Mon | Dec 10, 2018

Benyamin Cooke | Slavery still exists in Jamaica

Published:Sunday | September 23, 2018 | 12:00 AM

The People's National Party Youth Organization (PNPYO) notes with grave concern that Jamaica has maintained a Tier Two status on the United States Department Trafficking in Persons Report, which means that the country has not fully met "the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking." However, we acknowledge that there exist efforts of a few groups on the island that are struggling to grapple with the issue.

Beneath the glossy images of an island paradise, a gloomy and maleficent culture lurks under a dim light - a light so dim that one might even say the darkness overpowers it because of the non-compliance, negligence or sheer ignorance of some state officials and the general populace. While it is important to note that efforts are being made, one cannot help but wonder if those are enough.

The island state became signatory to the protocol to prevent, suppress and punish trafficking in persons, especially women and children in 2000 and further ratified this protocol in 2003. Article 5 requires states to criminalise human trafficking in accordance with their own domestic laws. Jamaica has done this with the Trafficking in Persons Act, last amended at the start of this year. The most notable of the 30 amendments is the ability of a judge to sentence without a jury. While this legislation exists, we must, as a society, be vigilant and take a stance against all forms of exploitation, sexual and otherwise, of our citizens.

 

Sending the Wrong Message

 

As noted by the US State Department's 2017 Report, "sentencing for aggravated trafficking can go up to 30 years' imprisonment. Furthermore, a fine, in lieu of punishment, is not commensurate with those for other serious crimes such as rape", where any person guilty of the offence is liable, upon conviction, for a term of imprisonment for life or a term deemed appropriate by the court that may be no less than 15 years.

It appears as though a person convicted of human trafficking in Jamaica may escape doing any sort of prison time that sends the wrong message to the nation and our international counterparts. What redeems this is that the crime often includes rape, and once convicted, the offender will have to do prison time on that charge. We are of the view that a crime that deprives a person of their liberty and personhood should carry some sort of mandatory sentence.

For the fiscal year 2016-2017, J$32.5 million was allocated by the Government for anti-trafficking. The Government trained various members of the justice system to deal with trafficking and has maintained a 100 per cent conviction rate of all those charged with human trafficking. Despite this, we have failed to publish a standard victim protection protocol which would establish operational guidelines for the detection, identification, support and protection of victims of human trafficking and also to publish an annual report monitoring our efforts. It is against this background that the PNPYO recommends the following:

1. The continued and improved public education of our citizens, which is critical in removing the shroud of secrecy surrounding such gruesome acts.

Jamaica could learn from Australia, which has special teams that investigate occurrences of human trafficking, and provide victim support and rehabilitation programmes. To achieve widespread public awareness, the State leads various campaigns, which include the use of social media.

Additionally, we suggest the creation of advocacy groups in high schools and at the tertiary level that can assist in promoting awareness. These groups need not be political but can be created and managed through existing agencies, for example, the National Youth Service. Youth constitute the most at-risk group. As the primary victims, the solution must include strategic and sustained engagement.

2. Implementation of a National Action Plan to vigorously prosecute sex traffickers and support victims. Like Canada, the Government of Jamaica would be better served by introducing an action plan, divided into four categories called the 4Ps: partnership, prevention, prosecution, and protection. Included in the plan are action items with measurable goals. The plan encompasses support for victims, the increase of law enforcement across the country, and the consolidation of existing anti-human-trafficking efforts. The plan also outlines novel initiatives to more effectively prosecute perpetrators, identify and protect their victims, prevent further crimes, and engage in international partnership.

 

Rehabilitation Process

 

Conversely, though no victim will ever forget their experience, the experience can be overcome so that the victims can move on without having to think about it each day. Rehabilitation is not an event; it's more a process that will take some time. Once a victim has been identified and secured, they should immediately be brought to a shelter provided by NGOs or the host-country, to begin the process of rehabilitation.

With our beautiful hotels and resorts, Jamaica is an ideal destination for adults and children that may be subjected to human trafficking. In Jamaica, trafficking occurs in almost all spaces. Currently, Jamaica has no real framework to assist with fighting this scourge. There is no plan for protection or any real outlets provided for victims. If we want to eradicate this from our culture, we must implement strategies as our friends in Canada have done.

This four-step plan will not only help victims but will help the Government tackle this issue. Also, with an increasing amount of trafficking on social-media platforms, having a social-media campaign would also assist us greatly.

- Benyamin Cooke is vice-president of the PNPYO. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and benyamincooke@yahoo.com.