs through the Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Gender; the CTU directly provided assistance to victims housed at all shelters. The CTU partnered with NGOs and public hospitals to provide basic services to all 13 victims. Other government-funded victim services provided to victims included food, clothing, medical assistance and services for victims with disabilities, translation services, psychological counseling, legal services, and arranging contact with families. Domestic violence shelters received modest government funding and provided accommodation to adult female trafficking victims. In the case of men and children, the government provided accommodations by securing private safe houses through NGOs; there is no dedicated shelter for male victims. In 2016, the CTU acquired a property to establish a dedicated shelter for male and female victims. Victims housed in NGO-run shelters were allowed freedom of movement after an initial security assessment by the government; however, victims housed in domestic violence shelters were not permitted to leave unchaperoned or at will. Language translation services were available for counseling sessions and police interviews; however, experts reported shelters did not have bilingual staff or volunteers. In addition, some government officials noted a shortage of interpreters available to assist with foreign national victim testimony. Fourteen victims assisted with criminal investigations during the reporting period. There were no reports the government penalized trafficking victims for crimes committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking; however, some victims may have been penalized due to lack of identification from officials. The government provided two victims with work and residence permits to remain in the country to assist law enforcement investigations. The government provided witness protection to five sex trafficking victims who chose to participate in the trial process and allowed them to return to their home countries between court hearings. The courts were in the process of acquiring technology to accept video testimony. The government provided minimal support to repatriate victims and relied on an international organization to do so.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The government approved and began implementing the 2016- 2020 national plan of action. The CTU assesses its activities every two years, most recently in November 2015. The CTU, in collaboration with NGOs, launched awareness campaigns at schools and youth camps, as well as a six-month nationwide child anti-trafficking campaign. The CTU also promoted the national broadcast of a locally produced movie, “Trafficked,” and aired public service announcements during the broadcast. The labor inspectorate provided educational materials to educate and inform workers, including migrant workers, of their rights and the labor laws to prevent labor exploitation. The CTU conducted sensitization training with visa officers from various embassies in the country. The national trafficking hotline provided information used by the counter trafficking unit for investigations. The immigration authority changed its procedures for issuing visa extensions to provide greater accountability and reduce the opportunity for smugglers and traffickers to bribe officials. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts by developing bilingual messages and two public service announcements targeting buyers of commercial sex. There were no specific laws regulating private labor recruitment agencies. The government provided training and awareness-raising sessions for diplomats and staff scheduled for overseas postings.
As reported over the past five years, Trinidad and Tobago is a destination, transit, and source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Women and girls from the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Venezuela, and Colombia are subjected to sex trafficking in brothels and clubs, often lured by offers of legitimate employment, with young women from Venezuela especially vulnerable. NGOs have previously heard reports about the availability of child sex trafficking victims advertised through classified ads and children are subjected to sex trafficking for commercial sex by Trinbagonians and foreign sex tourists. Economic migrants from the Caribbean region, especially Guyana, and from Asia, in particular those lacking legal status, are vulnerable to forced labor in domestic service, the retail sector, and potentially security companies and health spas. International criminal organizations are increasingly involved in trafficking and young boys are coerced to sell drugs and guns. Police corruption has in the past been associated with facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking."