The Bahamas is a destination, source, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Migrant workers are especially vulnerable to involuntary servitude in The Bahamas, particularly the thousands of Haitians who arrive in The Bahamas largely voluntarily to work as domestic employees and laborers. Other large, vulnerable, migrant worker communities are from China, Jamaica, and the Philippines. There were reports during the year that some U.S. nationals who were locally employed had their movement restricted and passports taken, activities indicative of human trafficking. There were also some anecdotal reports that passports were taken and movement restricted among some non-migrant Chinese workers. Children born in The Bahamas to foreign-born parents do not automatically receive Bahamian citizenship and face potential discrimination and vulnerability to trafficking. Economic migrants transiting through The Bahamas were vulnerable to trafficking. Groups especially vulnerable to sex trafficking in The Bahamas include foreign citizens in prostitution or exotic dancing and local children under 18 engaging in sex with men for basic necessities such as food, transportation, or material goods; third-party prostitution of children under 18 is a form of human trafficking.
The Government of The Bahamas does not comply fully with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government successfully convicted a trafficker during the reporting period, marking the first conviction for human trafficking in The Bahamas. Further, it launched its second prosecution under its anti-trafficking law, investigated an official for alleged trafficking-related complicity, and continued to implement its victim-centered assistance protocol for identified trafficking victims. Victim identification among vulnerable populations in the country remained low.
Recommendations for The Bahamas:
Prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders; use the victim identification and referral protocol more frequently to identify potential victims of forced labor and forced prostitution and provide them with protection and assistance; continue to implement protocols to take potential trafficking victims to a safe location while conducting victim identification interviews, as victims often first appear as immigration or prostitution violators and are reluctant to disclose details of their exploitation in a detention setting or post-raid environment; make efforts to involve independent interpreters when conducting inspections of migrant worker labor sites, and conduct private interviews of workers to enhance their ability to speak openly; continue to build partnerships with NGOs to increase grassroots outreach with potential trafficking victims among vulnerable groups; develop a nationwide public awareness campaign to educate the public and officials about human trafficking, its distinctions from human smuggling, and its manifestations in the Bahamas.
The Government of The Bahamas increased its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. All forms of human trafficking are prohibited by the Trafficking in Persons Prevention and Suppression Act of 2008, which prescribes penalties ranging from three years to life imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government reported 15 new forced labor and sex trafficking investigations, an increase from 10 in the previous reporting period. On March 26, 2014 the government convicted a sex trafficker, the first ever conviction for human trafficking in the country. The court has yet to sentence the defendant. The government launched a second prosecution under its trafficking law in a case involving two sex trafficking suspects. One alleged offender was placed in pre-trial detention; the other suspect remained at large. Notably, the government launched an investigation into trafficking-related complicity by a government official, but it did not report any prosecutions of government employees for such complicity. The government continued to provide in-kind assistance for anti-trafficking training provided by a foreign donor. The Royal Bahamas Defense Force and Royal Bahamas Police Force continued to require all new recruits to undertake a “Trafficking in Persons Awareness Training Module.” Seventy-four new officers completed this government-funded training during the reporting period; the government initiated this training module for an additional 147 officers.
The Bahamian government sustained efforts to protect trafficking victims. The government continued to implement a formal victim-centered protocol to guide front-line responders in how to identify human trafficking victims and refer them to available services during the reporting period. However, a UN expert noted concerns about the small number of trafficking victims formally identified in the country, observing that some trafficking victims may not have been recognized among vulnerable populations. In 2013, the government identified one new sex trafficking victim and referred this victim for appropriate care and assistance. In addition to officially identifying one new trafficking victim, the government reported identifying 64 other potential forced labor and sex trafficking victims—both men and women—in connection with new investigations. However, the government did not indicate whether it referred all 64 potential victims to assistance providers. Some potential victims were interviewed while in police custody or in other detention-like settings.
The government reported spending the equivalent of approximately $28,000 on trafficking victim care including housing, medical, psychological, and legal assistance. During the year, it provided assistance to a total of three adult sex trafficking victims in partnership with NGOs; two of the victims were identified in the previous reporting period. Victims were placed in independent housing rented by the government, and the government facilitated the safe and responsible repatriation for one identified victim in partnership with IOM. The government provided financial stipends to two trafficking victims in the amount equivalent of approximately $750 and $600, respectively, during the reporting period. The government provided the third victim with a refugee certificate to remain in The Bahamas while participating in a prosecution; this certificate enabled the victim to work legally in The Bahamas. The UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons, however, reported victims had difficultly receiving a work permit and thus gaining access to the labor market, noting this posed an impediment to victim protection.
The government encouraged trafficking victims to assist in prosecutions and provided foreign victims with legal alternatives to their removal to countries in which they would face retribution or hardship. During the year, it funded the costs and provided an additional stipend for one previously repatriated victim to return to The Bahamas to assist law enforcement with the prosecution of the victim’s alleged trafficker. The 2008 anti-trafficking act provided victims with immunity from prosecution for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being subjected to trafficking. However, in December 2013, the UN Rapporteur expressed concern about lack of victim identification and noted that the government’s restrictive immigration policy may deter potential trafficking victims from reporting to authorities, resulting in their possible inadvertent arrest, detention, and deportation.
The government increased prevention efforts and took important steps to inform the public and potential victims about trafficking. The government demonstrated commitment to transparency by inviting the UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons to visit The Bahamas to assess progress and challenges in combatting human trafficking. The government published and disseminated pamphlets in various public venues to advise potential trafficking victims of their rights and inform them about available resources. It also aired public service announcements on television and radio throughout the country. The government’s inter-ministerial committee to coordinate anti-trafficking policy met regularly, as did the government’s trafficking taskforce, which was charged with ensuring operational coordination on trafficking cases. The government, in partnership with NGOs, drafted a national action plan on trafficking during the reporting period. Labor inspectors reportedly incorporated trafficking indicators in inspections of labor sites. However, the UN Rapporteur reported some labor inspectors are unable to carry out monitoring to assist in the identification of potential trafficking victims. The government did not have an awareness campaign targeted at potential clients of the sex trade or forced labor. Authorities did not consider child sex tourism to be a problem in The Bahamas during the reporting period and reported no child sex tourism investigations.