Trinidad and Tobago
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Tier 2 Watch List
Trinidad and Tobago is a destination, transit, and possible source country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Women and girls from the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Venezuela, and Colombia are subjected to sex trafficking in brothels and clubs, with young women from Venezuela especially vulnerable. Economic migrants from the Caribbean region, especially Guyana, and from Asia are vulnerable to forced labor. Victims have been subjected to forced labor in domestic service and the retail sector. Immigration officials note an increase in international criminal organizations’ involvement in trafficking, and NGOs report young boys are coerced to sell drugs and guns. In a break with common practice, some traffickers have recently allowed victims to keep their passports, removing a common indicator of human trafficking in an attempt to avoid detection. Many other traffickers continue to confiscate victims’ passports and travel documents. Economic migrants who lack legal status may be exposed to various forms of exploitation and abuse indicative of trafficking. Trinidad and Tobago experiences a steady flow of vessels transiting its territorial waters, some of which may be engaged in illicit and illegal activities, including forced labor in the fishing industry. Complicity by police and immigration officials in trafficking crimes impeded anti-trafficking efforts. Law enforcement and civil society reported some police and immigration officers facilitated trafficking in the country, with some law enforcement officials directly exploiting victims. Anti-trafficking stakeholders reported some police officers had ties to sex trade establishments, which is likely to inhibit law enforcement’s willingness to investigate allegations of trafficking in the sex trade.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The anti-trafficking unit sustained efforts to identify trafficking victims and refer them to care. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Trinidad and Tobago is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. The government investigated trafficking offenses—including potentially complicit law enforcement and immigration officials—but initiated only one prosecution against a suspected trafficker under its 2011 anti-trafficking law, a significant decrease compared with the 12 prosecutions during the previous reporting period. Immigration and police officers have been implicated in facilitating sex trafficking. The government has yet to convict any individuals under its anti-trafficking law and did not develop a national plan of action as mandated under the law.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO:
Prosecute cases investigated under the 2011 Trafficking in Persons Act and convict and sentence traffickers, including complicit immigration and law enforcement officials; continue to devote adequate resources to the anti-trafficking unit to carry out its mandate in the investigation of trafficking crimes and the identification and protection of victims and ensure those resources are effectively allocated; develop a national action plan to address law enforcement efforts, victim care, and interagency coordination related to trafficking crimes; formalize and widely disseminate procedures to guide all front-line officials in the identification and referral of potential victims, especially among foreign women in prostitution, migrant workers, and children; increase and provide adequate funding to NGOs to care for victims; continue training and outreach to educate officials about the manifestations of trafficking in the country; and implement a national public awareness campaign that addresses all forms of trafficking, including the prostitution of children and forced labor.
The government decreased its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011 prohibits both sex trafficking and forced labor and contains extensive victim protections. It prescribes penalties of 15 years’ to life imprisonment, with fines, for trafficking crimes. The Children Act (2012)—which has yet to enter into force—prescribes penalties of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for subjecting a child to prostitution, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the reporting period, the government’s anti-trafficking unit investigated 35 possible cases of trafficking and confirmed four of the 35 were trafficking, including one forced labor and three sex trafficking cases. The government initiated the prosecution of one suspected sex trafficker under the 2011 anti-trafficking law, a decrease from the initiation of prosecutions against 12 defendants in 2013. The government has yet to convict a trafficker; all prosecutions from previous years remained pending, though one defendant died. The counter-trafficking unit led efforts to investigate sex trafficking and forced labor in the country and included a deputy director, police and immigration officers, a communications director, and a legal advisor; the director resigned in 2014, and the unit was without permanent leadership at the end of the reporting period. The unit trained more than 100 government officials on trafficking indicators and collaborated with authorities in Venezuela to investigate a suspected trafficking ring. In December, the counter-trafficking unit identified a trafficking network in which immigration and police officers were implicated in facilitating the sex trafficking of Venezuelan women by helping to regularize victims’ immigration status and providing protection to the operation. The investigation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses; prosecutions against three law enforcement officials for trafficking remained ongoing.
The government sustained efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government identified and referred eight foreign trafficking victims to care—six sex trafficking and two forced labor victims, seven female and one male victim—compared with nine victims identified in 2013. The counter-trafficking unit partnered with NGOs to provide services to victims. NGOs reported deficiencies in the counter-trafficking unit’s ability to arrange assistance for victims, which they attributed to decreased engagement between the unit and service providers. The counter-trafficking unit spent approximately 1 million Trinidad and Tobago dollars ($157,000) on victim care and protection. It provided funding to NGOs that in turn provided direct care and assistance; however, experts reported the government did not effectively allocate funding and resources to NGOs and other service providers. After an initial security assessment by the government, victims were allowed freedom of movement while staying in NGO-run shelters.
The counter-trafficking unit established standard operating procedures for reporting suspected trafficking cases. Immigration officials reported using the operational guide for victim identification, though procedures remained ad hoc in practice, and limited interagency coordination hindered progress. The government did not punish any identified trafficking victims for crimes committed as a direct result of a trafficking situation; however, unidentified victims were vulnerable to being inadvertently punished or charged with immigration or prostitution violations. Two of the victims identified during the reporting period, both Venezuelan women, were temporarily held in immigration detention after their traffickers released them. The counter-trafficking unit intervened for their release and referred them to care. The government provided three foreign trafficking victims with work and residence permits to remain in the country to assist law enforcement in trafficking investigations, a best practice in victim protection and reintegration. Most foreign victims provided a statement prior to repatriation. Victims that chose to participate in the trial process were afforded witness protection and were able to return to their home countries between court hearings. Some NGOs raised concerns the counter-trafficking unit did not always adhere to best practices in victim assistance. The government partnered with an internal organization and victims’ home governments to ensure safe and responsible repatriation for victims.
The government sustained limited efforts to prevent trafficking. NGOs engaged in anti-trafficking work, however, reported a continued lack of awareness among government stakeholders and the general population. The government established an inter-ministerial national taskforce on trafficking in accordance with the anti-trafficking law. The taskforce convened once during the reporting period and did not develop a draft national plan of action, as mandated under its law. The counter-trafficking unit drafted, but did not release, a public report on government anti-trafficking efforts in 2014. The government did not launch a sufficient country-wide official awareness campaign to educate the public and officials about sex trafficking and forced labor. In March 2015, the counter-trafficking unit launched a toll-free hotline to receive reports of suspected human trafficking cases. The government provided anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Authorities did not report any cases of child sex tourism investigated or prosecuted during the reporting period.