US 2018 TIP report cites low conviction rates, inadequate shelter for victims

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File photo generic: The majority of the women being trafficked are usually for the purposes of sexual exploitation

The newly released U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons 2018 Report has found that although Guyana has maintained the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, it continues to have low successful convictions, while the number of trafficking investigations and new prosecutions has decreased.

Guyana remains on Tier 1 on the TIP Index, where it has been since last year, having implemented the recommendations made in the 2016 report and satisfied the minimum requirements of the United States’ Trafficking Victims Protection Act.

The State Department’s 2018 TIP Report, which was released on Thursday, outlined that Government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts by increasing funding for victim assistance, identifying and assisting more victims for the third consecutive year, and opening and operating a trafficking shelter outside of the capital area.

However, it noted that the number of trafficking investigations and new prosecutions decreased, and the number of successful convictions remained low.

According to the report, while Government maintains law enforcement efforts to combat TIP, only four new trafficking investigations – two for sex trafficking and two for labour trafficking – were launched last year.

Additionally, there were 17 prosecutions, 12 of which were initiated in previous reporting periods; and there were two convictions. This is compared to 19 investigations, 19 prosecutions, and two convictions in 2016.

The report highlighted that a case from the previous reporting period, in which the Government required the trafficker only to pay restitution — a penalty inconsistent with the law and one that the task force appealed — remained pending.

The Report also cited that a total of 131 victims were identified in 2017 (65 for sex trafficking, 35 for labour trafficking, and 31 for both forms), compared with 98 in 2016.

The Government referred 115 victims to shelter and psycho-social services, compared with 40 in 2016. It was noted, too, that the State trained 156 village leaders and 96 Government officials from the interior regions on victim identification and assistance, while also allocating over $40 million to NGO-run shelters.

But despite increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims, the report mentioned, assistance to them remains insufficient, especially in areas outside the capital and for child and male victims.

“The Government opened and operated the first shelter outside of the capital; the new shelter caters exclusively to adult female victims of trafficking. All identified victims received shelter, food, training, and psychological therapy. There were no adequate public or private shelters for male or child trafficking victims, despite the Government’s commitment, made in early 2016, to open and partially fund a shelter for male victims. Child victims were placed into foster care, safe homes, or were reintegrated with their families; while adult male victims were placed at non-specialised night shelters on an ad hoc basis,” the report stated.

To this end, the State Department’s TIP report recommended that Guyana “…fund specialised victim services outside the capital; and for child victims and adult male victims, vigorously investigate and prosecute sex and labour trafficking cases, and hold convicted traffickers, including complicit public officials, accountable by imposing strong sentences… [and] monitor the number of cases reported to the trafficking hotline or by labour inspectors, to promote a rapid investigative and victim assistance response”.

Guyana’s country profile says it is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour in mining, agriculture, forestry, domestic service and shops.

For the past five years, women and children from Guyana, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Suriname, and Venezuela have been subjected to sex trafficking in mining communities in the interior and in urban areas.

Only last week, the Ministerial Task Force on Trafficking In Persons (TIP) revealed that Guyana has recorded 68 cases of alleged TIP already for 2018, of which Latin American nationals are majority of the victims, with Venezuela heading the list.

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