Officials Colluding with Criminals: T&T Stays on Tier Two of Watch List

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By Sue-Ann Wayow

TRINIDAD and Tobago remains on the Tier Two Watch List for the United States for a third consecutive year.

According to the US Department of State 2023 Trafficking in Persons Report: Trinidad and Tobago published on the State’s website on Thursday, this country remains a hub for sex tourism.

Most sex trafficking victims were women and girls primarily from Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Guyana and sex tourists coming from the United States, Canada, China, and Western Europe, non-governmental organisations reported.

Under the 2011 anti-trafficking law, no one has been convicted of trafficking, the report stated and some trafficking networks operate through businesses acting as a cover for trafficking operations including bars, casinos and hotels.

Sex trafficking is the most prominent type of trafficking followed by labour trafficking.

Additionally, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action while victims alleged police, immigration, and customs officials frequented establishments where commercial sex was known to occur, from which they received money and sex in exchange for coordinating the transport of victims and providing protection for traffickers and courts continue to have a backlog of cases, the report stated.

Outside experts also noted there was insufficient government funding and personnel for comprehensive victim care, including appropriate shelters with adequate staff and security personnel.

The report stated that government did not provide its overall budget allocations for trafficking for 2022 and has not done so since 2017. 

However, government reported spending TT$50,000 on public awareness and engagement efforts during the reporting period, in addition to TT$105,000  on victim assistance.

Observers noted the Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU) did not respond in a timely manner to victims referred by NGOs and International Organisations (IO)s and provided services to victims in an ad hoc and inconsistent manner.

In acknowledging Trinidad and Tobago’s efforts, the report stated, Trinidad and Tobago was making significant effort to eliminate human trafficking including providing the  government shelters for adult trafficking victims, and increasing the size of the CTU. 

“But, there was no overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity,” the report stated.

The government slightly increased limited protection efforts but identified significantly fewer victims with authorities providing some assistance to the 36 victims they identified, compared with 54 victims assisted in 2021 and 70 potential victims assisted in 2020.

The report listed several recommendations that still needed to be implemented.

The prioritised recommendations are: 

  • Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers, including officials and staff allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms;

  • Increase proactive victim identification, screening, and protection among vulnerable communities, including children in children’s homes and schools; and migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees, especially Venezuelans;

  • Reduce judicial backlog;

  • Ensure victims are not inappropriately penalized solely for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of trafficking;

  • Fully implement and train officials and NGOs on the use of new SOPs for victim care and referral;

  • Improve the quality of victim care and increase bilingual services;

  • Provide adequate funding and staff for robust trafficking investigations and victim services, including accommodations, and improve CTU responsiveness after hours;

  • Improve cooperation between the CTU, prosecutors, the judiciary, other agencies, and NGOs to increase the number of cases that proceed to trial;

  • Strengthen rules and regulations to ensure immigration enforcement does not hinder human trafficking detection, criminal law enforcement, or victim protections;

  • Strengthen oversight, regulation, and inspections of private labor recruitment agencies and domestic work locations, including by appointing a license officer;

  • Ensure NGOs are not penalized for violations of the Immigration Act for assisting foreign victims;

  • Investigate and prosecute domestic child trafficking as human trafficking and not as abuse or other crimes; and

  • Train law enforcement and prosecutors in evidence collection for trafficking cases.


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