THE MINISTRY of Justice welcomed The Gleaner's editorial of July 11, 2013, entitled 'Tough sentences alone won't do', concerning trafficking in persons in Jamaica. We view constructive public discourse on these matters as essential to deepening the rule of law in Jamaica.
The editorial stated that "this week's approval by the House of Representatives of the amendments is a signal to the United States that we are serious about the issue", and that "we will, hopefully, be rewarded by Washington with Jamaica, if not being removed, being placed in a lower-grade watch list." In light of those comments, it will be helpful to describe the tier placement system used by the US Department of State in relation to trafficking in persons. The tier placement system ranks countries' performance by reference to four tiers, as follows:
Tier 1 - Countries whose governments fully comply with the minimum standards in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (the 'TVPA', a US statute).
Tier 2 - Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards.
Tier 2 Watch List - Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the TVPA's minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards and: (a) the number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; or (b) there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or (c) the determination that the country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards is based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the next year.
Tier 3 - Countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards and are not making significant efforts to do so.
Jamaica was ascribed a Tier 2 rating in the US Department of State's 2013 report, having been given a Tier 2 Watch List ranking in the previous year's report.
While it is important that Jamaica be responsive to these annual exercises since an adverse ranking may be inimical to the country's interests, Jamaica's activities in combating human trafficking are not merely responsive to external assessments. Human trafficking, which may be described as modern-day slavery, is an organised crime against humanity that often operates across borders. It has affected virtually every country, and Jamaica's primary concern in this matter is the human rights of our citizens and any other individuals within our jurisdiction.
The amendments to the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) Act, now before Parliament, go beyond just introducing stiffer penalties for perpetrators. The amendments focus on victim protection and assistance, including the expansion of the definition of "exploitation" to include debt bondage (where a victim is forced to work interminably for a creditor to try to settle a debt), the recognition of the offence of conspiracy in connection with human-trafficking violations, the specification of aggravating features to guide the court in sentencing, and provision for the court to order restitution to the victims within the same court proceedings in which the perpetrator is convicted.
To say that data on human trafficking "is not readily available anywhere" is not entirely correct. Jamaica has established a National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons, whose report on Jamaica's efforts to combat trafficking in persons (spanning the period April 2012 to March 2013) presented the following data: For the period 2012 to 2013, 213 human trafficking raids were conducted by law enforcement, up from 32 in 2011 and 10 in 2010. A total of 224 persons were interviewed by the Jamaica Constabulary Force's (JCF) Trafficking in Persons Unit in relation to human trafficking, 90 of those being since January 2013. There were three suspected human trafficking cases, with 23 victims being rescued and four arrests made. At the time of writing, six cases of human trafficking are before the Circuit Court, with two set for trial in September 2013.
One significant case in December 2012 involved a group of 21 boys rescued from a Honduran boat intercepted in Jamaican coastal waters. These children were provided assistance by Jamaican state agencies, as is done in all cases where necessary, including accommodation, health services, counselling, legal support and repatriation. Though investigations indicated that human trafficking was involved, a decision was taken not to prosecute based on the difficulties that would be encountered in bringing the children back to give evidence at a trial in Jamaica, and the language barrier (the children spoke the dialect of the Miskito Indians).
The Government of Jamaica has refurbished and furnished a building for use as a trafficking in persons shelter, for the care and protection of victims. The shelter is fully operational, with the capacity to house up to ten persons.
Recognising that a targeted, well-sustained public-education campaign is a critical component in fighting human trafficking, the National Task Force against Trafficking in Persons has revitalised its public education programme, with the objective of raising greater awareness on the issue. Among the 43 activities and initiatives the task force report lists in its report for April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013 were:
In the 2012/13 fiscal year, Jamaica spent over $12.6 million on shelter accommodation, medical care, air fares and public-education activities, towards tackling the scourge of human trafficking.
JCF Special unit
With a dedicated Trafficking in Persons Unit established within the JCF to investigate suspected cases of human trafficking, and with the support of other branches of the security forces such as the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, we believe that Jamaica is using every effort to ensure that we have skilled andprofessional law-enforcement agencies to fight human trafficking. This investigative capacity, armed with more robust legislation as a result of the current amendments, and supported by a comprehensive public education programme, should ensure that human traffickers will not (as the editorial put it) continue to act with impunity in Jamaica.