#minorsextrafficking | 484 complaints but zero convictions


FILE PHOTO: Hundreds of Venezuelans wait to collect registration cards at the Ministry of National Security, Richmond Street, Port of Spain last September. – SUREASH CHOLAI

IN just six years, the police received 484 complaints of sexual exploitation of immigrants but, to date, not one alleged offender has ever been convicted, said a report by a parliamentary committee.

The 18th Report of the Joint Select Committee (JSC) on Human Rights on the treatment of migrants in education, work and protection from sexual exploitation was laid in the House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The report lamented the low rate of prosecution of cases of sexual exploitation in 2013-2019. “Out of 484 reports received there were 57 charges and zero convictions.”

This lack of convictions was partly blamed on victims being often unwilling or unable to wait years for the completion of the court case.

The report also deplored a recent upsurge in the number of child migrant victims of sexual exploitation from 2018 to 2020.

An appendix said the cases included a teacher of unstated nationality sexually touching a Venezuelan infant, six reports of Venezuelan teenage girls pregnant for Venezuelan men, four teenage girls being trafficked and a 17-year-old Venezuelan girl living with a 33-year-old man of unstated nationality.

Businesses most likely to facilitate sexual or labour exploitation were bars, restaurants, roadside food carts, brothels, security firms, construction sites, plus modelling, spa and casino industries.

The JSC urged the Labour Inspectorate Unit and Counter Trafficking Unit to carry out routine and surprise visits to “establishments of interest” running those types of business.

“The committee recommends that the TT Police Service (TTPS) adopt a more tailored approach to sensitising migrants about sexual exploitation and the various means of assistance that is available to them.”

The JSC urged the TTPS to work with certified translators and/or embassy staff to craft simple social media campaigns to target various migrant communities (Spanish, Chinese, Indian, African and regional) and work with the Living Waters Community (LWC) and UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) whose clients can be sensitised.

The report said police data for 2018-2020 had found four migrant children age 14-17 as potential victims of human trafficking. The report spelt out the harsh realities of victims.

“The TTPS advised that victims of trafficking were often threatened, forced, lured, coerced and deceived into sexual exploitation.

“Migrants, especially migrants with an irregular status, represented a very vulnerable population for varying reasons. This included poverty, unemployment, an absence of identification documents, irregular entry, single parenthood and the need for medicine or medical treatment.”

Vulnerable people may agree to engage in illegal acts constituting sexual exploitation.

“Sexual exploitation could also encompass circumstances of ‘debt bondage’ in which victims participate in illicit acts due to the perception of a lack of choice on the part of the victim. Therefore, it was possible for individuals engaged in prostitution to also be victims of sexual exploitation.

“The LWC also noted that reports of migrants being smuggled into TT and forced to work in bars and brothels engaged in sex work as a form of ‘debt bondage’ were received.

“Similarly, reports of minors engaged in sex work and other types of jobs which exposed them to frequent exploitation were existent.”

The report lamented cases of people being “forced to have sex for work and/or accommodation.”

Many victims do not speak out as they are afraid of deportation or of threats by their exploiters to them or their families back home, and sometimes lack English language skills, it added.

Among the barriers faced by the Ministry of National Security to prosecute cases of sexual exploitation of migrants were complicit law enforcement officials who impede investigations into sex trafficking. The report said the Strategic Services Agency (SSA) helps to weed out corrupt public officials who provide documents to facilitate illegal immigrants. It hailed the greater monitoring of suspect nightclubs and an increased collaboration among law enforcement agencies to detect and deter human trafficking.

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