IT IS good that the Government has now brought to Parliament legislation, passed by the Senate on Friday, setting out specific offences and penalties for trafficking in human beings.
We would have wished, though, that we didn't appear to be doing this under pressure from the United States (U.S.), but had acted on our own volition because we knew it to be right. As it is, Justice Minister A. J. Nicholson initiated the debate of the bill days after this newspaper reported that Jamaica remained on a watch list of countries which the U.S. does not believe has done enough to deal with the problem of human trafficking.
Mr. Nicholson can, perhaps with justification, point to the fact that the legislation passed by the Senate was not drafted in the short period between the publication of the U.S. report and the debate in the Upper House. However, there are many who will remain convinced that the administration demanded prodding to move with dispatch. They might even insist that the bill would have languished but for the reminder from Washington and the potential for losing American benefits. Indeed, a case may even be made that were it not for American pressure two years ago, Jamaica might not have done anything, or not very much, about this issue.
But, as the saying goes, better late than never. There is now a police unit that focuses on such social crimes along with specific legislation against trafficking. The issue now will be enforcement or, as many people expect, the lack thereof.
We have some sympathy with the authorities when they fall short in this regard; but awareness of the problems faced by those who will enforce the law demands that the matter receives rigorous attention and that its policing be led by people of deep commitment.
In the context of Jamaica's problem of violent crime, particularly homicides, human trafficking, especially the internal movement of young women to work as exotic dancers or prostitutes, may not be seen by many as a serious matter. Indeed, many will claim that most of these people are free and willing participants in an open market; except that too many of the participants are minors whose ignorance is exploited.
Having the laws, therefore, is good. They must be enforced. But ultimately, a solution to this matter of human trafficking, and its worst form, the exploitation, involves other factors. Not least of these is to 'normalise' Jamaica's murder rate so that people have a sense that there other crimes worthy of prosecution. We also have to get the economy right so that people have real jobs and incomes and don't so easily fall into the clutches of the exploiters. And we have to fix education, that great social leveller and the best route to a decent life.
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