Trinidad and Tobago
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Tier 2 Watch List
Trinidad and Tobago is a destination, transit, and 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, often lured by offers of legitimate employment, with young women from Venezuela especially vulnerable. NGOs noted the availability of children for commercial sex through classified ads and that children are subjected to trafficking for commercial sex by Trinbagonians and foreign sex tourists. Economic migrants from the Caribbean region, especially Guyana, and from Asia, in particular those lacking legal status, are vulnerable 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. New brothels continue to open across the country, particularly in the east where they are incorporated into small bars and rum shops and are difficult to detect; NGO and police sources note that both prostitution and trafficking are historically dependent on police corruption. Law enforcement and civil society organizations reported some police and immigration officers facilitate trafficking and some law enforcement officials exploit sex trafficking victims.
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. 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 for the second consecutive year. Following the election of a new government in September 2015, the government demonstrated renewed political will to combat human trafficking. The government increased funding for its anti-trafficking unit, which sustained efforts to identify trafficking victims and refer them to care. The government also increased training for law enforcement, conducted public awareness activities, and adopted a national plan of action as mandated under the law. The government reported one new investigation of a complicit official. It acknowledged a larger complicity problem, but has not held anyone criminally accountable, thus it has not effectively addressed the rampant complicity problem. The government has never convicted an individual under its anti-trafficking law, including officials complicit in trafficking.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO:
Investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit immigration and law enforcement officials; develop specialized services for victims in collaboration with NGOs, and ensure adequate funding for robust services; implement procedures to guide front-line officials in the identification and referral of potential sex and labor trafficking victims, especially among foreign women in prostitution, migrant workers, and children; train law enforcement and prosecutors in proactively identifying, obtaining, preserving, and corroborating evidence to reduce dependence on victim testimony; further expand training and outreach to educate officials about the manifestations of trafficking in the country to aid in the effective investigation of sex and labor cases and prosecution and conviction of traffickers; raise public awareness, especially among the migrant population, about forced labor; and continue implementing the national action plan.
The government made modest law enforcement efforts; official complicity continued to undermine government efforts. The Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011 prohibits both sex trafficking and forced labor and prescribes penalties of 15 years to life imprisonment and fines. The Children Act (2012), which entered into force in May 2015, prescribes penalties of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for subjecting a child to prostitution. These 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 53 possible cases of trafficking, at least one of which was for labor trafficking, compared with 35 cases in 2014. The government initiated the prosecution of five accused traffickers under the anti-trafficking law, compared with one in 2014 and 12 in 2013. The government also charged one suspected trafficker in its first child sex trafficking case. Prosecutions from previous reporting periods involving 10 suspected traffickers were ongoing. The government has yet to convict a trafficker. Inefficiencies in the judicial system resulted in a significant backlog of cases. The interagency counter-trafficking unit within the national security ministry led efforts to investigate sex trafficking and forced labor and provide victim services, but suffered from institutional challenges. Its staff of police and immigration officers reported to their respective agencies and not to the head of the unit. The unit lacked permanent leadership throughout the reporting period. The government assigned four additional personnel to the unit during the reporting period, bringing the total to 10 law enforcement and two immigration officers, and increased the unit’s budget to eight million Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TTD) ($1.25 million) for fiscal years (FY) 2015-2016 from five million TTD ($780,800) for FY 2014-2015.
The national security ministry reported that law enforcement and immigration officials were complicit in trafficking crimes. The government reported one new investigation of a police officer complicit in sex trafficking; the 2013 prosecution of a law enforcement official for the sex trafficking of three Colombian nationals remained ongoing. Some government officials report that law enforcement and immigration officials received bribes in exchange for protection and sabotaging police investigations. A national security ministry source said one police station routinely sent new recruits to purchase commercial sex from a local brothel. In a separate case, an NGO reported that police frequented a brothel to procure commercial sex, including from potential trafficking victims, and brothel owners intimidated victims by claiming friendship with police officials. In 2015, the government reported no evidence of official complicity in a case from December 2014, reportedly involving a trafficking network in which immigration and police officers were supposedly involved in facilitating the sex trafficking of Venezuelan women. The counter-trafficking unit conducted anti-trafficking training for more than 100 police officers, with assistance from an international organization, and provided funding for 40 government officials and law enforcement to participate in a two-week advanced human trafficking law enforcement training course. The government collaborated with authorities in Venezuela to investigate suspected trafficking cases. During the reporting period, the labor ministry provided targeted training to 18 labor inspectors to help them identify possible cases of human trafficking. The government has sought assistance from and collaborated with the U.S. embassy on combating trafficking.
The government sustained efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government identified and referred six trafficking victims to care—five Venezuelan adult female victims and one Trinbagonian minor female victim of sex trafficking—compared with eight in 2014. The counter-trafficking unit partnered with NGOs and public hospitals to provide basic services to victims, including medical care and counseling; no specialized services exist. Domestic violence shelters, which received some government funding, provided accommodation to adult female trafficking victims. In the case of men and children, the government provided shelter mainly by securing private safe houses. Other government-funded victim care services available included food, medical assistance, translation services, psychological counseling, legal services, and arranging contact with families; at least two victims received legal services during the reporting period. NGOs reported deficiencies in the counter-trafficking unit’s ability to arrange assistance for victims, which they attributed to poor but improving coordination between the unit and service providers. The counter-trafficking unit spent approximately one million TTD ($156,200) on victim care and protection, the same amount spent in 2014. It provided some funding to NGOs that in turn provided direct care and assistance; however, there were questions by NGOs about whether the funding was sufficient. Victims housed in NGO-run shelters were allowed freedom of movement after an initial security assessment by the government; victims housed in alternative accommodations were under constant watch by unit officers.
The counter-trafficking unit developed a screening form to identify victims and new procedures to guide front-line officials in the identification and referral of potential victims, which it disseminated to law enforcement. The referral process remained ad hoc in practice. 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. The government provided five Venezuelan trafficking victims with work and residence permits to remain in the country to assist law enforcement in trafficking investigations. Most foreign victims provided a statement to aid in prosecution prior to repatriation. The government afforded witness protection to victims that chose to participate in the trial process and allowed them to return to their home countries between court hearings. The government partnered with an international organization and victims’ home governments to ensure safe repatriation.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The inter-ministerial national taskforce on trafficking met three times during the reporting period. The taskforce approved a national plan of action. The counter-trafficking unit engaged more than 50 government and NGO stakeholders for three days in a national threat assessment, and presented the findings to the taskforce, but had no plans to make the assessment public. The national security minister presented the counter-trafficking unit’s mandated annual report on the government’s 2014 anti-trafficking efforts to Parliament in November 2015. The trafficking unit launched a two-month country-wide official awareness campaign via public service announcements on local television and radio stations to educate the public and publicize the toll-free hotline through which individuals can report suspected human trafficking cases. The government also provided a small amount of funding toward a six-month NGO-run child trafficking awareness campaign that displayed prevention messages on billboards. The trafficking unit held awareness events at youth camps and universities, and provided financial support to assist in the production of two films seeking to raise awareness of trafficking. These activities contributed to an increased number of calls to the hotline, from five per month to five per week, and to creating greater public discourse on the issue. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and for forced labor during the reporting period. Authorities did not report any cases of child sex tourism investigated or prosecuted during the reporting period.