The Government of Antigua and Barbuda does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included investigating more trafficking cases, training officials from the Family and Social Services Division for the first time, and continuing to have funding available for the National Action Plan (NAP). However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government did not identify any victims for the second consecutive year, nor did it initiate any prosecutions or convict any traffickers. Therefore Antigua and Barbuda was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.
Vigorously investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish traffickers.
Increase efforts to identify victims through proactive screening of at-risk populations, such as migrants, individuals in commercial sex, and People’s Republic of China (PRC) national and Cuban workers on foreign government-affiliated programs.
Draft, fund, and implement a new anti-trafficking NAP for all agencies.
Reduce delays in court proceedings.
Implement government-wide standard operating procedures to proactively identify victims and refer them to care and train front line officials in trafficking indicators.
Increase trauma-informed training on trafficking for NGOs and service providers to improve their ability to care for potential trafficking victims.
Train police, prosecutors, and judicial officials on evidence collection and management for use in judicial proceedings.
The government maintained limited prosecution efforts. The 2010 Trafficking in Persons (Prevention) Act criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine for offenses involving an adult victim and up to 25 years’ imprisonment and a fine for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape.
The government initiated five trafficking investigations during the reporting period, one for sex trafficking, one for labor trafficking, and three for unspecified exploitation; this compared with zero investigations during the previous reporting period and 10 in 2019. The government did not report initiating any prosecutions for the second consecutive year, compared to three prosecutions in 2019. Authorities continued to prosecute three suspected traffickers from 2018; all three were on bail. The government did not convict any traffickers for the third consecutive year. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses; in past reporting periods, police officers reportedly received administrative sanctions instead of being tried under the trafficking law. Authorities directed all police units, including those investigating trafficking cases, to continue to enforce pandemic-related restrictions, including nighttime curfews and the closure of bars, clubs, and other social venues; law enforcement also experienced personnel shortages due to the pandemic.
The government reported courts experienced reduced capacity and interruptions due to the imposition of pandemic protocols, thereby limiting the number of cases of all types that could be prosecuted during the reporting period. The Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in St. Lucia continued with virtual appeal hearings without disruptions and could hear trafficking and other cases. The pandemic significantly disrupted the national courts’ criminal division. The government reported that serious criminal cases, including trafficking cases, required in-person jury trials unless the defendant was pleading guilty or in rare instances where the case involved no witnesses. As jury trials by law could not take place remotely, authorities prosecuted almost no trafficking or other serious criminal cases for the entire reporting period after jury trials ceased in March 2020 due to the pandemic. The government reported this led to substantial court backlogs, exacerbating already existing substantial delays.
The Trafficking in Persons Prevention Unit (TIP Unit) included four full-time staff and an unspecified number of law enforcement officers drawn from the police, immigration service, Coast Guard, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, all of whom were knowledgeable about trafficking, victim services, and investigations. The TIP Unit served as the investigative arm of the national coordinating body, the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention) Committee (TPPC), and was solely responsible for investigating trafficking, implementing the national trafficking prevention objectives, and increasing anti-trafficking awareness efforts to improve overall efficiency. Due to the pandemic, the government suspended random inspections of businesses suspected of being involved in commercial sex.
The government maintained negligible protection efforts. The government did not identify or refer to care any victims for the second consecutive year, compared to two victims in 2019. The government had formal written procedures to guide law enforcement, immigration, and social services officials in the screening and identification of potential victims, although observers noted the government used them inconsistently with potential forced labor victims.
While the government did not identify or report providing care to victims during the year, services remained available and may have served potential victims. Under the TPPC, a senior police officer chaired the Cases Task Force, which was responsible for screening and identifying trafficking victims and referring victims to an assigned victim care officer for care and protection. The officer could establish the victim’s needs, including medical, lodging, counseling, meals, and clothing. The government reported it did not have shelters for trafficking victims due to concerns about maintaining location confidentiality, but rather utilized safe spaces for adults and children on privately owned properties and manned and secured by the Cases Task Force and selected law enforcement agencies based on needs; these safe spaces were solely for trafficking victims. A child could receive additional services from the Family and Social Services Division. The government reported there was no time limit to victim care services. The Directorate of Gender Affairs reported its Support and Referral Center for victims of any form of gender-based violence could also offer services and support to trafficking victims, in some instances including legal assistance and emergency accommodation.
The government could provide temporary residency status as an alternative to removal to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution by traffickers; this assistance was not contingent on assisting law enforcement. Victims could obtain a work permit or leave the country after the Cases Task Force approved a satisfactory risk assessment. The government reported all victims who sought housing in a safe space subsequently requested to return home. In these cases, the government contacted an international organization and the relevant local trafficking unit in the country of origin for reintegration. The government informed potential victims of their rights, including that their participation in investigations and prosecutions was voluntary; victims could also decline any or all assistance offered. The government reported victims could speak to the Directorate of Gender Affairs, a social worker, or another appropriate third party, including NGOs, to report cases or access the judicial system in addition to or instead of law enforcement. The government had a policy of not disclosing a victim’s location, providing security at the victim’s location and in transit, allowing for testimony via video link, and not disclosing a victim’s identity to the public or media. The Directorate of Gender Affairs could also assist in helping victims obtain protection orders or advocate with relevant authorities to obtain assistance to help individuals in danger leave the country. However, the government did not report receiving any requests for or using any of these methods during the reporting period. The government did not report any cases where a victim had sought restitution, although the law allowed for a victim to do so. The government reported no cases of victims being detained, fined, or jailed for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.
The government funded and trained seven officers from the Family and Social Services Division for the first time on trafficking laws and victim protection. The government also trained police, customs, immigration, and labor officials on victim identification and referral.
The government maintained prevention efforts. The pandemic impacted the country’s economy and severely limited the government’s capacity to meet its commitments and obligations. The Solicitor General led the TPPC, which served as the national coordinating body for anti-trafficking efforts with representatives from across the government and one NGO; the TPPC carried out enforcement, research, and victim advocacy functions. The TPPC oversaw the TIP Unit. The TPPC met once during the reporting period, compared with monthly before the pandemic. The government revised its anti-trafficking NAP to account for the impact of the pandemic; NGOs participated in the implementation of the NAP. The government provided the TPPC with its own annual budget to facilitate its operations and activities. The government did not report specific budget data related to its anti-trafficking efforts but reported it continued to fund the NAP despite pandemic-related budget reallocations for other government activities. However, government financial resources including salaries for anti-trafficking officials were under severe strain in 2021 as a result of the pandemic, and prior to the pandemic, government agencies cited lack of funding as a key deficiency. The government postponed most of the planned activities included in the NAP due to the pandemic. The government published an annual report containing general information on trafficking and a summary of its anti-trafficking efforts as it had done in prior years.
The government continued to carry out public awareness activities. The Directorate of Gender Affairs raised awareness about trafficking through billboards, public service announcements, media appearances, workshops, and knowledge exchanges. The Directorate of Gender Affairs consulted with NGOs to avoid messaging containing stereotypes or racialized narratives. Authorities funded and carried out a broad-based anti-trafficking awareness campaign via billboards, national television, and other media, with campaign materials available in several languages. The government maintained a hotline for domestic abuse and gender-based violence that could receive calls regarding trafficking but received no such calls during the reporting period; the government could also receive anonymous calls through the crime stoppers number or via the TPPC’s social media page. According to authorities, people preferred to call either emergency numbers other than the dedicated hotline or individual members of the TPPC with whom they were familiar.
The government reported the only registered labor recruitment agency was government-run and did not charge fees; the government did not recruit on a large scale. The government implemented procedures for the issuance of work permits to foreign nationals to strengthen labor laws, the economic migration process, and protection for workers, including against trafficking; foreign nationals could not enter the country until the Ministry of Labor (MOL) approved a work permit and could not start work before obtaining a permit, and MOL interviewed all applicants for renewal permits. The government reported workers involved in programs arranged through a foreign government could not switch employers but could return home. The government reported the 1975 labor code set labor monitoring standards for foreign laborers and that authorities monitored their work per the law. The government granted amnesty to all undocumented workers and reported it would not deport any. To raise awareness among migrant laborers on the risks of trafficking, the government, in coordination with an international organization, posted labor laws and regulations on government and other websites, posted signage at all ports of entry, and conducted awareness training for frontline workers (immigration, police, customs, and labor officers) on how to interview and communicate with migrant workers. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government did not report on efforts to prevent sex tourism. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel. The government did not enter into any new agreements with other countries.
As reported over the past five years, traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Antigua and Barbuda, and traffickers exploit victims from Antigua and Barbuda abroad. Individuals from minority communities are at higher risk of trafficking. Documented and undocumented migrants from the Caribbean region, notably Jamaica, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic, were identified as victims of sex trafficking and forced labor in previous years. Authorities reported in previous years that traffickers exploited victims in multiple-destination trafficking, arriving in Antigua and Barbuda for a few months before their traffickers exploited them in other Caribbean countries such as St. Kitts and Nevis and Barbados. Intraregional air traffic stopped due to the pandemic in March 2020; the government reported fewer potential foreign victims may have arrived in the country as a result. Although travel from the United States and the United Kingdom resumed by the end of the reporting period, the government reported traffickers did not commonly exploit victims on these routes. Sex trafficking occurs in bars, taverns, and brothels, including with girls; most of these businesses were shut down for a majority of the reporting period. Forced labor, including of children, occurs in domestic service and the retail sector, particularly in family-owned businesses. Cubans working in Antigua and Barbuda may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. PRC nationals working in Antigua and Barbuda may have been forced to work on PRC-affiliated programs.