NASSAU, The Bahamas –Prevention of trafficking in persons is a priority for the Government of The Bahamas because of its many unfortunate consequences, and the fact that it poses a threat to national security.
Minister of National Security, the Hon. Bernard Nottage addressed the Joint Meeting of the Trafficking in Persons Inter-Ministry Committee and the National Trafficking in Persons Task Force to encourage the leadership, zeal, and cooperation the teams have demonstrated in the anti-trafficking in persons strategy. The Joint Meeting took place on Monday, April 20, in the Conference Room of the Ministry of National Security.
Minister Nottage discussed the Cabinet-approved National Action Plan or guidelines for the prevention, suppression, and punishment of trafficking in persons, declaring the plan a roadmap for his Ministry’s effort to prevent trafficking in persons going forward.
He brought to light that “trafficking in persons is a heinous transnational crime that impacts thousands of persons the world over wreaking havoc on its victims. It is accepted that trafficking in persons is modern day slavery. Its victims are men, women boys and girls who are recruited, transported and harboured by means of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, deception, fraud or abuse of power for the purpose of exploitation. The exploitation takes place mainly for sexual purposes or forced labour.
“The reality is that many of the persons who are exploited for sexual purposes do not themselves realize that they are being trafficked and are viewed by the average citizen as engaging in prostitution. Many employers who are engaged in labour trafficking see nothing wrong in having an attitude of ownership of their employees; withholding their passports and other documents; working them hours that contravene the employment laws of The Bahamas; and in conditions that are unsatisfactory.”
Minister Nottage said that the Government is determined to fix these vexing problems through education and attitudinal changes and is depending upon committee members to be motivated towards the achievement of this noble and attainable goal.
“Just a few years ago, the general view was that trafficking in persons did not exist in The Bahamas, and that it was being confused with human smuggling. Since then, considerable efforts have been made towards identifying trafficking in persons. Over the past two years, The Bahamas has assisted three foreign victims of trafficking in persons and successfully prosecuted two trafficking in persons cases with the traffickers sentenced and taken off the streets,” said Minister Nottage.
“This year, our law enforcement officers have investigated 13 potential trafficking in person’s situations to determine whether there was any evidence of trafficking in persons present. Where there was no tangible evidence, the matters were not pursued. One of these investigations, however, has resulted in a prosecution that is ongoing in the magistrates courts.”
In addition, Minister Nottage said this year the Task Force has been engaged in providing care and assistance to 15 individuals, seven of whom were identified as victims of sex trafficking.
“In carrying out your responsibilities to trafficking in persons victims this year, it was clear to me that you were challenged on a number of fronts,” said the Minister:“You have had to work extended hours, you experienced stress and burnout, but yet you persevered. For this, the Government is appreciative. In the relatively short period of time that the Committees have been in existence, you have produced various documents to assist in the implementation of the provisions of the Trafficking in Persons [Prevention and Suppression] Act and in educating persons about trafficking in persons,” said Minister Nottage.
“This year, you were successful in completing the ‘National Anti-Trafficking in Persons Strategy’ for the years 2014 to 2018. This Strategy has received the approval of the Cabinet of The Bahamas. The Strategy includes the National Action Plan for Trafficking in Persons. This Plan is your road map and guide to assist you in your efforts to prevent trafficking in persons; support and protect victims and victim witnesses; investigate and prosecute traffickers; and establish partnerships locally and internationally in this worthy endeavour.”
Minister Nottage noted that now they have an Action Plan in place, they will be counted on to work the Plan. He said the Government of The Bahamas will expect even more from the anti-trafficking in persons efforts, and they have moved to ensure that the requisite funding is in place to support their implementation of the National Action Plan.
“Our Country’s Trafficking in Persons Reporting Year extends from March to February. As you are aware, like other countries of the world, the international obligations placed upon The Bahamas require that we satisfy certain conventions and meet certain standards in our efforts at combating trafficking in persons. One of these is satisfying the requirements of the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children; and another is the United States Annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which has a reporting year from April to March,” said Minister Nottage.
“It is clear that whatever obligation we are seeking to satisfy, whether it is those placed upon us at home or those from abroad, we will be required to do more each year to prevent trafficking in persons and assist victims. The Government is therefore expecting you to take a proactive approach and to benefit from the use of intelligence in our efforts to dismantle the networks of traffickers and make it uninviting, uncomfortable and unprofitable for them to do business in The Bahamas.”
Minister Nottage said there is also a continuing need for training and retraining in trafficking in persons and the implementation of the protocols that we have established locally. He said much more attention must be paid to awareness raising in our communities and in so doing developing partnerships with the local media in order to ensure that the right message is disseminated on trafficking in persons.
“It is also expected that you will seek to increase your engagement with the members of civil society as we move to bring awareness and assistance to victims throughout our archipelago,” said Minister Nottage.
“Committee members, I am depending upon you; the Government is depending upon you. We ask that you be encouraged and remain steadfast and dedicated, as we continue to work together as a team to counter trafficking in persons. Let us use the medium of the Task Force to make our contribution to reestablishing The Bahamas as a safe place for all to enjoy and leave as an inheritance for our children, grand children and beyond.”