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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. These efforts included 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 course into the training curriculum of the Immigration Department. 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.

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and appropriately punish traffickers, including officials complicit in sex or labor trafficking. • Implement robustly the victim identification and referral protocol to identify victims of sex and labor trafficking, especially among vulnerable groups, including Haitians, Venezuelans, and other migrants. • Provide vulnerable individuals with assistance prior to, during, and after screening for trafficking. • Provide language and cultural interpretation in screening and trauma-informed protective services for vulnerable populations, particularly in lesser known languages such as Creole and Spanish. • Increase victim-centered training for prosecutors, judges, and police on the Trafficking in Persons Act and collecting corroborative evidence to support victim testimony. • Increase grassroots outreach to potential trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, in partnership with non-governmental organizations (NGOs). • Strengthen engagement with officials involved in anti-trafficking activities in other countries in the region.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention and Suppression) Act 2008 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from three years to life imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, and with regard to sex trafficking, 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 trafficking offenses; however, outside reports of official involvement in protecting sex trafficking rings and corruption within the Immigration Department remained a concern, as these 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. The lack of judges and prosecutors in the country contributed to significant backlogs in all cases and the government did not report whether all judges, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials received training on the Trafficking in Persons Act. Authorities initiated two new investigations, both for sex trafficking, the lowest number of investigations in the past six years; authorities initiated between 11 and 15 investigations annually in the preceding six years. Authorities initiated one prosecution for sex trafficking, compared to two in 2017. The government convicted one trafficker with a sentence of 12 years’ imprisonment, compared to one conviction in 2017 with a sentence of 21 years’ imprisonment. The conviction was a result of cooperation with the government of Jamaica. The government reported that one pending prosecution is still under investigation and the second pending prosecution is scheduled to go to court in January 2020. Government officials instituted trafficking training in the curriculum for all new immigration officers and trained 118 immigration and customs officials during the reporting period.

The government maintained efforts to protect victims. Authorities continued to implement a formal victim-centered protocol to guide front-line responders in identifying both sex and labor trafficking victims and referring them to services. However, concerns remained on the thoroughness of their application when dealing with vulnerable populations, such as migrants. 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 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 adult females, one from The Bahamas, and the other from Venezuela. The National Trafficking Committee referred both victims to a care facility and a social worker. Another potential victim self-identified as a trafficking victim when brought to court on visa overstay charges; the trafficking task force, immigration and police authorities investigated her and others involved in her case, determined it was not a trafficking case and subsequently deported her. The government reported it determined which potential trafficking victims to formally screen for trafficking based on referrals from initial screenings by non-governmental and faith based organizations, businesses, and other ministries, although these organizations may be implicated in trafficking. Experts reported authorities did not use formal protocols to screen all migrants, both those residing in country and others upon arrival, for trafficking or to protect those identified as victims. The increasing influx of migrants, inconsistent training of staff, and lack of implementation of identification protocols in migrant languages raised concerns that authorities penalized potential trafficking victims. Experts reported authorities rapidly and routinely detained and deported irregular Haitian migrants without screening for trafficking.

The government reported spending 125,710 Bahamian dollars ($125,710) on trafficking victims’ care and prevention activities, an increase from 82,060 Bahamian dollars ($82,060) in 2017. The government also provided 240,000 Bahamian dollars ($240,000, the same as 2017) to four NGOs that provide services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups. Authorities encouraged identified trafficking victims to assist in prosecutions by providing them with lodging, food, a stipend, clothing, medical assistance and psychological counseling, immigration relief, legal and transportation assistance, support during court proceedings, and witness protection, including a constant presence of police or Royal Bahamian Defense Force as escort or protection outside shelters. There was no dedicated shelter for trafficking victims and authorities placed victims in NGO-managed shelters shared with domestic violence victims. Care could be provided to all victims, although no male victims were identified during the reporting period. Initially, the committee provided short-term lodging and later long-term lodging. Victims did not have a choice in shelter options, but they could choose to reside independently elsewhere, although the government did not report providing lodging assistance in such cases. Government assistance was not contingent upon cooperation by victims. Bahamian law permitted victim testimony via live television links and for the reading of written statements into evidence; however, in 2016, a magistrate acquitted three traffickers in part because the victims could not be cross-examined. One of the identified victims during the reporting period assisted with the investigation and prosecution of her cases while the other left the country. The anti-trafficking act authorized the court to order convicted defendants to pay restitution to victims; however, courts did not order such restitution in the past four years.

The government increased prevention efforts overall. The National Trafficking Committee coordinated government efforts. Starting in 2018, the Prime Minister met with the Committee quarterly and cleared all of its policies. The government approved a new national action plan from 2019 to 2023 and increased overall funding for anti-trafficking activities. Outside experts noted the government conducted insufficient outreach to vulnerable populations, such as the Haitian community. The government conducted assessments of its anti-trafficking efforts but did not make them public. The government and an NGO administered a survey to 130 students assessing their understanding of trafficking at 29 schools. The Department of Labor and an NGO delivered awareness campaigns explaining indicators of trafficking in more outer islands most affected by trafficking and in Creole to Haitian migrant communities. The Department of Public Health, together with the Committee, delivered awareness training to 153 health professionals and student nurses.

The Department of Labor 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 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.

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. 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.

U.S. Department of State

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