THE BAHAMAS: Tier 1
The Government of The Bahamas fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore, The Bahamas remained on Tier 1. The government demonstrated serious and sustained efforts through strong collaboration across multiple government agencies, facilitating the prosecution of traffickers and protection of victims. The government initiated 11 new labor and sex trafficking investigations, screened 37 potential trafficking victims, identified five victims, and initiated one new prosecution. It also increased funding for victim assistance and expanded procedures to include identification and interviewing guidelines to cover labor trafficking victims. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not obtain any convictions during the reporting period.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE BAHAMAS
Increase efforts to prosecute, convict, and appropriately punish traffickers; continue to implement the victim identification and referral protocol to identify victims of sex and labor trafficking, especially among vulnerable groups; continue to provide all identified victims with adequate protection and assistance; increase grassroots outreach to potential trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, in partnerships with NGOs; strengthen engagement with officials involved in anti-trafficking activities in other countries in the region; and continue to implement a nationwide public awareness campaign to educate the public and officials about human trafficking and its manifestations in The Bahamas, including the distinction between trafficking and smuggling.
The government’s anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts continued at previous levels, but resulted in only 11 new labor and sex trafficking investigations involving 37 potential victims, compared with 12 new investigations involving 53 potential victims in 2015. The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention and Suppression) Act 2008 prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties ranging from three years to life imprisonment and fines; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.
Authorities initiated one new trafficking prosecution compared to three new prosecutions in the previous reporting period, but continued four prosecutions from previous reporting periods. For the second consecutive year, the government did not convict any traffickers. The Magistrate’s Court acquitted three alleged traffickers prosecuted in the previous reporting period, but the government’s appeal of those cases remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government enacted amendments effective March 31, 2017 to the criminal procedure code and the 2008 law to allow prosecutors the option to prosecute trafficking cases directly before the Supreme Court without the necessity of going first to a lower Magistrate’s Court; and created a new offense that criminalizes the organizing, engagement in, or directing another to engage in, trafficking in persons. The amendment to the criminal procedure code will address the January 2016 Privy Council’s finding that trafficking cases, under then-existing legislation, could not be brought, in the first instance, in the Supreme Court, where potential penalties are greater. This prior decision had invalidated, on procedural grounds, the 2014 Supreme Court conviction of a defendant for trafficking and withholding of a victim’s documents. Government officials funded and delivered training to 270 police, investigators, prosecutors, judges, health professionals, and other officials on the Bahamian anti-trafficking law, trafficking indicators, victim referral and assistance, and trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and shared best practices on multi-disciplinary response to trafficking with regional colleagues.
The government increased efforts to protect victims. Authorities continued to implement a formal victim-centered protocol to guide front-line responders in identifying trafficking victims and referring them to services. The government worked with an outside consultant to develop guidelines for identifying and interviewing labor trafficking victims and for providing medical and mental services. The national trafficking commission funded and trained member agencies and ministries in their roles in identifying and protecting victims and making referrals. During the reporting period, the government screened 37 potential trafficking victims and identified five victims—three sex trafficking victims, one labor and sex trafficking victim, and one labor trafficking victim. The government screened 35 foreign nationals from seven foreign countries for trafficking indicators, resulting in the identification of three foreign national victims. Five of the victims received some form of assistance, including housing, medical, psychological, educational, legal, immigration, translation, and reintegration assistance.
The government reported spending approximately 59,450 Bahamian dollars ($59,450) on trafficking victims’ care, compared to 42,000 Bahamian dollars ($42,000) in the previous period. The government also provided subsidies of 180,000 Bahamian dollars ($180,000) to NGOs that provide services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups. The government granted one foreign victim relief from deportation. The government developed, but has not finalized, a refugee/asylee certificate for those in need of protection and legal residency in the country. Authorities encouraged trafficking victims to assist in prosecutions by providing lodging, food, a stipend, clothing and other basic necessities, medical assistance and psychological counseling, immigration relief, legal assistance, support during court proceedings, and witness protection, which may include police protection as needed. Bahamian law permits victim testimony via live television links and for the reading of written statements into evidence. Despite these protections, the government noted foreign victims were reluctant to testify largely out of fear of reprisal against them or their family in their home countries. In addition, the criminal procedure code allowed trafficking victims to submit statements to the court to inform judges of the harm inflicted by their traffickers prior to sentencing of convicted traffickers. The 2008 anti-trafficking act provides victims with immunity from prosecution for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, which the government effectively implemented for the confirmed trafficking victims during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking act also authorizes the court to order convicted defendants to pay restitution to victims; however, such restitution was not ordered in 2016.
The government increased prevention efforts, taking steps to inform the public and potential victims about trafficking. The government’s inter-ministerial committee to coordinate anti-trafficking policy met regularly, as did the government’s anti-trafficking taskforce, which was charged with ensuring operational coordination on trafficking cases. The government continued to conduct a nationwide public awareness campaign to educate students, vulnerable populations, faith communities, the public, and government officials about human trafficking through the use of pamphlets in English and Creole to inform potential victims of their rights and available resources, public service announcements on television and radio throughout the country, and a museum exhibit. The government partnered with NGOs to implement its 2014-2018 national anti-trafficking strategy and detailed action plan that outlined efforts related to government infrastructure, prevention, victim and witness protection, investigation and prosecution, and partnerships. The government dedicated resources to implement the plan, but noted that the officials responsible for trafficking matters also have other areas of responsibilities and are, therefore, not solely dedicated to trafficking cases. NGOs reported the government partnered to engage vulnerable communities in more than ten community outreach sessions to discuss trafficking. The Bahamas actively participated in the Caribbean Trafficking in Persons working group with Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, St. Lucia, and Antigua and Barbuda by developing a shared social media campaign to raise awareness about trafficking in the region.
The government formalized its policy in the Department of Labor’s 2017-2019 Strategic Plan to raise awareness and advise foreign nationals of their labor rights, limits on recruitment fees, and prohibition against document retention, in addition to the current practice of sending letters to foreign nationals with work permits, which explain the definition of trafficking and advise employers of the prohibition against document retention. The Department of Labor raised awareness in the business community, distributed pamphlets about labor trafficking and workers’ rights, advised potential job seekers about potential fraud in the cruise ship industry, screened for indicators of trafficking when inspecting work sites, and identified a foreign national as a labor trafficking victim during the reporting period. The government provided anti-trafficking training for immigration and labor officials, and its diplomatic personnel, including a rotation in the legal affairs office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration where officials participate in inter-ministerial anti-trafficking committee meetings. The government distributed trafficking awareness-raising materials in consular reception areas. The government conducted awareness efforts targeted at potential clients of the sex trade, closed some sex trade establishments, and conducted random inspections of businesses, including strip clubs and bars, to identify and hold accountable owners of such establishments. Authorities did not consider child sex tourism to be a problem in The Bahamas and reported no child sex tourism investigations, although it developed a special pamphlet on child trafficking, trained tourism officials, and placed anti-trafficking pamphlets in tourism information booths. The government has developed general standard operating procedures for victim identification, protection and referral, and specific procedures for data collection and victim care, including referrals for medical or mental health care, and terms of reference for research, and case management.
As reported over the past five years, The Bahamas is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children from other Caribbean countries, South and Central America, and Asia subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor, including in domestic servitude and in sectors with low-skilled laborers. Vulnerable populations include migrant workers—especially from Haiti, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, and the Philippines—who arrive voluntarily to work as domestic employees and laborers, but may be recruited or deceived by traffickers who lure victims with fraudulent recruitment practices, such as false promises of employment through advertisements in foreign newspapers. Children born in The Bahamas to foreign-born parents who do not automatically receive Bahamian citizenship, and individuals involved in prostitution and exotic dancing may also be vulnerable. Traffickers previously confiscated victims’ passports, but currently often allow victims to retain their documents in case they are questioned by law enforcement.