Bahamas once again meets standards for elimination of human trafficking

Reports points to reports of corruption within Department of Immigration

The Bahamas fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, according to the U.S. Department of State’s 2019 Trafficking in Persons Report, as the country counties to demonstrate “serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period”.

This marks the fifth consecutive year that The Bahamas has held its tier one ranking.

The report, published today, notes that these efforts include passing a national action plan’ increasing funding for victim assistance and anti-trafficking prevention; elevating national anti-trafficking planning to the Office of the Prime Minister; and instituting an anti-trafficking court into the training curriculum of the Department of Immigration.

The U.S. Department of State said although the government meets the minimum standards, authorities initiated significantly fewer investigations and inconsistently applied screening procedures to vulnerable populations.

“Credible allegations of corruption raised concerns about vulnerabilities of potential trafficking victims during the reporting period,” the report said.

The department recommended that the government increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict and appropriately punish traffickers, including officials complicit in sex or labor trafficking.

It also called for the implementation of a victim identification and referral protocol to identify victims of sex and labor trafficking, especially among vulnerable group such as Haitians, Venezuelans, among other migrants.

The report noted that the while country did not report any investigations, prosecutions or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses, outside reports of official involvement in protecting sex trafficking rings and corruption within the Department of Immigration Department remain a concern.

It said this created “vulnerabilities for potential trafficking victims and reduced victims’ willingness to self-identify to or assist law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers”.

It also said that the lack of judges and prosecutors in the country contributed to significant backlogs in all cases.

The report said while the government increased prevention efforts overall and the government approved a new national action plan from 2019 to 2023, as well as increased funding for anti-trafficking activities, outside experts noted that the government conducted insufficient outreach to vulnerable groups in The Bahamas, namely the Haitian community.

It also said that although the government conducted assessments of its anti-trafficking efforts, it did not make the results public.

According to the department, the government and a non-governmental organization conducted a survey involving 130 students and assessed their understanding of trafficking at 29 schools.

The Department of Labour and the NGO conducted awareness campaigns, explaining indications of trafficking in more outer islands most affected and in Haitian communities.

“The Department of Labour did not continue past practices of distributing pamphlets or letters about labor trafficking and workers’ rights to foreign nationals with work permits and advising employers of the prohibition against document retention,” the report said.

“The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.

“In February 2019, the government launched a new trafficking hotline with one staff member and purchased a vehicle to promote the hotline in vulnerable communities.”

The report noted that The Bahamas’ prescribed penalties for human trafficking, sex trafficking was sufficient and commensurate with penalties for serious crimes such as rape.

The Bahamas on average prosecuted 11 to 15 cases of sex trafficking in the last six years.

However, during the reporting period the government initiated two investigations.

A 21-year-old Jamaican woman was sentenced to three years in the Department of Correctional Services for human trafficking after it was found that had lured a compatriot to The Bahamas under the guise of a job opportunity, and others forced the woman into prostitution.

During the reporting period, the government identified two victims of sex trafficking out of 28 individuals screened in 2018, compared to five identified victims out of 37 individuals screened in 2017.

The identified victims were women, one from The Bahamas, and the other from Venezuela.

“As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in The Bahamas and traffickers exploit victims from The Bahamas abroad,” read the report.

“Traffickers recruit migrant workers, especially those from Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, China, Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, the Philippines, and the United States through false offers of employment, such as through advertisements in foreign newspapers; upon arrival, traffickers subject them to sex trafficking and forced labor, including in domestic service and in sectors with low-skilled labor.

“Children born outside The Bahamas to female citizens or in The Bahamas to foreign-born parents who do not automatically receive Bahamian citizenship are at heightened risk of trafficking. Individuals lured for employment and those involved in prostitution and exotic dancing and illegal migrants are particularly vulnerable to trafficking.”