War on trafficking - Palmer calls for unity in combatting crime
While the Government's stance against human trafficking is imperative, the position taken by citizens against this illicit practice is absolutely fundamental in quelling it, says Carol Palmer, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice and chairperson of the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons.
"Alone, human traffickers will defeat us. Together, united, strong and committed, we will form an impregnable wall against this scourge," voiced Palmer on Friday at Twickenham Park, St Catherine, during a graduation ceremony for 17 persons who underwent a trafficking in persons course.
"The Caribbean region, which is battling declining budgets, income inequality, poverty and high debt-to-gross domestic product ratio, as well as high youth unemployment is a fertile ground for human traffickers. The porosity of our borders worsens those vulnerabilities."
Palmer's declaration comes against the backdrop of the 2017 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report released on Wednesday by the US Department of State, which sees Jamaica ranked at Tier Two for its efforts to combat human trafficking in 2016.
Tier Two consists of those countries whose governments do not fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to comply.
"As far as the Caribbean is concerned, our governments must collaborate to develop the human capacity of law enforcement and judicial officials to develop more modern investigation and evidence-processing techniques. Certainly, in Jamaica, there is a need for more prosecution of these horrific crimes. We continue to make improvements as we modernise the judicial system, but those efforts must be complimented by improved undercover investigations, effective surveillance and so on."
In 2016, the Government secured two convictions, the same as 2015.
The primary trafficker received concurrent sentences of 16 years for rape, 14 years for trafficking in persons, and 10 years for facilitating trafficking in persons and was ordered to pay $2 million in restitution to the victim.
The other trafficker received a three-year suspended sentence.
Government did not hold complicit officials accountable
Some successes that the country achieved in dealing with human trafficking included the prosecuting of nine trafficking cases against 13 alleged traffickers; investigating 40 new trafficking cases, up from 30 in 2015, along with identifying a higher number of victims.
However, the US Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report states that the Jamaican Government did not hold complicit officials accountable, publish a standard victim protection protocol or publish an annual report monitoring its efforts.
A sum of $32.5 million was allocated for anti-trafficking efforts last year.
"The National Task Force will this year, push for the publication of a standard victim protocol and will engage the national rapporteur to ensure the publication of a national report. This responsibility is an important part of the country's obligation to combat human trafficking and has implications for Jamaica's classification," said Carol Palmer, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Justice and chairperson of the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons.
Appointed in 2015, the national rapporteur is mandated to investigate reports of human trafficking, report of violation of the right of victims and provide an annual report to the Government.