TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Tier 2

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Trinidad and Tobago remained on Tier 2. These efforts included increasing anti-trafficking training for its officials, initiating investigations against three potentially complicit officials, initiating more prosecutions, establishing a new intelligence task force to improve investigations, and developing a new memorandum of understanding between its children’s authority and anti-trafficking unit to better protect child victims. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government had yet to secure a conviction under its 2011 anti-trafficking law. Public officials, media, and experts noted increasing reports of potential government complicity in trafficking cases, with insufficient government attention to the issue. Due to a lack of screening, the government penalized some trafficking victims, including children, for immigration offenses as a result of the trafficking crime. It did not adequately screen migrants, asylum-seekers, or refugees for trafficking indicators, including among Venezuelans. The government decreased the amount of funding for victim services and did not provide adequate victim care in some cases.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials. • Increase proactive victim identification and screening among migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees. • Ensure trafficking victims are adequately screened so that they are not penalized for crimes that occurred during their exploitation. • Provide adequate funding for robust trafficking investigations and victim services, including accommodations. • Improve cooperation between the Counter Trafficking Unit, prosecutors, and NGOs to increase the number of cases that proceed to trial. • Increase funding and services for language interpreters available to law enforcement and victim care. • Provide specialized care to child trafficking victims. • Strengthen oversight and regulation of private labor recruitment agencies and domestic workers. • Increase training on trafficking for NGOs and shelter staff to improve their ability to identify and care for potential trafficking victims. • Increase the ability to accept victim video testimony in court proceedings. • Consider increasing NGO representation to the anti-trafficking task force. • Begin drafting a national action plan for the period beyond 2020.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. The Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of no less than 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of no less than 500,000 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TTD) ($73,860) for offenses involving an adult victim, and no less than 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of no less than 1 million TTD ($147,710) for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government’s anti-trafficking unit investigated 39 possible cases of trafficking, compared with 38 cases in 2017. The government initiated four prosecutions under the anti-trafficking law (compared with two in 2017 and five in 2016). The government reported no convictions for trafficking during the reporting period and had not yet convicted a trafficker under its 2011 anti-trafficking law. The government’s new intelligence-led task force, established in the Ministry of the Attorney General and Legal Affairs, increased intelligence collection relating to trafficking, which led to seven investigations, as well as the identification and continued monitoring of additional suspicious establishments. The Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU) participated in a series of anti-trafficking operations in February 2019 that resulted in the identification of 19 potential victims and the arrest of 10 potential traffickers. Law enforcement filed 30 charges against six suspects following trafficking investigations; however, only one of these charges was under the Trafficking in Persons Act, and law enforcement charged the others with lesser crimes.

During the reporting period, the CTU changed its investigation procedures to allow for parallel financial and trafficking investigations; this allowed authorities to charge suspects of sex trafficking for various offences. Observers noted the CTU faced organization and management challenges, limited capacity and resources, reduced ties with international partners and other law enforcement agencies, which hindered its efforts, and limited coordination between the CTU and Department of Public Prosecutions. The government did not provide specific figures for its budget allocations to the CTU for fiscal year 2018-2019, but officials confirmed the budget was lower during this report period; this compared to 7 million TTD ($1.03 million) in 2017-2018, 3 million TTD ($443,130) for 2016-2017, and 8 million TTD ($1.18 million) for 2015-2016. During the reporting period, the CTU referred three possibly complicit police officers to the relevant authorities for further investigations. The case of a 2017 government employee charged with trafficking was still pending. Public officials, the media, and outside observers raised concerns about other government officials involved in sex trafficking. The government collaborated with INTERPOL and Venezuela on investigations of four potential trafficking cases. Newspapers reported police apprehended members of a trafficking ring involving Colombian victims; this involved cooperation between the Colombian Embassy and non-CTU government entities. The CTU institutionalized a training course for new police recruits and investigators of the child protection unit; police units also had a monthly training session in which 300 officers received training. The CTU provided anti-trafficking training to the police, judiciary, and NGOs. The government provided in-kind assistance for various training courses offered by international organizations; 10 magistrates and judges and 35 senior public officers received these trainings. In addition, the government provided financial assistance for senior officials from the CTU, judiciary, and immigration to participate in an international training in the United States.

PROTECTION

The government maintained protection efforts. The government identified 14 trafficking victims (13 sex trafficking victims, including one minor and one labor trafficking victim) and referred them all to care; all were Venezuelan. This compared to 14 trafficking victims in 2017 and 13 in 2016. The government reported all victims assisted with criminal investigations during the reporting period; two victims received permission to work. In total, 29 victims (including those from previous reporting periods) received care; this compared to 14 victims in 2017. NGOs reported identifying many additional victims and referred them to the CTU, but the NGOs did not receive assistance or follow-ups on the referred cases. As a result, NGOs reported working directly with victims instead of referring them to the CTU.

The CTU spent approximately 203,100 TTD ($30,000) on victim care and protection, compared to 198,900 TTD ($29,380) in 2017 and 700,000 TTD ($103,400) in 2016. The government provided additional funding to NGO care providers through the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services. Observers, however, noted there was insufficient government funding for comprehensive victim care. The government, working primarily through the CTU, the children’s protective services agency, and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Gender and Child Affairs Office provided victim care services, sometimes in conjunction with local NGOs. However, observers reported victims often did not receive these services and noted the government did not adequately screen undocumented migrants or refugees for trafficking indicators before placing them in detention. As a result, some observers indicated that following police actions or immigration raids, officials, without screening potential victims for trafficking indicators, detained some foreign victims for violating immigration laws—even though those unlawful acts occurred as part of being trafficked and traffickers may have compelled victims to commit them. Others reported the government kept these unscreened trafficking victims in the immigration detention facility instead of shelters for trafficking victims and without providing them victim care. The government housed adult female victims of trafficking at domestic violence shelters run by vetted NGOs who worked with the CTU. The government placed adult male victims at safe houses run by the security services. Observers reported an absence of appropriate shelters with adequate staff and security personnel. The government housed child victims in homes run by the child protective services agency. However, observers noted the government detained at least two child victims of trafficking in the youth detention center on immigration charges that occurred as a result of the trafficking crime. Reports indicated the government did not provide specialized care for these child trafficking victims. The CTU and the children’s authority signed a memorandum of understanding in August 2018 to enhance the identification of placement options for child trafficking victims. The social services committee comprising officials of the CTU, ministry of social development and family services, ministry of health, office of the prime minister, as well as several NGOs, began drafting a victim care manual.

Domestic violence shelters did not permit victims to leave unchaperoned or at will. Observers reported victim access to telephones to call family or request assistance was limited, or in some cases denied. While the law allowed victims to work, observers noted that, in practice, the government did not allow the large majority of victims to work. Because of these conditions, observers noted some victims ran away from shelters or asked to be repatriated before investigations completed. Language interpretation services were not always available for counseling sessions and police interviews; experts reported shelters did not have bilingual staff or volunteers. In addition, some government officials noted a shortage of interpreters available to assist with foreign national victim care and testimony. The CTU provided 24/7 security for victims who participated in court proceedings. Experts noted working-level staff at NGOs and shelters needed more training on trafficking indicators to better identify potential trafficking victims.

PREVENTION

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The CTU, under the Ministry of National Security, was the lead entity for anti-trafficking efforts. The National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons was the lead body for anti-trafficking efforts. Some experts noted a need for the government to add more NGO representation to the ministerial task force to strengthen government-NGO partnerships and receive more NGO input into government decision-making. The government continued implementation of the 2016-2020 national action plan. The plan had a monitoring and evaluation component involving quarterly and annual reports that authorities presented to parliament and made available via open hearings and press releases. The government conducted a series of awareness campaigns on sex and labor trafficking targeting children and Spanish-speaking communities. The CTU provided funding and assistance in the creation and distribution for a locally produced anti-trafficking film. The labor ministry (MOLSED) conducted a public awareness campaign on forced labor.

Existing laws regulating private labor recruitment agencies were weak and not comprehensive. MOLSED, however, started reviewing laws regarding private labor recruiters and scheduled stakeholder consultations on these laws through September 2019. Observers noted the oversight and regulation of domestic workers remained weak. MOLSED started developing a new labor migration policy; the government created a new inter-ministerial committee that will be involved in the formulation and implementation of this policy. There were 16 labor inspectors trained to identify and report to the CTU on indicators of forced labor. The government operated two hotlines, a national trafficking hotline and a national domestic violence hotline, which could receive trafficking reports; the trafficking hotline received 59 calls, some of which led to investigations. Observers noted the government needed more Spanish language services in the hotlines. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Trinidad and Tobago, and traffickers exploit victims from Trinidad and Tobago abroad. Traffickers lure women and girls from the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, and Colombia with offers of employment and then subject them to sex trafficking in brothels and clubs. Traffickers are increasingly targeting vulnerable foreign young women and girls between the ages of 15 and 21. Because of deteriorating economic conditions in their home country, Venezuelans are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and there has been a large influx of Venezuelans to Trinidad and Tobago in recent years. LGBTI persons are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Many victims enter the country legally via Trinidad’s international airport, while others enter illegally via small boats from Venezuela, which is only seven miles offshore. Migrants from the Caribbean region and from Asia, in particular those lacking legal status, are vulnerable to forced labor in domestic service and the retail sector. Corruption in police and immigration has been associated with facilitating prostitution and sex trafficking.

2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: Trinidad and Tobago
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