Fri | Dec 9, 2016

Tackling human trafficking

Published:Sunday | February 15, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer

Jamaica doing better in human trafficking combat than the US cares to admit - Task force

The National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons has charged that Jamaica has done more to combat human trafficking than is being acknowledged by the United States (US) State Department.

Jamaica was placed on the tier-two watch list in the 2014 Human Trafficking Report, which suggests that the country does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, but is making significant efforts to do so, and has committed to take action over the next year.

"We have not had a conviction since 2011 and I don't think they are happy with us," said Carol Palmer, head of the task force and permanent secretary in the justice ministry.

Palmer was addressing the launch of a three-day technical skills-training workshop on human trafficking at The Holiday Inn SunSpree Resort in Montego Bay last Thursday.

"For me, it is most important that we do what we must within what we can. We need to pay attention to these reports, but we need to also satisfy ourselves that we have done what we could have done under all circumstances," declared Palmer.

She questioned the method and data used to substantiate the information published on the US State Department's website each year, and expressed her disappointment in the results based on the work done by the multi-agency task force.

According to the US State Department: "Jamaica is a source, transit and destination country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour."

The State Department noted that the Jamaican Government has made progress on strengthening the country's anti-trafficking laws, but recommended the vigorous prosecution, conviction and punishment of trafficking offenders.

Unwilling victims

However, Justice Gloria Smith, who represented Chief Justice Zaila McCalla, pointed to the difficulty in convicting alleged offenders because of an unwillingness by victims to participate in the judiciary process.

"We find that some of them when they have been assisted and go back to their homes or the countries they are from, it is difficult to convince them to come back and give evidence," said Smith.

"Sometimes they lose interest. Sometimes because of fear because they do not want to relive the experiences they have had, and so the route is now being taken through the prosecution to get their evidence by way of the Evidence Act, but before that can be done, there are significant steps that must be taken."

She further argued that the conviction rate is something over which the judiciary has no control. "We must have evidence to get convictions."

The seminar is part of an ongoing islandwide campaign, which brings together persons from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, clerks of court, crown counsels, resident magistrates, judges, and members of the police force.

The task force has moved to establish a victim's shelter in Negril, Westmoreland, while forging partnerships with government ministries, departments and agencies to support the work of the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.