GOVERNMENT’S efforts to increase funding for Trafficking in Persons (TIP) victims, as well as its ability to identify and assist more victims for the third consecutive year, are among the reasons the State Department of the United States has cited Guyana for demonstrating “serious and sustained efforts” in combating the issue.
The State Department of the United States in its 2019 report which was released yesterday, Thursday, pointed out that the Government of Guyana fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
“The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore Guyana remained on Tier 1,” the report stated.
According to the report, the APNU+AFC government maintained law enforcement efforts during the reporting period and to this end, the report reminded that Combating Trafficking of Persons Act of 2005 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of three years to life imprisonment.
It was noted that such penalties were sufficiently stringent during the reporting period and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. It said that the The Ministry of Social Protection was the lead agency responsible for coordinating trafficking efforts, overseeing the Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU), and participating on the government’s Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking in Persons (the Task Force).
It was noted that in 2018, the government reported 30 new investigations, prosecuted 11 suspected traffickers, two of whom were initiated in prior periods. It noted too that the authorities convicted one trafficker for sex trafficking compared with four investigations, 17 prosecutions, 12 of which were initiated in prior periods, and two convictions in 2017.
Prevention of TIP
In terms of the prevention of trafficking, the report said that government increased its efforts in this regard. Over the years, many TIP victims were discovered by the authorities in mining areas in the Hinterland and the report made mention of the establishment of an anti-trafficking unit with three trained staff within the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) to register and categorize workers in the interior and conduct spontaneous checks.
It was pointed out, too, that the government approved a new national action plan for 2019 but did not report on activities under the plan by the end of the reporting period and it was noted that the government last conducted research into trafficking in 2016.
The report stated that the local authorities facilitated several awareness sessions focused on the mining and logging sectors outside Georgetown. It noted that the Social Protection Ministry’s Anti-Trafficking Unit held several sensitization campaigns for teachers, students, Non-Governmental organizations (NGOs), prison staff and inmates, and malls and markets across Guyana.
In April this year, the Ministry of Social Protection, in collaboration with international partners, officially launched Guyana’s National Policy on Child Labour and National Policy on Occupational Safety and Health (OSH), moves geared at pushing Guyana forward towards the elimination of child labour and which will promote and improve the quality of life and safety of workers.
The US Department of State acknowledged this move and it noted that labour and natural resource inspectors received informal training in identification of victims but did not report identifying any cases. It added that the government provided anti-trafficking training for 13 diplomatic personnel for the first time.
As economic fortunes in neighbouring Venezuela hit rock bottom, large numbers of migrants from that country continue to cross over the border into Guyana seeking greener pastures. According to the 2019 TIP report, the government of Guyana here acknowledged a large increase in the number of trafficking victims from Venezuela.
It said that traffickers exploit victims in forced labor in the mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as in domestic service and shops. While both sex trafficking and forced labor occur in interior mining communities, limited government presence in the country’s interior renders the full extent of trafficking unknown, the report said.
Financial and other forms of assistance
The report stated that the APNU+AFC government provided $3.5M GYD (US$16,280) for the first time in direct financial assistance to victims who chose not to stay in a shelter. It noted that victims could receive shelter, food, training, and psychological therapy.
The authorities also provided intake counselling to child victims who it placed in shelters co-managed with NGOs. It said that the Social Protection Ministry placed some children into foster care or reintegrated them with their families, while authorities placed adult male victims at non-specialized night shelters on an ad hoc basis.
Of note, the report stated that Guyanese law protects victims’ identities from release to the media. It said too that the government reported victims could leave shelters; however, observers reported police and other authorities were not helpful to the victims. This is one of the areas it says needs to be addressed.
The efforts of NGOs and the Social Protection Ministry to provide protection and counseling for all identified victims was noted in the report and it was pointed out too that the government provided transportation for victims who declined shelter but were willing to attend court proceedings. The government reported multiple cases of delivering foreign victims to their respective embassies at the request of the foreign missions before the conclusion of prosecutions.
Areas of concern
Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not provide adequate protection and shelter outside the capital, or for child and male victims, the report said. It was noted too that the number of trafficking investigations and new prosecutions decreased, and the number of successful convictions remained low.
It was noted that although the government increased efforts to identify and protect victims. victim assistance remained a concern, especially in areas outside Georgetown for Venezuelan, child, and male victims. It was noted that although an increase in foreign victims has been identified , particularly Venezuelans, there is need for the establishment of standard operating procedures in dealing with such victims.
The Department of State called on the authorities to finalise, implement, and train law enforcement officials and front-line responders in written victim identification and referral procedures.
It also called for the funding of specialised victim services, in particular for child, adult male, and Venezuelan victims and it also urged the authorities to vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labor trafficking cases, including those involving child victims.
The holding of police and law enforcement officials accountable for intimidation of victims in shelters including restricted movement, lack of access to family visits, or telephone services were among the grey areas pointed out for attention in the report.
The APNU+AFC government has been working to combat TIP with focus being placed on enacting the law to curb the practice.
Guyana fell off the watch list for TIP back in 2016. In 2017 it moved up to Tier One and the country has since mounted numerous efforts to improve its rating in this area.
This week a businesswoman was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment for trafficking two Venezuelan women for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Her sentencing was given by the courts in accordance with the Trafficking in Persons Act, a clear move that the law is taking its course here.