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Off the watch list? Reviewing Jamaica's progress in human-trafficking fight

Published:Sunday | June 30, 2013 | 12:00 AM
In this November 2008 photograph, actors Damion Radcliffe (left) and Tesfa Edwards grab Sabrena McDonald during a skit on human trafficking at the Woman 2008 Trade Fair and Exhibition held at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston, on Saturday, November 22, 2008. - Winston Sill/Freelance Photographer

Natalie Dietrich Jones, Guest Columnist

On June 19, National Security Minister Peter Bunting indicated that Jamaica's ranking in the annual report on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) had been upgraded from Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2. After reading the minister's comments in the media, I was prompted to review Jamaica's progress in the fight against human trafficking.

How did this upgrade compare with its other rankings? How has the island been viewed in previous TIP reports? How can the Government ensure we continue to receive favourable evaluations from the United States (US) Department of State?

First published in 2001, the Trafficking in Persons report is prepared annually by the US Department of State. The report is published in accordance with a congressional mandate articulated in the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act, 2000, specifically Division A, which treats with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA).

The TIP report evaluates the compliance of the US and foreign governments, which benefit from economic and security assistance from the US government, with the minimum standards of the TVPA. The four minimum standards include: (i) prohibition of severe forms of trafficking; (ii) punishment of sex trafficking; (iii) punishment of severe forms of trafficking; and (iv) undertaking serious and sustained efforts to fight trafficking in persons.

These minimum standards are assessed based on countries' fulfillment of eleven criteria (TVPA, Section 108; See


The report currently has four rankings. In descending order, these are Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 2 Watch List (WL) and Tier 3. Tier 1 countries demonstrate that they have met the minimum standards of the TVPA and have consistently been undertaking steps towards the elimination of trafficking.

On the converse, Tier 3 countries do not satisfy the minimum standard of the TVPA; nor do they take significant steps to combat trafficking. Tier 3 countries may face sanctions from the US government, which would include the withholding or withdrawal of non-humanitarian, non-trade-related assistance.

Tier 2 countries do not fully comply with the minimum standards of the TVPA, but have taken significant steps to become compliant. I provide further clarification on Tier 2 and Tier 2WL later in the discussion.

In addition to the four tiers, there is also a category of 'special cases', which are countries for which no ranking is provided in the TIP report because of incomplete information. These are usually transitioning states, previously affected by conflict and/or natural disasters. In this year's report, for example, Somalia was listed as a special case (


Jamaica is a country in which internal trafficking of minors, as well as women living in poverty, is prevalent. It is also classified as a destination country and transit country for trafficked adults and children from other countries, and as a source country of individuals being trafficked to other parts of the Caribbean, North America and the UK.

A review of each of the reports between 2003 and 2013 indicates that Jamaica has consistently been placed in Tier 2. However, there have been notable exceptions. As the minister noted, Jamaica had been placed on the Tier 2 WL in 2012, but it had been similarly ranked on two other occasions - in 2004 and 2006. In 2005, Jamaica was placed in Tier 3, which, as explained above, is the lowest ranking.

There are some parallels in the reports which indicate the reasoning behind the rankings for 2003-2006. On all four occasions, the reports noted the trend in trafficking of minors for commercial sexual exploitation (and also forced labour). Despite steps taken to protect children in 2004 via the passage of the Child Care Protection Act, it was also noted that Jamaica had not made significant progress in designing legislation which dealt specifically with trafficking as an offence. A contingent point is that there had been no steps taken to prosecute individuals involved in trafficking.

However, between 2007 and 2011, Jamaica was ranked as a Tier 2 country. The ranking signalled the continued commitment and proactivity of Jamaica to combat trafficking within and across the nation's borders through activities related to the prosecution of trafficking offenders, the protection of victims of trafficking, and the prevention of various forms of

Jamaica has sought to tackle trafficking
in persons through a number of legislative and programmatic initiatives.
The Organisation of American States provides a substantive list of
these initiatives, which can be viewed at I
have highlighted here what I consider to be key

2013: The amendment of the Trafficking
in Persons Act, to incorporate new definitions related to trafficking in
persons, increase penalties for trafficking offences, add new offences,
and cover victim restitution. It is expected that the amended act will
be passed this summer.

2012: - Drafting of a National
Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons.

2011: Institution of a special prosecutor in the Office of the Director
of Public Prosecutions to handle trafficking cases.

2009: Construction of a shelter for victims of trafficking

2007: Passage of the Trafficking in
Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) Act.

2005: Establishment of an inter-agency task force, now the National
Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons (NTFATIP).

2004: Passage of the Child Care and Protection

In light of the above, one can
conclude that Jamaica has progressively taken steps towards the
elimination of trafficking in persons, since the first year of its
assessment by the US Department of State in 2003.


Notwithstanding, in 2012, Jamaica was
downgraded from Tier 2 to Tier 2WL. The justification was that Jamaica
did not 'demonstrate evidence of
efforts to address human trafficking over the previous reporting
(US Department of State, 2012, p.198, emphasis

The quote highlights the fact that even where
countries undertake significant efforts - though I disagree with the use
of word 'significant' based on limited activities discussed in the
country profile, it must demonstrate that these efforts surpass
initiatives undertaken in previous years. This is further clarified in
the distinctions between the Tier 2 and Tier 2WL

According to the US Department of State,
Tier 2WL and Tier 2 countries both 'do not fully comply with the TVPA's
minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring
themselves into compliance with those standards'
However, Tier 2WL countries are distinct from Tier 2 countries for the
following reasons - the number of (absolute) victims of trafficking has
increased significantly and the Government has not provided evidence
that it has undertaken increased efforts to combat trafficking (which
would be evident in plans outlined for the upcoming

This year, Jamaica was upgraded from Tier 2WL
to Tier 2. A reading of the 2013 report indicates that Jamaica had taken
significant steps in each of the three areas discussed - protection,
prosecution and prevention, over the past

Further, the efforts undertaken in 2012 were
qualitatively and quantitatively superior to those undertaken in 2011.
These initiatives included the identification of victims of trafficking,
removal of a number of children (more than 105) from child-labour
situations, initiation of new prosecutions, initiation of a number of
investigations into sex trafficking and also in labour trafficking,
training of Jamaica Constabulary staff, public awareness campaigns, the
drafting of a National Plan of Action, and guidance to immigration
officials on treatment of victims of


the efforts are commendable, the report raises some concerns. A
recurring theme in the evaluation of Jamaica's efforts to combat
trafficking over the 11-year period is the gravity of the incidence of
trafficking of children (including non-nationals) for sex work and
forced labour. Given recent reports in the media which indicate that the
situation is not abating, this issue is likely to surface in subsequent

In addition, Jamaica currently does not
satisfy one of the criteria of the minimum standards of the TVPA -
vigorous investigation AND prosecution of severe forms of trafficking.
No new convictions have been reported since 2009, when two men were
convicted in 2008 for trafficking offences under the Child Care
Protection Act.

In 2012, the Government had initiated
only two new prosecutions. Further, the report indicated that only two
of 10 cases brought forward from the previous reporting period were
being actively pursued. The report thus emphasises that '... there are
concerns about impunity for perpetrators of human trafficking in Jamaica
...' (US Department of State, 2013, p. 211).

the recent amendments to the Trafficking in Persons Act point to the
possibility of a turnaround, the Government needs to demonstrate a
greater commitment to prosecuting trafficking

Jamaica is currently off the Tier 2WL, but
it must now work assiduously to ensure that it is not downgraded. By
consistently demonstrating its commitment to the fight against
trafficking in persons, Jamaica can secure a Tier 1 placement in the

A favourable outcome is important, not only
because it enables positive engagement between the US and Jamaican
governments. Jamaica has ratified a number of international conventions
dealing with trafficking in persons. These include the UN Protocol to
Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons; the ILO Convention
for the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour (and its
protocol); The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the
Child in Armed Conflict; the ILO Convention 29 on Forced Labour; and the
ILO Convention 105 on Abolition of Forced

Thus, efforts to eliminate trafficking in
persons suggest that Jamaica is a state dedicated to anti-trafficking,
fulfilling its obligations under these conventions. Finally, and perhaps
most important, these initiatives are indicative of the country's
acknowledgement of its duty to protect the most vulnerable among our

Natalie Dietrich Jones is a finalising
PhD candidate at the University of Manchester, UK. She teaches
international relations in the Department of Government, UWI. Email
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