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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 considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore The Bahamas remained on Tier 1. These efforts included convicting one trafficker, awarding restitution to a victim for the first time in the amount of 10,000 Bahamian dollars ($10,000), continuing to prosecute alleged traffickers, and increasing training of government officials. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it identified fewer victims; did not comprehensively implement its victim identification protocol, especially among vulnerable groups; and did not have a dedicated shelter for trafficking victims.

Increase efforts to prosecute, convict, and sentence convicted traffickers, including officials complicit in sex or labor trafficking. • Comprehensively train officials to implement the victim identification and referral protocol to identify victims of sex trafficking and forced labor, especially among vulnerable groups such as stateless persons; vulnerable migrants from Haiti, Venezuela, and other countries; and LGBTQI+ individuals. • Provide a dedicated shelter for trafficking victims and continue funding comprehensive victim services. • Reduce delays in court proceedings. • Take steps to eliminate recruitment fees charged to workers in The Bahamas by labor recruiters and ban employee paid recruitment fees. • Provide vulnerable individuals with trauma-informed assistance and interpretation in their language prior to, during, and after screening for trafficking, including through the hotline. • Strengthen the capacity of labor inspectors to identify and refer victims of labor trafficking. • Increase outreach to potential trafficking victims among vulnerable groups in partnership with NGOs. • Develop, execute, and publish a robust monitoring and evaluation framework for anti-trafficking policies and efforts. • Engage further with officials involved in anti-trafficking activities in other countries in the region to exchange best practices in trafficking investigations and screening.

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. The Trafficking in Persons (Prevention and Suppression) Act 2008 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties up 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 initiated investigation of 13 cases (11 for sex trafficking and two for labor trafficking) during the reporting period, compared with 16 investigations in 2019 and two investigations in 2018. One of the investigations resulted in the prosecution of two individuals—a Bahamian male and a Bahamian female—in two cases for sex trafficking, compared to two cases in 2019 and one in 2018. Two investigations, involving three suspects, led to prosecutions for crimes other than trafficking. The government continued one sex trafficking investigation initiated in a previous reporting period. Authorities arrested 12 individuals on suspicion of trafficking during the reporting period. The Magistrate’s Court handled the charges in all cases. The government convicted one trafficker in 2020 in the Magistrate’s Court through a plea agreement, compared with no convictions in 2019 and one each in 2018 and 2017. The trial for the convicted individual, a female sex trafficker from the Dominican Republic, started in January 2020, but the pandemic delayed its completion until December 2020; courts sentenced the trafficker to two years’ imprisonment. The convict, who did not have legal status to reside in The Bahamas, completed her sentence and was deported after receiving the required reduction as provided for in the majority of cases of persons convicted and sentenced in The Bahamas; the convict served a total of 16 months. However, the sentence indicated two years, despite the reduction in actual time served. The Supreme Court continued to hear two cases from previous reporting periods involving a total of two Bahamian male defendants and one female Bahamian defendant; both trials were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The Magistrate’s Court also continued the trial of a female Jamaican alleged trafficker initiated in a previous reporting period; the trial was ongoing at the end of the reporting period and authorities continued to monitor the movements of the defendant. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.

The pandemic forced the suspension of all criminal court proceedings from April to November 2020, although many civil cases proceeded virtually. However, the government reported police, defense, health, and immigration officials continued to execute the government’s trafficking response despite the pandemic, including by screening potential victims. The government did not divert any resources from anti-trafficking efforts as a direct result of the pandemic, and there was no interruption to law enforcement efforts. The National Trafficking in Persons Inter-Ministerial Committee (TIP Committee) Task Force maintained an investigative unit. The government did not assign any courts specifically to handle human trafficking cases. Experts reported concerns about excessive pretrial detention due to criminal justice system delays preventing even the most serious criminal cases from advancing in a timely manner. Observers noted the lack of judges and prosecutors in the country contributed to significant backlogs in all cases; courts easily granted bail (due in part to prison overcrowding) even to defendants accused of violent crimes, and law enforcement did not have the resources to fully uphold the law. Immigration officials may have solicited Haitian migrants for bribes to prevent detention. The government provided in-person anti-trafficking training for 98 police recruits in April 2020, 24 police detectives in July 2020, and 147 members of the military from April-July 2020 on their roles regarding suspected trafficking crimes. Authorities also held a virtual training for 90 members of the judiciary in November 2020. The November event featured opening remarks from the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Attorney General, the Minister of National Security, the Chair of the (TIP Committee), and a foreign judge. The Royal Bahamas Police Force provided human trafficking training for 48 officers and two Masonic lodges on February 27 both virtually and in person. The Royal Bahamas Defense Force held a human trafficking training in March 2021 for 122 military personnel covering an overview of the crime, the role of the police, and the role of social services. The government did not enter into any new agreements or conduct any trafficking-focused law enforcement cooperation with other governments. However, two draft memoranda of understanding (MOU) to assist in human trafficking investigations and information sharing with Mexico and Colombia remained pending at the end of 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, especially with vulnerable populations such as undocumented migrants and stateless children. The government identified two Bahamian child victims during the reporting period, down from five victims in 2019 and the same as in 2018. NGOs did not identify any victims, the same as in the previous reporting period. The two identified victims, both 16 years old, returned to their families, and the Department of Social Services provided financial support both to the victims and to their families. Authorities provided care for five victims identified during previous reporting periods, including two victims still receiving support at the end of the reporting period, although efforts to provide care to victims stopped temporarily from late March to mid-April due to pandemic lockdown restrictions. The government’s actual spending on trafficking victims’ care and prevention activities apart from the pandemic was 41,351 Bahamian dollars ($41,351). The government also provided 47,651 Bahamian dollars ($47,651) for four victims for needs resulting from the pandemic, including emergency food assistance, financial assistance for basic needs, and temporary shelter. In 2019, the government gave 69,509 Bahamian dollars ($69,509) to four NGOs that offered services to trafficking victims, among other vulnerable groups, compared to 240,000 Bahamian dollars ($240,000) in 2018, with the decrease due to emergency costs incurred to address the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian. In December 2020, a court awarded a Venezuelan victim 10,000 Bahamian dollars ($10,000) in restitution in a civil suit for the first time. As of the end of the reporting period, the government was still arranging the logistics to deliver the award to the victim, who was in Venezuela. Authorities reported screening individuals for trafficking indicators during routine checks of nightclubs. The government reported it had a formal process to guide officials in transferring victims to institutions that offered short- or long-term care, and it screened all migrants arriving by sea individually upon arrival; normally, migrants apprehended on land were observed for indicators that might warrant further investigation. However, experts reported authorities did not use formal protocols to screen all migrants and continued abuse of migrants—particularly those of Haitian descent—by officials was a cause of concern. The country has an SOP with a detailed, victim-centered approach to the screening process, including the use of qualified interpreters of the same gender to assure reporting and comprehension of all communication. However, reports of inconsistent training of staff on screening for trafficking indicators, and lack of implementation of identification protocols in migrant languages indicated that authorities did not screen all vulnerable individuals, consequently failing to identify and protect any trafficking victims.

The Department of Social Services oversaw the support for identified and potential victims by service providers, attorneys, and law enforcement. The Department provided shelter, food, clothing (inclusive of school uniforms for dependent children), rent, furniture, payment of utility bills, placement in school, medical care, psychological and psychiatric attention as needed, counseling, transportation, assistance with shopping, securing legal documents, résumé preparation, job placement assistance, facilitation of payment of stipends, and wiring of money abroad. The government typically provided most services for victims, but NGOs have in the past assisted in providing services to victims, including meals and water, hygiene supplies, and a non-threatening, neutral environment for authorities to conduct interviews. An NGO could provide counseling, while another NGO could be called upon for short-term accommodations for female victims. The government did not provide a dedicated shelter for trafficking victims; however, the government did provide short-term and long-term accommodations and partnered as needed with an NGO for use as a temporary safe house. Authorities continued to place victims in NGO-managed shelters shared with domestic violence victims. The government reported that it considered victim preference when determining the appropriate shelter, and that victims could choose not to reside in a shelter. The government did not report any cases of victims with disabilities; however, the national anti-trafficking budget included resources to make accommodations, if those services were necessary. Shelters did not restrict the movements of trafficked victims, allowed victims to leave for employment, and provided advisory services. Protection services were not time-limited. The government tailored victim care services to the needs of the victim upon assessment.

Victim participation in human trafficking investigations and prosecutions was voluntary and the law granted the victim immunity from prosecution. As a matter of policy, courts closed trafficking trials and—as the law mandated non-disclosure of victims’ names, under penalty of prosecution—the media could not publish the identity of a victim. Bahamian law permitted victim testimony via live television links and for the reading of written statements into evidence, but this did not happen during the reporting period. Authorities reported they advised victims of their rights with respect to the law, appointed a designated caseworker who provided support for the victim, and provided witness protection. The government additionally gave a police security detail for foreign victims moving to and from the airport and for victims moving to and from the designated shelter, including for court appearances, during which a police officer stayed with the victim. The government also conducted periodic visits to the safe house. The government reported it encouraged victims returning from abroad for trial to bring a family member with them for additional support. The country lacked a visa classification for victims of crime, but foreign victims were entitled to the same assistance and services provided to Bahamian victims. Authorities did not tie benefits to foreign victims’ willingness to cooperate with law enforcement or to testify in court and the outcomes of legal proceedings did not affect victims’ temporary immigration status. Foreign nationals had the option to remain in the jurisdiction with legal status or to return to their country of origin; the government reported it did not deport victims. Foreign victims who decided to stay in the country received assistance in obtaining legal residency for humanitarian purposes, which included a standardized certificate that resembled the asylum certificate but did not identify the holder as a trafficking victim and enabled the holder to work legally. However, foreign victims—particularly irregular migrants—may not have felt comfortable enough to report crimes to law enforcement officers who could identify them as victims. During the reporting period, there were no reported cases of Bahamians being exploited in trafficking abroad and the Bahamian government did not identify any exploited nationals requiring funding for repatriation.

The government maintained prevention efforts. Ministry of National Security officials led the government’s overall efforts to combat trafficking and chaired the TIP Committee, whose membership included the Ministry of National Security (including the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, the Department of Immigration, and the Department of Labor); the Attorney General/ Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) (a DPP Prosecutor); the Ministry of Social Services & Community Support (the Department of Social Services Chief Welfare Officer responsible for victim care); the Ministry of Health (the Department of Public Health); the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (two Foreign Service Officers); three NGOs; and the Task Force. The Task Force comprised the same members and activated in response to individual cases. The TIP Committee Secretariat consisted of three full-time, seconded government officials dedicated to efforts against human trafficking: the Chair from the Ministry of National Security, plus one official each from the Royal Bahamas Police Force and the Department of Social Services. The government reported it planned to double the size of the Secretariat to include officials from the Department of Labor, the Department of Immigration, and the Royal Bahamas Defense Force, but had not done so by the end of the reporting period. The TIP Committee, which continued to meet virtually every other week during the entirety of the pandemic, briefed the Minister of National Security weekly on anti-trafficking developments. The government had a national action plan, running from 2019-2023.

The Bahamian government funded anti-trafficking initiatives through the national anti-trafficking annual budget, which was included within the Ministry of National Security’s annual budget. The Task Force had a dedicated budget of 95,000 Bahamian dollars ($95,000), which was the same budget as in 2019; funding remained available during the pandemic. Funding for trafficking-related work in other ministries came from the general budgets for those ministries or departments. The government did not employ any specific methodology to research and assess human trafficking during the reporting year apart from information sharing within the TIP Committee. Government-imposed lockdowns and curfews due to the pandemic during the first half of the reporting period forced the TIP Committee to postpone or cancel numerous awareness-raising activities, including workshops, discussions with the public, and presentations. However, the Task Force was able to continue virtual awareness events. In July 2020, authorities held a press conference to outline the government’s efforts to combat human trafficking in the country. Authorities provided anti-trafficking awareness sessions for 35 nurses in January 2021, 24 new staff from the Department of Public Health in February 2021, and 31 individuals including staff from the Accident and Emergency Department in February 2021. In July 2020, authorities provided a virtual awareness session for 35 members of the Bahamian/Jamaican Kiwanis Club and in October 2020 for 31 university students. In February 2021, members of the Secretariat provided a virtual awareness session for 48 lodge members on the human trafficking law, indicators, and prevention and reporting strategies. Authorities also provided sessions for tourism front-line staff and tourism “ambassadors.” An officer with the Criminal Investigation Department, assisted by an interpreter, met with members of a Haitian church as a form of outreach on human trafficking to the Haitian community. Members of the Secretariat appeared on a radio talk show in November 2021 to discuss The Bahamas’s strategy to combat human trafficking.

The Ministry of National Security maintained a dedicated 24/7/365 English-speaking trafficking hotline, funded by the national security budget, while an NGO had its own emergency hotline to report all forms of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. The government’s hotline remained fully operational during the reporting period, receiving two calls regarding suspected trafficking that did not result in the identification of any victims. The government advertised the hotline through English media and some Mandarin, Creole, and Spanish brochures placed in public spaces. The government disseminated multiple public service announcements via radio and television broadcasts and constructed a billboard with the hotline number. A Ministry of National Security vehicle displaying the trafficking hotline number circulated the streets in areas with vulnerable populations. The Department of Immigration, in conjunction with the Royal Bahamas Police Force, disseminated brochures with the trafficking hotline number to residents including school students, the local bank, food stores, and government offices.

The constitution prohibits forced labor. Bahamian trafficking and labor laws did not explicitly prohibit charging workers recruitment fees, switching contracts, and withholding wages to compel service. The Department of Labor did not train labor inspectors in trafficking or report whether surprise inspections resulted in trafficking investigations, but the trafficking screening questionnaire for labor inspectors asked them to determine if an employee’s job situation was different from what was promised or expected and if payment was withheld or deducted. The government reported the Department of Immigration granted work permits that were very specific in nature, and that the Immigration Board reviewed applications for every job over six months to prevent the issuance of unqualified permits and to protect against exploitation. The Department of Labor, through the Public Employment Services Unit, worked with private sector organizations to recruit Bahamians for specific projects. When an employer submitted a request for a work certificate for a non-Bahamian to work in the country, authorities issued anti-trafficking brochures to the employer, but staff rarely interacted with the prospective employee prior to arrival in the country. During the reporting period, the government received no reports of workers recruited through knowingly fraudulent job offers, contract switching, and confiscating or otherwise denying workers access to their identity documents. At the onset of the pandemic, the government gave migrant workers a choice to stay or return to their country of origin. However, the emergency lockdown restrictions, in effect during much of the reporting period, hindered the ability of many migrant workers to continue earning an income. Anyone temporarily out of work due to the pandemic was eligible to apply for unemployment benefits. Authorities began discussions with an international organization to establish an MOU on multiple issues relating to migration, including human trafficking and its impact on immigrants. The government did not undertake specific efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex. The government required all new diplomats to have anti-trafficking training and junior officers within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs rotated and sat on the TIP Committee for a minimum of six months.

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, both through advertisements in foreign newspapers and social media; upon arrival, traffickers subject them to sex trafficking and forced labor, including in domestic service and in sectors with low-skilled labor. The profile of human traffickers prosecuted for human trafficking have been primarily female in the past five years. Individuals born to a non-Bahamian father in The Bahamas, to a female citizen, or to foreign born parents do not automatically receive Bahamian citizenship or documentation and are at heightened risk of trafficking. Unaccompanied migrant children, individuals lured for employment, those involved in commercial sex and exotic dancing, irregular migrants, stateless persons, LGBTQI+ individuals (particularly from poor communities), and migrants displaced by Hurricane Dorian have been trafficked or are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. In particular, irregular migrants living in informal settlements on the Hurricane Dorian-ravaged islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, and those who fled to New Providence after the storm, exist in what observers call “dark spaces,” which deter reporting abuse. The high unemployment rate—reported to have exceeded 40 percent—resulting from the pandemic may have increased vulnerabilities for potential victims.

U.S. Department of State

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