For the fifth year in a row, The Bahamas held on to its tier one ranking in the U.S. Department of State’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, as it continues to demonstrate “serious and sustained” efforts to combat trafficking.
However, the State Department said The Bahamas remains a destination where men, women and children are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor.
It also raised concerns over corruption at the Department of Immigration.
“The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses; however, outside reports of official involvement in protecting sex trafficking rings and corruption within the Immigration Department remained a concern, as these created vulnerabilities for potential trafficking victims and reduced victims’ willingness to self-identify or to assist law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers,” said the report, which was released yesterday.
Children in The Bahamas who are not entitled to Bahamian citizenship at birth are more likely to be victims of human trafficking, the report said.
“Traffickers recruit migrant workers, especially those from Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, the Philippines and the United States through false offers of employment, such as through advertisements in foreign newspapers; upon arrival, traffickers subject them to sex trafficking and forced labor, including in domestic service and in sectors with low-skilled labor,” it said.
“Children born outside The Bahamas to female citizens or in The Bahamas to foreign-born parents who do not automatically receive Bahamian citizenship are at heightened risk of trafficking. Individuals lured for employment and those involved in prostitution and exotic dancing and illegal migrants are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.”
The report found that although The Bahamas met minimum tier one standards, there were decreased efforts to enforce human trafficking legislation and vulnerable populations may not be adequately protected.
“Outside experts noted the government conducted insufficient outreach to vulnerable populations, such as the Haitian community,” it said.
It added, “The Department of Labour did not continue past practices of distributing pamphlets or letters about labor trafficking and workers’ rights to foreign nationals with work permits and advising employers of the prohibition against document retention.
“The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.”
Tier one countries are those whose governments fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, the report notes. While tier one is the highest ranking, the report notes it does not mean that a country has no human trafficking problem.
The report also found that only two new investigations were initiated, compared to between 11 and 15 per year for the six preceding years.
It attributed “significant backlogs in all cases” to a shortage of judges and prosecutors, and said it was unclear whether “judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials received training on the Trafficking in Persons Act”.
The State Department report found that the government continues to implement a “formal victim-centered protocol to guide front-line responders in identifying both sex and labor trafficking victims and referring them to services”.
It said that “the National Trafficking Commission funded and trained member agencies and ministries in their roles in identifying and protecting victims and making referrals”.
However, it raised concerns over the application to vulnerable migrant populations, noting that authorities often detained and deported Haitian migrants without screening for trafficking.
“During the reporting period, the government identified two victims of sex trafficking out of 28 individuals screened in 2018, compared to five identified victims out of 37 individuals screened in 2017,” the report said.
“The identified victims were adult females, one from The Bahamas, and the other from Venezuela. The National Trafficking Committee referred both victims to a care facility and a social worker. Another potential victim self-identified as a trafficking victim when brought to court on visa overstay charges; the trafficking task force, immigration and police authorities investigated her and others involved in her case, determined it was not a trafficking case and subsequently deported her.
“The government reported it determined which potential trafficking victims to formally screen for trafficking based on referrals from initial screenings by non-governmental and faith-based organizations, businesses and other ministries, although these organizations may be implicated in trafficking.
“Experts reported authorities did not use formal protocols to screen all migrants, both those residing in country and others upon arrival, for trafficking or to protect those identified as victims.
“The increasing influx of migrants, inconsistent training of staff and lack of implementation of identification protocols in migrant languages raised concerns that authorities penalized potential trafficking victims. Experts reported authorities rapidly and routinely detained and deported irregular Haitian migrants without screening for trafficking.”
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish