The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has expressed concern that Guyana’s heavy reliance on its extractive and timber industries might generate violations of children’s rights, and have found that 50 per cent of trafficked persons in the country are children under the age of 18.
In a recent released Report, UNICEF highlighted that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have articulated this concern, especially relating the impact of these businesses on the living conditions of children and their families in the regions directly affected, along with issues related to child protection such as child abuse, child labour, and child trafficking, among others.
Guyana is considered by the US Department of State as a Tier 2 Watch List Country – that is, it does not fully comply with the United Sates 2000 Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) minimum standards, but is making significant efforts to comply.
According to UNICEF, Guyana is a source and destination for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.
Worldwide the number of persons and children as victims of human trafficking are difficult to monitor, so many cases are underreported. So far, the Ministry of Labour, Human Services, and Social Security reported 80 suspected cases, and 179 confirmed victims of human trafficking between 2013 and 2015. Out of that number, 91 per cent of the victims were women and among the victims, 50 per cent were children under the age of 18, with some as young as 11 and 13.
The report stated that human trafficking in Guyana is partially connected to the extractive industries that move a significant part of the country’s GDP. It stated that while communities can benefit from such industries by using these natural resources for sustainable development, the naked truth is that mining, drilling, and quarrying activities often occur in relatively remote areas with minimal infrastructure and limited rule of law, leading to development of makeshift communities, such as mining “boom towns,” that are vulnerable to crime.
“There are evidence of sex trafficking near gold mines in Guyana, as well as in the mines near the borders of Brazil, Suriname and Venezuela,” the Report said, adding that children are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labour, mainly due to limited government presence, and the unethical activities involving some police officers.
In the same line, Guyanese nationals are subjected to sex and labour trafficking in Suriname, Jamaica, and other countries in the Caribbean, the US Department of State 2015 Country Report said.
Meanwhile, UNICEF stated that although child trafficking is a concern, it is not yet seen as being the consequence of organise criminal groups in the country. “For most of those involved in fighting the problem, it happens through referrals and invitations,” it noted, highlighting that child trafficking is fuelled by a myriad of underlying and structural causes that involve cultural attitudes, disintegration of the family structure, lack of parents’ knowledge on the schemes used by traffickers, lack of work opportunities, and lack of adequate law enforcement, legal protection, prosecution or sanction, among other causes.
On the background of all these causes, it added, is the financial situation of individuals and families – it is common understanding among stakeholders in Guyana that child and adult human trafficking is entrenched and self-enforced by poverty.
On the other hand, while girls are the main victims of trafficking, UNICEF stated that qualitative information collected in Guyana reveal that boys are also sent by their families to work in illegal mining areas, logging, or on farms. (Reprinted: Guyana Times)