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State department raises concern over lack of human trafficking convictions

For the sixth year in a row, The Bahamas held on to its tier one ranking in the U.S. Department of State’s 2020 Trafficking in Persons Report, as it continues to demonstrate “serious and sustained” efforts to combat trafficking.

However, the state department raised concern over the lack of convictions for trafficking and noted that screening procedures were inconsistently applied to vulnerable populations, particularly Haitian migrants in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

“The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore, The Bahamas remained on Tier 1,” the report states.

“These efforts included significantly increased investigations of traffickers, increased identification of victims, implementing the national action plan and continuing anti-trafficking training for 239 officials despite widespread destruction from a Category 5 hurricane hitting the islands in September 2019.

“Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not convict any traffickers; court proceedings continued to face delays; authorities inconsistently applied screening procedures to vulnerable populations, in particular to hundreds of Haitians deported after the hurricane; and funding for victim services decreased.”

The report notes that there was an increase in investigations of potential traffickers, but noted that there were no convictions and there are significant backlogs in all cases due to a lack of judges and prosecutors in the country.

“Authorities investigated 16 potential traffickers, 11 for sex trafficking investigations and five for labor trafficking, compared to two new investigations in 2018 and 11 to 15 investigations annually in the preceding six years,” it states.

“Authorities reported initiating two prosecutions for sex trafficking during the reporting period, compared to one initiated in 2018. The government did not convict any traffickers during the reporting period, compared to one convicted trafficker in 2018 and one in 2017.”

It adds, “The lack of judges and prosecutors in the country contributed to significant backlogs in all cases, and the government did not report whether all judges, prosecutors and other law enforcement officials received training on the Trafficking in Persons Act.”

The report continues, “Experts reported concerns about excessive pretrial detention due to criminal justice system delays preventing even the most serious criminal cases from advancing in a timely manner.”

According to the report, there was a significant increase in the screening of vulnerable individuals compared to last year.

“During the reporting period, the government reported screening 965 vulnerable individuals, including 151 Haitians – in addition to individuals from Brazil, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Jamaica and Venezuela – and identified five victims of trafficking, an increase compared with two victims identified out of 28 individuals screened in 2018,” it states.

However, the report notes that despite reports that immigration officers requested bribes, the government reported no instances of officials who were complicit in trafficking offenses.

“The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses, including reports made by Haitian migrants of being solicited by immigration officials for bribes to prevent detention,” it adds.

The report calls for an evaluation of anti-trafficking policies, staffing and other efforts in order to ensure that investigations are “appropriately targeted”.

Victims

The report found that while The Bahamas’ government maintained efforts to protect victims, it raised questions over the thoroughness of the effort. It also notes that there have been continued reports of abuse of migrants by officials.

“Authorities continued to implement a formal victim-centered protocol to guide frontline responders in identifying both sex and labor trafficking victims and referring them to services.

“However, concerns remained on the thoroughness of their application, especially with vulnerable populations such as undocumented migrants and stateless children,” it stated.

The report notes, “Although the government reported it has a formal process to guide officials in transferring victims to institutions that provide short or long-term care, experts reported authorities did not use formal protocols to screen all migrants, and continued reports of abuse of migrants by officials and widespread bias against migrants, particularly those of Haitian descent, are causes of concern.

“Foreign victims all chose to return home after short-term assistance by the government.

“Reports of inconsistent training of staff in screening for trafficking and lack of implementation of identification protocols in migrant languages indicated that authorities did not screen all potential trafficking victims, consequently penalizing vulnerable individuals.”

The report notes that migrants displaced by Hurricane Dorian were among those who have been exploited in trafficking. It also notes that children in The Bahamas who are not entitled to Bahamian citizenship at birth are more likely to be victims of human trafficking.

“Individuals born to a non-Bahamian father in The Bahamas, to a female citizen or to foreign-born parents, do not automatically receive Bahamian citizenship or documentation and are at heightened risk of trafficking,” the report states.

“Unaccompanied migrant children, individuals lured for employment, those involved in commercial sex and exotic dancing, illegal migrants, stateless persons and migrants displaced by Hurricane Dorian have been exploited in trafficking and are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.”

According to the report, over the past four years, most people prosecuted for human trafficking have been women.

“As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in The Bahamas, and traffickers exploit victims from The Bahamas in-country and abroad,” it states.

“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, both through advertisements in foreign newspapers and social media; upon arrival, traffickers subject them to sex trafficking and forced labor, including in domestic service and in sectors with low-skilled labor.

“The profile of human traffickers prosecuted for human trafficking have been primarily female in the past four years.”

The report notes that spending on victims’ care and prevention significantly decreased last year.

“The government reported decreasing spending on trafficking victims’ care and prevention activities to $95,000, compared to $125,710 in 2018,” it states.

“The government also provided $69,509 to four NGOs that provide services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups, compared to $240,000 in 2018 and 2017; both decreases were due to emergency costs incurred by the destruction of Hurricane Dorian.”

Staff Reporter at The Nassau Guardian
Rachel joined The Nassau Guardian in January 2019. Rachel covers national issues.
Education: Virginia in Charlottesville, BA in Foreign Affairs and Spanish
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