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Trinidad and Tobago (Tier 2 Watch List)

The Government of Trinidad and Tobago does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included increasing investigations and prosecutions, identifying more victims, and expanding training to a broader range of stakeholders. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government has never convicted a trafficker under its 2011 anti-trafficking law. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action, and the government did not take action against senior government officials alleged in 2020 to be involved in human trafficking. Victim identification and services remained weak, and the government did not formally adopt the National Action Plan (NAP) for 2021-2023. Therefore Trinidad and Tobago remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials and staff.
  • Increase proactive victim identification, screening, and protection among vulnerable communities, including migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees, especially Venezuelans.
  • Ensure victims are not penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.
  • Strengthen rules and regulations to ensure immigration enforcement does not hinder human trafficking detection, criminal law enforcement, or victim protections.
  • Ensure trafficking is investigated and prosecuted using the anti-trafficking law and not as other or lesser crimes.
  • Implement a formalized protocol and a functioning and active coordinating committee for victim care.
  • Improve the quality of victim care—especially for children—and increase bilingual services.
  • Reduce judicial backlog.
  • Approve, fund, and implement the anti-trafficking NAP for 2021-2023.
  • Provide adequate funding for robust trafficking investigations and victim services, including accommodations.
  • Train law enforcement and prosecutors in proactively identifying, obtaining, preserving, and corroborating evidence of trafficking.
  • Improve cooperation between the Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU), prosecutors, the judiciary, and NGOs to increase the number of cases that proceed to trial.
  • Strengthen oversight, regulation, and inspections of private labor recruitment agencies and domestic work locations, including by appointing a license officer.
  • Increase trauma-informed training on trafficking for NGO, shelter, social services, and law enforcement staff to improve their ability to identify and care for potential trafficking victims.

PROSECUTION

The government increased prosecution efforts, but official complicity remained a significant concern. The Trafficking in Persons (TIP) 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) ($73,980) for offenses involving an adult victim and no less than 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of no less than 1 million TTD ($147,950) 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 reported it prepared draft legislation in December 2020 to increase the penalties for trafficking, including for public officials complicit in trafficking crimes; the draft legislation remained pending with the Ministry of National Security at the end of the reporting period.

The CTU investigated 23 new trafficking cases in 2021 under the TIP Act, including nine for sex trafficking, five for labor trafficking, and nine for unspecified trafficking-related crimes. This compares with 12 cases in 2020 (nine for sex trafficking and three for labor trafficking); the government continued 11 sex trafficking investigations from prior reporting periods. The government initiated prosecution of 15 suspected sex traffickers, including three police officers, compared with prosecuting two alleged sex traffickers in 2020. The government continued the prosecution of 51 alleged sex traffickers begun in previous reporting periods, compared with 11 in 2020. Of the total number of new and ongoing cases, the government prosecuted 10 defendants including two police officers under the TIP Act and 15 defendants including three police officers under other laws, including the Immigration Act, the Anti-Gang Act, and the Children’s Act. The government did not report convicting any traffickers in 2021 and has not convicted any traffickers since the enactment of the 2011 TIP Act.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not take action against senior government officials alleged in 2020 to be involved in trafficking. Authorities continued an investigation of two dozen police officers allegedly involved in trafficking begun in the previous reporting period. The government reported none of these police investigations moved to prosecution. The government continued prosecution of three police officers for trafficking crimes. The prosecutions initiated against three police officers during the current reporting period involved two cases. In April 2021, authorities charged a customs and border officer under the Immigration Act for aiding and abetting the illegal entry of a Venezuelan migrant, and an investigation—including into whether the case involved trafficking— remained pending. In December 2021, authorities brought charges against two police officers for offenses under the TIP Act, the Children’s Act, and the Anti-Gang Act for aiding and abetting the illegal entry of a Venezuelan female migrant who was subsequently identified as a trafficking victim. Courts released the alleged traffickers on 300,000 TTD ($44,390) bail.

The CTU, a specialized anti-trafficking police unit within the Ministry of National Security, had the sole mandate for investigating trafficking cases. The CTU was responsible for trafficking investigations in all jurisdictions but lacked sufficient funding, staffing resources, and expertise to adequately fulfill its mandate; the government reassigned officials from other agencies to assist the CTU. The Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (CATT) referred cases involving children to the CTU and the Child Protection Unit of the police for investigation; the CATT and the Ministry of National Security maintained a Memorandum of Understanding that facilitated coordination on trafficking cases. The Child Protection Unit developed referral and management procedures for cases received from the CTU and the Immigration Division, which remained pending finalization at the end of the reporting period.

Evidence collection for trafficking investigations remained a significant problem. Police did not obtain sufficient evidence from victim-witnesses before their repatriation. The CTU also reported challenges in obtaining, preserving, and authenticating other evidence, such as using cell phones or financial data to corroborate trafficking network affiliations to add charges under existing gang and money-laundering laws. Observers noted poor interagency coordination resulted in weaker law enforcement and prosecution case management. NGOs reported that the CTU failed to act on trafficking crime tips.

The CTU referred trafficking cases to the Director of Public Prosecutions and the judiciary for hearings and trial. Observers noted authorities did not pursue a prosecution if the victims were not willing to testify against an alleged trafficker. Courts continued to have a backlog and often took five to 10 years to resolve cases, including trafficking cases, despite adopting justice system reforms in 2019 to address the problem. Observers noted the judiciary’s broad discretion and inconsistency in granting bail, as well as reports of fraud and corruption within the bail process, engendered concomitant recidivism, victim re-traumatization, and a perception of impunity. Magistrates Courts with specialized trafficking divisions heard preliminary inquiries for trafficking cases, after which a case would move to jury trials in the High Court. Authorities prosecuted child trafficking cases in child care courts. As a result of the pandemic, prosecutions continued entirely virtually. Police could collect victims’ written statements as testimony and use them in trials. Due to the pandemic, the High Court held no jury trials, which were required for trafficking cases; the court held some judge-only trials in person. The pandemic delayed investigations as the Ministry of Health quarantined some victim-witnesses. The pandemic affected investigative capacity, especially of the CATT, as staff tested positive for the COVID-19 virus or remained in quarantine.

The country’s oversight bodies and outside observers consistently alleged that law enforcement and security officials continued to be complicit in trafficking. A study funded by a foreign organization and conducted by a foreign company reported that 10 percent of the police force was under active investigation for misconduct, including trafficking. In cases of alleged official complicity, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) could receive a complaint against one of the investigating or other police officers involved in the enquiry and require the intervention of the Director of Public Prosecutions via consultation. Authorities reported the Second Schedule of the Proceeds of Crime Act included sexual exploitation and trafficking as specified offenses from which forfeitures/ confiscations/money laundering charges could be generated; actions taken under the Civil Asset Recovery and Unexplained Wealth laws required citizens, including public officials, to account for the source of their wealth. The government proposed an amendment to the Police Services Act in January 2021 that would allow additional disciplinary action, including polygraph testing and dismissal, for officers suspected to be involved in trafficking; the proposal was pending with the Attorney General at the end of the reporting period. Reports alleged complicit Coast Guard officials facilitated the entry of women and girls—some of whom may have been trafficking victims—from Venezuela into the country, and complicit immigration and customs officers then ensured the women and girls arrived and received entry. Reports also alleged police accepted bribes to facilitate transportation of potential trafficking victims and colluded with brothel, casino, and business owners to protect their establishments from police raids. Observers reported tipoffs or notifications preceded such raids. A civil society organization continued to report authorities rarely raided some venues and suggested these venues were connected to corrupt immigration officials and police officers.

The government adopted an amendment to its Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act, which gave the government broader scope to collaborate with international partners on investigations—including trafficking cases. The government signed a Memorandum of Understanding in November 2021 with Colombia on human trafficking.

The government cooperated with the Maduro regime in Venezuela and an international organization to target a transnational trafficking network, resulting in prosecution of three suspected traffickers. The government established a law enforcement liaison with a foreign government. Law enforcement initiated an investigation based on information received from an international organization. The government also continued to cooperate with another country on a trafficking case from a previous reporting period.

The government provided anti-trafficking training to the police, intelligence community, national security agency, immigration department, Coast Guard, CATT, Ministry of Education, the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, the Global Financial Task Force, and NGOs on the law, case studies, improving government-NGO cooperation, and surveillance. The government also provided Spanish-language training to four CTU contract staff members.

PROTECTION

The government maintained limited protection efforts. The government identified 80 trafficking victims; 46 were exploited in sex trafficking, two were exploited in labor trafficking, and 32 were for unspecified exploitation. This compares with six identified trafficking victims in 2020 and 34 in 2019. All 46 sex trafficking victims were Venezuelan, including 21 women and 25 girls. The labor trafficking victims were both Indian men. Reports suggested some unidentified victims feared retaliation from authorities, including during police raids, trials, and interdiction operations involving Venezuelan migrants. The CTU was the primary entity responsible for identifying victims, and it used existing screening protocols. NGOs identified one of the adult female Venezuelan victims and referred her to the CTU. However, NGOs also referred another adult Venezuelan victim to the CTU, which denied the identification due to a lack of shelter space; an NGO subsequently provided groceries and shelter. Observers noted the government’s victim statistics were not reliable. Experts noted working- level staff at NGOs and shelters required more training on trafficking indicators to better identify potential trafficking victims.

Authorities provided some assistance to 54 victims, compared with 70 potential victims in 2020. The government could provide medical care; accommodation; basic necessities for adults; language classes and life skills training; psychosocial support; pre-natal care and parenting classes; support for family members; access to social workers; interpretation and translation services; drug rehabilitation; pandemic response support; and passport support. Observers noted that in some cases victims received few of these available services and government care was haphazard and inferior to care provided by an international organization. An NGO provided shelter services to one victim. NGOs reported reluctance to provide shelter or services to foreign victims in irregular status who were not officially referred by the government, due to possible retaliation against the NGO under the Immigration Act. An international organization reported caring for 60 trafficking and gender-based violence victims identified in the current and former reporting periods. The Children Court instructed the Children’s Authority on the placement (usually in a Children’s Home), services, and repatriation involving child trafficking victims. Child advocates assigned by the state could apply for wardship and care court orders on behalf of unaccompanied or separated child victims. NGOs reported authorities did not provide adult victims the same level of care, access, and protection as child victims.

The government reported services were not time-limited or conditional on participation in the prosecution of the trafficker; however, victims who cooperated with an investigation or prosecution would receive legal aid, transportation, and lodging for themselves and their families. Although the government reported victims used all available services, observers noted that without a standardized program for victim care, the government did not adequately address many of the short- and long- term needs of adult victims. Observers noted that although the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services working group finalized a victim care manual, senior government officials had not approved the manual by the end of the reporting period.

The government reported the CTU had a dedicated budget for victim assistance but did not report the amount, compared with spending 120,000 TTD ($17,750) in 2020, 120,000 TTD ($17,750) on victim protection and assistance in 2019, and 203,100 TTD ($30,050) in 2018. The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services reported providing funding for NGOs and three statutory boards for victims of trafficking and other crimes. The Ministry of National Security had an agreement with an international organization to provide adult victims food and shelter; psycho-social services were provided by third parties. The Ministry of Health assisted foreign trafficking victims and funded the assistance from its annual budget. The CATT funded advocates for child victims from its general budget. Outside experts noted there was insufficient government funding and personnel for comprehensive victim care, including appropriate shelters with adequate staff and security personnel, especially due to the pandemic.

The CTU screened migrants for trafficking indicators using a standard form. The government began screening migrants for trafficking indicators at an immigration facility in February 2022. The CTU disseminated a Pocket Guide for Frontline Officers, which included information on identifying victims of trafficking; while the guide was widely available, high-level officials lacked an understanding of trafficking. The CATT, in consultation with the CTU, immigration services, and CPU, drafted but did not finalize or implement a new process for identifying child trafficking victims, regardless of nationality or immigration status. The government, in collaboration with an international organization, reviewed and updated the national referral mechanism. The government did not implement a formalized protocol for victim care; the CTU instead relied on verbal agreements with different ministries, which observers noted were inconsistently implemented. The government lacked quality victim care, including specialized placement facilities for children equipped with adequate personnel and services and placement facilities for children transitioning out of the care system. Authorities and an international organization also reported victims lacked access to certified bilingual service providers. Shelters required victims quarantine and be tested for COVID-19 prior to entry, which could take up to two weeks. However, the government did not have quarantine facilities specifically for child trafficking victims. The government continued to provide emergency response to trafficking cases and reported it typically responded within 24 hours following receipt of a report. However, observers noted the CTU did not respond in a timely manner to cases referred by NGOs, international organizations, or others.

The government did not provide funding for or manage any trafficking specific shelters. Authorities placed adult female victims in NGO-run shelters for victims of gender-based violence, funded by an international organization; they placed adult male victims in safe houses operated by the security services. Victims did not have a choice of which shelter to use. Outside experts noted the shelters had strict rules restricting movement and communication; these restrictions caused some victims to run away from shelters or ask to be repatriated before authorities completed investigations. The Children’s Authority placed child victims in government-funded children’s homes in the community, which also could house children who were criminal offenders. The government consulted with trafficking survivors to develop a shelter program. The government initiated an Alternative Care Program (ACP) and trained its psychologists in cooperation with an NGO and an international organization to recruit potential foster caregivers, specifically for foreign children including potential child trafficking victims. An international organization reported that some victims requested assistance through local NGOs, private individuals, government agencies working with Venezuelan migrants, or through international organizations, which then referred the cases to the CTU.

The CTU reported victims participated in investigations and prosecutions against traffickers, and authorities did not detain, fine, or jail potential trafficking victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. The government reported 48 foreign victims entered the country illegally due to border closures; observers reported officials did not penalize them. However, some observers indicated that following police actions or immigration raids, authorities detained some foreign victims for violating immigration laws without screening for trafficking indicators.

Most victims lacked legal immigration status and feared being referred to immigration authorities for detention, fines, or reprisal from well- connected traffickers, including allegedly corrupt police and immigration officials. A victim’s refugee status did not impact the victim’s legal status in the country, and refugee children could not access public education, heightening their risk for trafficking. Observers noted the lack of legal standing for those who illicitly entered the country seeking refuge or asylum heightened their vulnerability to trafficking. The victims from a May 2021 raid reportedly declined to participate in police operations, and authorities arrested one victim during the operation. The government reported detained migrants, or any individual or organization on their behalf, could post a security bond equal to the cost of deportation, but observers reported abuse, extortion, and exploitation in the application of this process and noted it increased victims’ dependency on traffickers. Some trafficking victims who lodged complaints against immigration authorities subsequently faced immigration charges that resulted in deportation proceedings, and media reported authorities charged two immigration officers with procuring and selling forged immigration documents. The CTU relocated some foreign victims from detention facilities to shelters; it repatriated nine victims to Venezuela. According to NGOs, the Coast Guard and local authorities did not implement international best practices and screen detained refugees or asylum- seekers for trafficking indicators. In addition, NGOs asserted the Venezuelan embassy did not render assistance and its involvement in the repatriation process put individuals at risk if they had a legitimate fear of persecution. The government did not report measures to monitor Cuban medical professionals for trafficking indicators nor did it put protection measures into its agreement with the Cuban government to prevent forced labor.

Foreign adult victims who agreed to cooperate with an investigation could remain in the country for the duration of court proceedings and work legally; they could apply for permanent residency after the completion of court proceedings. Foreign victims frequently could not return to their countries of origin because they did not possess valid identification or travel documents; in many cases, the traffickers held their original documents. The government offered some immigration relief for potential victims at the end of the previous reporting period by initially extending the registration cards for Venezuelan refugees and migrants through July 2021; however, this was only available for 16,523 individuals previously registered in 2019, not for more numerous recent arrivals. Although the government periodically extended the permits through the end of 2021, it closed the process to new applicants following the original registration period and did not renew the permits, which lapsed in 2022. Authorities said the registration card allowed them to work in the country but not obtain other official documents. The Children Court provided protections for children involved in trafficking cases. Despite progress in court procedures allowing victims to testify remotely without being in the same courtroom as traffickers, many victims eventually preferred to be voluntarily deported rather than wait for a case to be brought to trial, which could take several years. Observers noted victims were often re-traumatized when courts granted bail to alleged traffickers. The anti-trafficking law provided for restitution in trafficking crimes, but courts did not order any restitution during the reporting period. The government established standard operating procedures between the CTU and the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, which managed the victim compensation program; the procedures were not used due to a lack of convictions. The government trained social workers, NGOs, hotline operators, police, and a private taxi firm on trafficking indicators and screening. In February 2022, the government published guidelines to reduce second-hand trauma among front-line workers interacting with victims.

PREVENTION

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons (task force), which included 10 agencies and five NGOs, coordinated national efforts. It expanded its duties to lead the implementation of the draft NAP and collaborated with the CTU on anti-trafficking efforts. The government consulted with NGOs, international organizations, foreign embassies, religious bodies, a university, and survivors to draft a NAP for 2021-2023 that included efforts to identify official complicity in trafficking crimes; the NAP was still pending cabinet approval at the end of the reporting period, but agencies began its implementation. The government sought the input of survivors in its policies. In June 2021, the Minister of National Security established a Strategic Working Committee, which met bi-weekly to address policy and operational issues affecting the CTU and its partner agencies. Trafficking committees and interagency task forces continued to meet during the pandemic. The CTU submitted quarterly reports and an annual report to the task force for approval, although the government did not make these reports available to the public. The government issued press releases and participated in Parliamentary hearings on trafficking. The government did not provide its overall budget allocations for trafficking for 2021; the last time the government provided a budget, in 2017, it totaled 7 million TTD ($1.04 million).

The CTU operated a 24/7 English-language trafficking hotline, through which it identified three victims, referred three individuals for care, and launched four criminal investigations, compared with receiving 47 calls and referring one case for investigation in the previous reporting period. The police also launched a Spanish version of its mobile phone app to report crimes. A 24-hour bilingual hotline operated by an NGO identified one victim. The government publicized the hotline, but an international organization reported the hotline was not widely used. Observers noted the need for more Spanish-language operators for the hotline. The CTU had a weekly radio program and news column dedicated to trafficking issues. The government conducted extensive online and in-person outreach in English and Spanish on trafficking awareness, the use of social media to recruit victims, and labor rights for both government employees and the general public.

The Employment Exchange Act prohibited recruitment fees. Labor recruiters required a license to operate; the licensing officer could accept as equivalent a license issued by the competent authority of a foreign country. However, the Ministry of Labor did not report how many recruiters authorities had licensed under the Act, and the government had never appointed a licensing officer. Forced labor cases could be referred to the labor inspectorate for investigation, and the inspectorate met with employers about paying employees unpaid wages. The law did not differentiate between citizens and foreign employees. Domestic workers were covered under the law, but observers noted the oversight and regulation of domestic workers remained weak. The Ministry of Labor (MOLSED) did not finalize a labor migration policy, begun in 2019, that included measures to mitigate trafficking. The government trained all labor inspectors to use trafficking screening forms. The government produced online videos to reduce the demand for commercial sex; it also provided a presentation on trafficking to college-age men. The government reported its laws allowed for the prosecution of suspected sex tourists for crimes committed abroad and it developed draft legislation to strengthen the registration and reporting of sexual offenders; the legislation remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government trained diplomats and other staff at overseas missions on trafficking indicators and victim identification during the first quarter of 2022.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Trinidad and Tobago, and traffickers exploit victims from Trinidad and Tobago abroad. Trinidad and Tobago also serves as a transit point for Venezuelan refugees and migrants en route to Europe, North Africa, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. The ongoing humanitarian crisis in neighboring Venezuela and the economic effects of the pandemic have contributed to a large influx of refugees and migrants who are at high risk for trafficking. An international organization reported more than 21,000 foreigners—86 percent Venezuelan and 6 percent Cuban—were registered with the international organization for asylum or refugee status in the country during the reporting period. Trinidad and Tobago closed its borders due to the pandemic from March 2020 through July 2021, but an international organization reported Venezuelans continued to arrive in large numbers on a daily basis. Unaccompanied or separated Venezuelan children are at increased risk for sex trafficking. Many victims enter the country legally via Trinidad’s international airport, while others enter illegally via small boats from nearby Venezuela. Migrants from the Caribbean region and from Asia, in particular those lacking legal status, are at risk for forced labor in domestic service and the retail sector. Sex trafficking victims are women and girls primarily from Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Guyana; traffickers offer employment in brothels and clubs, including via social media—which increased as a result of the pandemic—along with advertisements in Venezuelan newspapers and recruitment by other victims. NGOs reported some victims from a December 2021 raid had been forced to recruit other victims. Some trafficking networks operated through businesses acting as a cover for trafficking operations. Traffickers also exploit individuals from Puerto Rico, the Philippines, the People’s Republic of China, India, Nepal, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Traffickers are increasingly targeting and accompanying vulnerable foreign young women and girls between the ages of 15 and 21. LGBTQI+ persons are at risk for sex trafficking. In July 2021, 30 Cuban medical professionals followed a May 2020 group of 12 Cuban medical professionals to the country to assist with pandemic response efforts. Cuban medical professionals may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Corruption in police and immigration has been associated with facilitating labor and sex trafficking. Observers report that law enforcement and security officials are implicated in trafficking, including coast guard officials who facilitate the transit of women and girls from Venezuela to the country; immigration and customs officers who ensure that women and girls arrive and receive entry; and members of the police who accept bribes to facilitate transport to houses across the country and work with brothel owners to protect their establishments from police raids, particularly in the southern police districts where most Venezuelan refugees and displaced persons attempt to enter the country. Transnational organized crime with a link to megabandas—large criminal gangs with more than 50 members who are part of transnational organized crime networks in Latin America—may increasingly be involved in trafficking. Traffickers coerce victims into exploiting their friends or associates in trafficking through fraudulent promises of gainful employment. Trinidad and Tobago is likely a sex tourism destination. After the country closed its borders in March 2020 due to the pandemic, recruitment shifted to online platforms, more victims arrived by sea through illegal points of entry, and trafficking moved from brothels, spas, salons, and bars to private, clandestine locations.

U.S. Department of State

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