The Government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore St. Vincent and the Grenadines remained on Tier 2. These efforts included amending the anti-trafficking law to remove the option for a fine in lieu of imprisonment; increasing the number of and funding for police patrols in tourist areas and at large public gatherings, where trafficking was more likely to occur; and increasing public awareness efforts, including targeting new at-risk populations. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities have not prosecuted a trafficking case since 2015 and have never convicted a trafficker. Victim identification and services remained weak, and the government did not provide adequate resources for anti-trafficking efforts.
Vigorously prosecute and enable successful convictions of traffickers and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
Increase investigations of suspected sex and labor trafficking cases, particularly cases involving children.
Increase government funding and resources across all relevant agencies to combat trafficking.
Improve the quality and specialization of victim services.
Consistently screen domestic and foreign at-risk populations, including former IDPs, economically disadvantaged children, individuals in commercial sex, migrants, and Cuban medical workers for trafficking indicators and refer victims to care.
Increase training for police, prosecutors, and the judiciary on improved evidence collection in trafficking cases, ensuring presented evidence meets applicable legal standards.
Increase the capacity of labor inspectors to identify and refer victims of labor trafficking to care, including children.
Continue to raise awareness about labor trafficking and sex trafficking and the need for public cooperation in law enforcement investigations in traditional and social media.
The government slightly increased minimal law enforcement efforts. The Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and had prescribed punishments of up to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of 250,000 Eastern Caribbean dollars ($92,590), or both. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, but, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, the penalties for sex trafficking offenses were not commensurate with those for other serious crimes. However, in March 2023, the government amended the anti-trafficking law to remove the option for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, which made the penalties for sex trafficking commensurate with those for other serious crimes.
The Anti-Trafficking in Persons Unit (ATIPU) investigated three cases – all for sex trafficking – compared with investigating three cases – one sex trafficking case, one labor trafficking case, and one for unspecific forms of trafficking in 2021, and one case of labor trafficking in 2020. One of these investigations resulted in the arrest and subsequent discharge of a man who attempted to recruit young Vincentian women and girls with false offers to work as babysitters, housekeepers, and gardeners. Authorities did not prosecute any alleged traffickers under the anti-trafficking act during the reporting period, with the last prosecution in 2015. The government has never convicted a trafficker. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.
The lack of prosecutions and convictions and the dismissal of past trafficking cases over several years indicated shortcomings in the government’s ability to acquire sufficient evidence to bring cases to trial. Authorities indicated police needed additional personnel and resources to investigate and collect evidence effectively in trafficking cases. The ATIPU had two staff members, and authorities noted the ATIPU needed at least three more. Observers reported the government increased the number of and funding for patrols in tourist areas and large public events where trafficking was more likely to occur during the reporting period. The ATIPU received computers and office equipment, which the ATIPU previously reported it needed to combat human trafficking more effectively.
The ATIPU conducted surveillance at the airport and seaports of entry, marinas, bars, nightclubs, entertainment spots, restaurants, beaches, and social events to identify possible trafficking crimes. The ATIPU trained police recruits on human trafficking basics; investigative methods; and victim identification, care, and protection; and police investigators on trafficking investigative methods.
The government maintained minimal victim protection efforts. Authorities screened potential victims but did not formally identify any victims for the second year, compared with screening eight potential trafficking victims in 2020; the government last identified a confirmed victim in 2019. The government reported it disseminated a formal screening and referral procedure for potential trafficking victims to immigration and labor departments, law enforcement, social services, and NGOs; the ATIPU was responsible for formal victim identification.
The ATIPU could refer confirmed victims to a crisis center the government funded and operated in collaboration with NGOs for victims of domestic violence and trafficking; the center offered shelter, social care, and medical, psychological, and financial assistance, but the government did not report any trafficking victims receiving these services. The government could also provide legal assistance and assistance for family members as needed. The government reported adult victims could leave the shelter at will. Some observers, in previous reporting periods, noted the government’s victim referral process kept potential victims in law enforcement custody instead of moving them to the crisis center. The government did not provide a dedicated shelter facility for male victims. During the reporting period, the government provided funding to the Ministry of National Security, which oversaw the ATIPU, but did not report the specific amount provided for trafficking victim services, as it was allocated through the overall budgets of different ministries. The government reported victims could speak to social services or an NGO that completed ATIPU anti-trafficking training instead of law enforcement prior to deciding whether to file a police report. Provisions in the anti-trafficking act called for victim protection before, during, and after a trial, such as keeping the names of victims and their families confidential, witness protection programs, and facilities for victims to testify via video; however, the government did not use these provisions for any trafficking victims during the reporting period.
The anti-trafficking act provided foreign victims with the possibility of temporary and permanent residence permits and protected victims from immediate deportation; authorities did not link victim benefits to cooperation with law enforcement. Authorities did not grant temporary or permanent residency to any victims during the reporting period. The government allowed foreign victims who remained in the country to work but did not make use of this provision during the reporting period. The government reported it screened all individuals before deportation; outside observers noted the country’s border controls included an exit interview with an immigration officer. The government did not report any compensation paid to trafficking victims; it also did not report any situations where victims required government assistance with repatriation, which could be offered after a safety assessment. Authorities did not report specifically screening Cuban medical workers for trafficking indicators beyond general entry and exit screening or implementing measures to ensure workers kept their wages apart from general monitoring of foreign workers. The government trained members of a humanitarian NGO on victim identification and care.
The government slightly increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The national task force, led by the prime minister, coordinated the anti-trafficking efforts of its members, including government agencies and an NGO. The government did not report how often the national task force met during the reporting period. The government reported continuing to provide financial, material, technical, and human resources for the country’s anti-trafficking NAP for the period 2021-2025 out of the general budget of the Ministry of National Security but did not report if its budget was sufficient. Observers noted the country had to prioritize funding generally for recovery from the pandemic and a 2021 volcanic eruption, both of which caused severe economic disruption, as well as other needs apart from anti-trafficking efforts.
The ATIPU operated three 24-hour English-speaking hotlines, including a dedicated trafficking hotline, an emergency number, and a police operator, and monitored an email address for reporting suspected trafficking cases; authorities reported they initiated criminal investigations from calls to the hotlines in the reporting period but did not report whether the investigations were of trafficking crimes. The government submitted an annual anti-trafficking report to Parliament; the report was not readily available to the public. The government carried out new awareness campaigns for journalists and public information service employees, as well as for summer camps, preschools, and youth clubs, which observers noted contained at-risk populations not previously reached. The government also raised awareness via a country-wide radio program, an article published on social media and in newspapers for World Day Against Trafficking in Persons, a walk against human trafficking, the distribution of brochures for the ATIPU’s tenth anniversary, new banners at the cruise port, and banners, posters, stickers, and brochures at the international airport and other popular sites in partnership with an NGO. The government did not report training its diplomats but did so in 2021; in previous reporting periods, the government reported it provided such training on a biennial basis to coincide with the return of accredited diplomats for consultations in Kingstown.
The government routinely conducted planned and unannounced labor inspections of hotels, farms, stores, bars, security workplaces, and domestic work locations, although their stated lack of personnel and funding may have prevented more complete coverage of work sites with the most vulnerable workers. Labor department officials reported conducting an unspecified number of periodic inspections for the second year. The 1940 Recruiting of Workers Act remained in force and banned recruitment fees; observers noted the government regulated overseas labor programs for its citizens by serving as an intermediary. The government reported having bilateral agreements with several countries regarding oversees recruitment and employment and using resources in its embassies overseas to prevent trafficking. The government did not train labor inspectors specifically on child labor, although the government reported labor inspectors screened for indicators of child labor and trafficking, and police received training to investigate child labor crimes. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. In April 2021, the La Soufriere volcanic eruption and a subsequent hurricane destroyed a third of the country’s arable land, made almost all arable land inaccessible, leading to massive crop failures and cutting off the main source of revenue and employment, and displaced a sixth of its population, making this group newly vulnerable to trafficking. Adults may exploit their children in sex trafficking to generate income, while others may exploit child sex trafficking victims. Foreign workers employed by small, foreign-owned companies may be vulnerable to labor trafficking. The government invited Cuban medical workers in the country to assist in the pandemic healthcare response in a previous reporting period and signed a bilateral agreement with Cuba governing the work and living arrangements for the medical professionals. The government reported in a previous reporting period that the Cuban medical workers retained their passports. Cuban nationals working in St. Vincent and the Grenadines may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. International air travel in the Eastern Caribbean, the main mode of transportation in pre-pandemic reporting periods for foreign trafficking victims in the region, collapsed during the pandemic. When limited air travel resumed, the main routes were to the United States, not a traditional source market for foreign trafficking victims in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.