Guyana is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Guyanese and foreign women and girls—including from Venezuela, Suriname, and Brazil—are subjected to prostitution in Guyana. While the full extent of forced labor is unknown, there have been reports of forced labor in the mining, agriculture, and forestry sectors, as well as in domestic service and shops. Traffickers are attracted to Guyana’s interior mining communities where there is limited government control, but Guyanese and foreign nationals are also vulnerable to trafficking in urban centers and elsewhere in the country. Children are particularly vulnerable to forced labor. Guyanese nationals are subjected to human trafficking in other countries in the Caribbean region.
The Government of Guyana does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government’s Ministry of Labour, Human Services, and Social Security (human services ministry) demonstrated concrete efforts to assist trafficking victims. Despite these efforts, the government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts to address human trafficking over the previous reporting period; therefore, Guyana is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. Guyana has an adequate trafficking law and achieved three trafficking convictions during the reporting period; however, all three convicted traffickers were released on bail pending the appeal of their convictions. The Government of Guyana did not provide information regarding the basis on which the defendants sought to appeal their convictions or on which the court determined to grant them bail. The inability to hold traffickers accountable creates an enabling environment for human trafficking. Trafficking victims have accused police officers and other government employees of cooperating with traffickers.
Recommendations for Guyana:
Boost efforts to hold trafficking offenders accountable by vigorously investigating and prosecuting forced prostitution and forced labor cases, including those involving complicit officials; provide funding for NGOs to identify and assist victims; develop child-sensitive investigation procedures to reduce additional harm to victims, and develop court procedures that protect the privacy of children and minimize the emotional trauma of providing testimony; in partnership with NGOs, develop and publicize written standard operating procedures to guide and encourage front-line officials—including police, health, immigration, labor, mining, and forestry personnel—to identify and protect victims of forced labor and forced prostitution; implement procedures to ensure that victims are not punished for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking; and offer increased protection and assistance for victims near mining communities.
The government made limited progress in holding traffickers accountable. The Combating Trafficking of Persons Act of 2005 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes sufficiently stringent penalties, ranging from three years’ to life imprisonment. These penalties are commensurate with penalties prescribed under Guyanese law for other serious crimes, such as rape. Law enforcement officials did not provide data on the number of trafficking investigations they undertook during the reporting period, compared with two labor trafficking investigations and 16 sex trafficking investigations the previous year. According to a statement by an official from the human services ministry before parliament, authorities “brought before the courts” six trafficking cases, one of which was dismissed, compared with seven prosecutions during the previous period. The government reported that three traffickers were convicted in 2013; two of the convicted traffickers were sentenced to five years’ imprisonment and one was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment. However, none of the three convicted traffickers were serving their sentences at the end of the reporting period; all three were out on bail pending the appeal of their cases. The government confirmed that a police officer was accused of trafficking, and the Guyana Police Force and Office of Public Prosecution were reviewing the allegation. For many years, the majority of Guyana’s trafficking prosecutions have ultimately been dismissed. A high-profile prosecution of child trafficking covered in the media was dismissed late in the reporting period, with the magistrate citing a lack of evidence. In that case, NGOs claimed that trafficking victims willing to testify were not notified of court dates and were not allowed to present evidence. The government did not report any additional action involving prosecution of a high-profile child trafficking case investigated in 2012, and there were reports that police did not investigate all alleged incidents of human trafficking. The government did not report that it provided any specialized anti-trafficking training for law enforcement in 2013.
The government made efforts to protect victims of trafficking, but the continued lack of accountability for perpetrators further endangered victims. The human services ministry reported identifying 23 victims in 2013, including 10 children, five male labor trafficking victims, and 18 sex trafficking victims, compared with 19 girls, two boys, three women, and two adult men identified the previous year. One NGO reported rescuing 29 victims, mostly children, in 2013 and additional victims in 2014. The human services ministry reported that 16 victims consented to be referred to care facilities during the reporting period. Government-provided services reportedly consisted of psycho-social support, basic medical care, transportation, and some assistance for victims’ reintegration, but sources claimed that government resources devoted to victim protection were inadequate. There were reports that authorities failed to provide assistance specific to the needs of trafficking survivors, and that victims who had been rescued were re-trafficked or became homeless after they did not receive adequate protection services from the government. An NGO operated a shelter for victims of domestic violence, as well as a “safe home” for children in the capital that reportedly provided assistance to trafficking victims during the reporting period. The shelter received a government subsidy of the equivalent of approximately $14,800. The government also paid the equivalent of approximately $1,452 for alternative accommodation for three victims. The government reportedly provided specialized care for adult male victims. Donor-funded organizations provided much of the support for victims. In areas outside of the capital, NGOs provided shelter and assistance to trafficking victims, often in dangerous conditions, without any funding from the government. Longer-term shelter and protection was not available in Guyana, putting victims at risk of traffickers’ reprisals, as the government also failed to punish most traffickers with incarceration. Stakeholders reported that there were still no clear, written, government-wide operating procedures to guide officials in handling human trafficking cases in coordination with NGO partners.
While Guyana’s law contains incentives to encourage victims to participate in the prosecution of traffickers, including protection from punishment for crimes committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking, in practice victims often did not testify in court. Media reports indicate that many trafficking prosecutions were dismissed because victims, many of whom were children, did not appear in court; the government did not take steps to ameliorate this problem. Guyana has not adopted methods of allowing children to testify that ensure their safety, and officials reportedly did not inform victims of court dates nor take them to testify. Intimidation from traffickers increased the likelihood that victims were generally disinclined to cooperate as witnesses in trafficking prosecutions. Guyana’s law provides relief from deportation for foreign victims; the government did not report extending such relief to foreign victims over the past year.
The government made minimal efforts to prevent trafficking. The government’s ministerial taskforce was designated to monitor and assess the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, but it did not report any results. A leading NGO that has played a significant role in rescuing trafficking victims requested to be one of the NGO partners on the ministerial anti-trafficking taskforce; however the taskforce has yet to grant this request despite this organization’s critical role in the protection of victims. The government reportedly provided in-kind support to a UNDP-funded program to raise awareness about human trafficking and provide communities with a government-operated trafficking hotline number. The government did not report how many calls the hotline received. Officials did not report any measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor during the reporting period.