J’ca stays at Tier 2 of US State Dept’s Trafficking in Persons Report

The content originally appeared on: Jamaica News Loop News

Jamaica has remained at the Tier 2 level of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report for 2024, ostensibly because the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

However, in its nearly 5,000-word report on Jamaica, the State Department noted that the GOJ is “making significant efforts to do so”.

“The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period; therefore, Jamaica remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying and assisting significantly more victims, including more adult, male, and foreign victims. The government initiated more investigations and prosecutions of suspected traffickers and made progress in institutionalising training for criminal justice officials and victim service providers,” the report said.

It added that the GOJ increased funding dedicated to victim services and opened six additional child-friendly spaces for interviewing and providing immediate assistance to child victims. The report highlighted that the GOJ did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.

These include in part:

– The authorities prosecuted offenders under other laws with lesser penalties and offenders received insufficient punishments that did not involve significant terms of imprisonment.

– GOJ decreased funding to the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons (NATFATIP) and it did not approve a draft national policy to combat trafficking, drafted during the previous reporting period.

– GOJ failed to endorse a prevalence research study completed during the reporting period, undermining efforts to build knowledge and awareness of the nature and scope of trafficking in Jamaica.Among the State Department’s “prioritised recommendations” for Jamaica are:

– Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute traffickers, including officials who are complicit in human trafficking and foreign nationals or Jamaicans who exploit child sex trafficking victims.-Seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.

– Fully implement the screening tools and National Referral Mechanism to increase proactive identification and referral of potential trafficking victims among vulnerable groups including Cuban government-affiliated workers in Jamaica and children apprehended for gang-related activity.

In the area of prosecution, the GOJ was said to have “maintained efforts to investigate and prosecute suspected trafficking crimes, but did not impose adequate penalties on convicted offenders”.

“The government criminalised sex trafficking and labour trafficking through its Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression, and Punishment) Act. The law prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and up to 30 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim.

“These penalties were sufficiently stringent; however, concerning sex trafficking, by prescribing a lower maximum imprisonment term, these penalties were not commensurate with those for other grave crimes, such as rape. ONRTIP has recommended legal amendments to define forced criminal activity more clearly as a form of trafficking to strengthen the tools available to criminal justice officials seeking justice for victims of these crimes,” the report said.

During the reporting period, officials opened investigations into 61 cases, 48 involving sex trafficking, six involving labour trafficking, and seven involving unspecified forms of trafficking; this was comparable to the previous reporting period, when officials opened investigations into 60 cases (55 involving sex trafficking and five involving labour trafficking).

Authorities initiated prosecutions of eight suspects (six charged with sex trafficking and two charged with labour trafficking). This was similar to the previous reporting period, when authorities initiated prosecutions of seven suspects (five charged with sex trafficking and two with labour trafficking).

“Courts sentenced one convicted offender to serve six months in prison or pay a fine of J$200,000 (US$1,300) and two convicted offenders each to serve six months in prison or pay a fine of J$100,000 (US$650). These penalties were inadequate compared to the seriousness of the offences and insufficient to deter other offenders,” the State Department report said.

It said that by way of comparison, during the previous reporting period, courts convicted one sex trafficker and two labor traffickers under the anti-trafficking law, with sentences ranging from either three years in prison or a fine of J$1 million (US$6,490) to 15 years’ imprisonment.