Human trafficking dilemma … NGOs slow to partner with state agencies to help victims, says US report
Scores of Jamaicans are believed to be trafficked across the island as part of clandestine sex and labour rackets each year, and while many victims end up in the care of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), these entities are reportedly slow to partner with state agencies.
Responding to calls by the US State Department, in its 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, for increased partnership between the Jamaican government and NGOs, the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons (NATFATIP) claimed that despite its best efforts, most local NGOs fail to share information about victims.
“The task force recognises the critical role NGOs play in the fight against Trafficking in Persons (TIP), and historically, the task force would convene quarterly meetings with NGOs that are not members of the task force. However, over the past two years, the task force has been unsuccessful in convening a meeting,” said NATFATIP in an emailed response to queries posed by The Sunday Gleaner.
STILL AT TIER 2
NATFATIP is the nation’s primary anti-trafficking ensemble, which falls under the responsibility of both the ministries of national security and justice. Despite government allocation of $33.4 million last year and an overall spend of $73 million on anti-trafficking activities, the body failed to improve on Jamaica’s Tier 2 ranking by the United States.
Jamaica has held the Tier 2 position since 2016, which means the island is not fully compliant with the minimum standards of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, but is making significant efforts to attain those.
The US report recommended an improved partnership between government and NGOs, which would “make victims eligible to receive formal identification and trafficking-related services”.
According to NATFATIP, however, except for a handful of NGOs which are part of the task force, most do not show interest.
According to the US State Department in its 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, only two human trafficking victims were housed at a facility for which the Jamaican government spent more than $17 million to upgrade last year.
In response to this, the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons said they do not place all victims in the facility.
“The Trafficking in Persons Shelter, operated by the Government of Jamaica, was renovated in the last fiscal year to enhance the security and comfort of the occupants. Not all victims are placed in the government shelter, as there are several factors that determine placement,” the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) department noted in an email response.
“The threat level is assessed for each victim, and if the case is deemed high risk then the victim is placed in the shelter with his/her informed consent. However, if the threat level is low risk, and it is safe for the victim to return home, then the victim will do so.”
TIP noted that some adult victims opt not to stay in the provided shelters.
According to the US report, Jamaica authorities reported the investigation of 36 potential trafficking cases during the April 2018-March 2019 reporting period, “compared with 30 investigations during the previous reporting period and 40 the year before that”.
The report continued, “Officials initiated prosecutions against six defendants for sex trafficking offences, an increase from three prosecutions initiated in the previous reporting period; nine prosecutions from previous years remained ongoing. Authorities dismissed two cases, and two suspects charged during a previous reporting period were released on bail and subsequently absconded.”
National Rapporteur On Trafficking in Persons, Diahann Gordon Harrison, said that while there is need for improved participation from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) as it relates to anti-trafficking initiatives, their roles are limited to the availability of resources.
“If there is a victim of trafficking who, let’s say, is rescued by the police, one of the immediate things you have to think of is where this individual will sleep tonight,” she explained.
“How many NGOs in Jamaica are offering victim shelter services for potential human trafficking victims? That takes money, that takes staff, and that takes affordable and adequate accommodation.”
Gordon Harrison pointed out that most local NGOs cannot meet the required standards of treating with victims who have been sexually abused.