Jamaica gets help from Caricom neighbours in human trafficking fight
THE Jamaica National Taskforce Against Trafficking in Persons says it is receiving co-operation from fellow Caribbean Community (Caricom) territories, which is bearing fruit in rescuing a number of victims of the illicit trade.
Head of the Jamaica Constabulary Force Trafficking in Persons Unit, Deputy Superintendent of Police Carl Berry, said only recently Bahamas requested assistance in the arrest and conviction of perpetrators of this crime.
“The (Jamaican) female responded to an advertisement and was recruited and flown there into problem,” he explained, adding that the offender was subsequently convicted and will be sentenced this week.
In addition, DSP Berry said the unit has trained more than 200 Caricom police personnel on how to tackle this crime. He noted that they have also sensitised thousands of people in churches, universities and high schools. This, he said, has ultimately resulted in an increase in the number of reports of human trafficking.
With Jamaica being a member of the Caribbean Anti-Money Laundering programme and Caribbean Regional Drug Law Enforcement Training Centre, DSP Berry — who was addressing the Jamaica Observer’s weekly Monday Exchange at the newspaper’s head offices in Kingston — said the unit has to interface with Caribbean investigators on a weekly basis.
“We have several training sessions and we have included human trafficking as a component of the training,” he said, adding that they were recently in Trinidad, St Vincent, and Antigua to discuss human trafficking.
“We have also trained 100 Antiguan police officers and so we have enough anti-trafficking persons… we can call on immediately if we need their help,” he said, adding that Jamaica also has been receiving good support from the Bahamas.
Chair of the prosecution’s sub-committee of the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons, Lisa Palmer-Hamilton, said since its establishment in 2005, the task force has spearheaded the training of members of the police and military, prosecutors, judges, resident magistrates, child support personnel and all the stakeholders working with victims of human trafficking.
She noted that the domestic legislation now has more teeth with the recent amendment to the parent law. Noting that the legislation is now far more effective, Palmer-Hamilton said the maximum penalty for a person convicted for the offence has been increased from 10 years’ imprisonment to 20 years. The amendment, she said, has sought to make the penalty commensurate with the type of offence, based on international standards.
The amendment has also included the offence of conspiracy to human trafficking as well as an even greater penalty when aggravating circumstances are involved.
She explained that if it is found that there are aggravating factors accompanying the offence — such as where the trafficker had an offensive weapon, was previously convicted for a similar offence or if they caused the victim to be exposed to a life-threatening illness such as sexually transmitted diseases — the 20 years’ imprisonment will attract an additional 10 years.
There is also now greater power for law enforcement to make seizures. “Prior to that, it was very difficult for the police to get a search warrant to go into premises and apprehend a trafficker or rescue persons assumed to be a victim of trafficking,” she explained.
Another major factor is if the victim is a child. This, as research has shown that the majority of the trafficked victims are women and children. However, despite the trend of female victims, Palmer-Hamilton said there has been an increase in the number of male victims in recent times.
She cited a 2012 incident, in which 21 boys from Honduras were rescued by the Jamaican authorities and returned to their country after they were engaged in deep-sea diving in Jamaican coastal waters for conch and lobster.
“They were not just being exploited, but there were no records of identity,” she said, adding that the unit was challenged in communicating with the victims who only spoke the Honduran dialect, Miskito.
Palmer-Hamilton cited another incident involving a child victim from another territory where Jamaica was able to engage the Mutual Legal Assistance Regime to investigate the matter.
“So it’s not just with respect to Jamaicans, but also with respect to persons from the other Caribbean territories,” she said.
Meanwhile, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Carol Palmer, explained that the task force was established when Jamaica was advised by the United States government that the country was ranked poorly for failure to deal with this crime.
She explained that Jamaica now has a shelter for victims of human trafficking, which is resourced with all agencies of government needed to provide services.
As for additional shelters, she said, that will be a function of demand because it will cost to keep another facility when Jamaica is still unclear of the demand for these services. “So we have short-term arrangement with non-governmental organisations and even the hotel sector when we have victims who are unable to be in the shelter,” she said.