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Hear, See, and Speak No Evil: Modern-Day Slavery in Barbados?

On the surface, the Barbadian island paradise reflects an environment of a free people. The island’s architectural legacy proudly recalls the country’s colonial heritage and serves as a reminder of our valued freedom. The horrid stories of the seventeenth and eighteenth century slave trade are masked under the paint and plaster that serve to glorify the beautiful great houses and humble chattel houses typical of that era. For most Barbadians, the days of slavery are buried in the past. The reality of the African slaves brought to the Caribbean is documented in the pages of history books, which are now dusted off and repackaged under the banner of heritage tourism. Little do the people know that slavery still exists in the Barbadian society, even today.

Prior to 2007, Barbadians rarely considered the fact that the island could be a place where human trafficking, also known as modern-day slavery, takes place. It was not until 2009 when the U.S. State Department released a report downgrading Barbados to the Tier 2 Watch List* , that the Government truly began to take action. Yet this issue seldom appears in the pages of local media. To date, Barbados has not tried a single person for human trafficking. The truth is that most evidence is anecdotal. Potential victims may be perceived as “illegal immigrants” or people may not report the sexual exploitation of youth, in particular, for financial gain. One could easily suppose that, if it is not seen, heard, or spoken of, it simply doesn’t exist.

Human Trafficking: A Global Issue

“Trafficking is growing. 2-4 MILLION men, women and children are trafficked across borders and within their own country every year. More than one person is trafficked across borders EVERY MINUTE, which is equivalent to ten jumbo jets every day. [It is] a trade that earns twice as much worldwide revenue as Coca Cola.” – Stop The Traffik (www.stopthetraffik.org)

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) defines human trafficking as, “the acquisition of people by improper means such as force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them.” The General Assembly, made up of 193 countries throughout the world, adopted The United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in November 2000. The supporting Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children (Trafficking Protocol) – one of the Palermo Protocols – entered into force in 2003. The Trafficking Protocol was signed by 117 countries, which are expected to ratify it.

In a highly globalized world, discussions on human trafficking are even more important in 2012 and beyond. Human trafficking is likely to thrive, given the economic crisis. It is inevitable that people the world over will actively pursue any opportunity they can to evolve financially. Amongst these people, some will be tricked into a situation of forced sexual or physical labor, whilst others will be exploited by the very people they trust for financial gain. Human trafficking therefore becomes the responsibility of all countries across the world whether they are countries of origin, transshipment, or destination.

Barbados: Modern-Day Slavery Does Exist

In an excerpt, published in 2008, from the Newsletter of the Bureau of Gender Affairs, Anne Rueckschloss of the Bureau of Gender Affairs noted, “though you can’t see their chains, many people throughout the Caribbean are bought, sold, trapped, tricked, lurked and imprisoned every year by “human traffickers” – the modern day slave traders.”

The Inter-American Commission for Women (CIM) in the Organization of American States (OAS) spoke to Caribbean journalists in Washington D.C. on the issue in February 2012. Yasmin Solitahe Odlum, gender specialist at CIM, noted the resistance to accepting the existence of human trafficking in the region.

Nonetheless, over the years, there have been anecdotal examples, which demonstrate that Barbados could be a country of origin, transshipment, and destination for human trafficking. An UNODC report highlighted that in 2005 a person was prosecuted and convicted of bringing in Indian construction workers that did not have work permits. This human trafficker was charged under the Immigration Act and only ordered to pay a fine. In 2007, another trafficker brought two Ukrainian women into the country and forced them into prostitution. The individual was prosecuted, but the case was dismissed due to lack of evidence. The Stabroek News of Guyana in February 2011 reported on a previous instance of potential trafficking in Barbados highlighting a woman, working in the agricultural sector, who was detained by police. On questioning, she was found to live in deplorable conditions and had no access to her travel documents.

Mr. Roosevelt King, Secretary General at the Barbados Association of Non Governmental Organisations (BANGO), recounts an incident in 2011 where three Jamaican women were promised jobs in Barbados. These women were forced into prostitution when their three-week permission to stay in the country expired and there was no action taken to acquire the relevant work permits. One of the women contacted BANGO, which was able to get her to safety. The immigration officials got involved when the trafficker that brought them in reported the woman, who would have been considered an illegal immigrant by Barbadian officials. Despite efforts on the part of BANGO, the woman was deported back to Jamaica. During this time, the second woman was able to escape captivity, but was also deported when she came into contact with local authorities. King is unsure whether the third woman remains in a situation of forced prostitution. To date, King is not aware of any effort to question or prosecute the trafficker.

Deeply saddened by the outcome of this case, King reflected on the opportunities for low wage earners to seek employment in Barbados prior to 2008. That was the year the government introduced an amnesty for illegal CARICOM immigrants before adopting a stronger position on immigration into Barbados. King still remembers a time when a non-Barbadian could more easily get a work permit based on a job offer in construction and domestic work.

Barbados is part of the 15-state Caribbean Community (CARICOM). As part of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME), Barbados is one of 12 states that allows free movement of people within certain categories. These include persons seeking to establish a business in another CARICOM country, graduates from a recognized university, media persons, artists and musicians, and sportspersons. King sees this aspect of CSME as a positive step in the fight against human trafficking because it allows CARICOM citizens an avenue to seek employment in other member states. The challenge in the somewhat limited movement is that those who are most vulnerable cannot take advantage of these legitimate opportunities.

Barbados signed the Trafficking Protocol on 26 September 2001. Unfortunately, it has taken ten years for the Transnational Organized Crime Prevention and Control Act 2011 to be passed. However, the Government has engaged in training for relevant officials with support from organizations like the OAS and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Ms. Aniya Emtage is a Research Fellow at the Associates for International Development (AID Inc.), an international development agency based in Barbados that is expanding its program to address human trafficking. She believes that much more than training needs to be done. Reflecting on her initial research in the country, which started about five years ago, she remembers the response of a customs official, who believed that such things as human trafficking did not exist in a country with “good people.” This perception is detrimental to ensuring the identification and prosecution of human traffickers in Barbados.

Emtage describes Barbados as a country that depends heavily on tourism, where sex is still a taboo subject, and elements of xenophobia exist within the society. She believes that, because of these characteristics, human trafficking does not receive enough coverage. She supposes that people either do not want to talk about it or do not want to get involved. After all, Barbadians would prefer to avoid bad press, especially in the international community. Its economy, after all, is heavily dependent on tourism.

In spite of these examples throughout the years, Emtage highlights further challenges. She noted that there is no advocacy around the trafficking issue and a lack of information and formal structures to guide victims to safe spaces. Given that the number of prosecutions measures incidences of human trafficking, the fact that the Transnational Organized Crime Prevention and Control Act has only recently been passed means that there are no concrete cases of human trafficking cited. Furthermore, victims would hesitate to come forward if they know that they would be treated as illegal immigrants or sluts, in the case of forced prostitution. She comments, “there is no victim assistance here. You have to treat them well and take care of them.” She passionately adds that the recent law addresses trans-border trafficking but does not adequately deal with intra-country cases of human trafficking, which victimizes children in particular. She notes that many of the stories of human trafficking of children within the country come from the children, but the data are not being captured. There is a draft Child Abuse Protocol, but it has not been formally adopted to date.

More than a Government Response

Emtage comments on the link between poverty and human trafficking, “Underprivileged, undereducated, plus lack of awareness equals a perfect trafficking situation.” Ms. Hilary Anderson of CIM, shared with The Jamaica Gleaner the vulnerability of women as victims of human traffickers. She was quoted saying that, “women are lacking in economic empowerment for various reasons. They become vulnerable to these networks of people who promise them a better life and other opportunities because they don’t have what they need to support their children and their families where they are, so they become vulnerable to trafficking, or to involvement in gangs, or to criminality just because they are lacking basic necessities in their daily lives,”

So where does one go from here? For Emtage, widespread advocacy is a major solution to ensure that the vulnerable do not fall prey to local and international human traffickers. Yet she stresses the important role and responsibility of law enforcement, judiciary, and customs officials. She notes the need for the Barbados Government to:

• Reform the law to include a provision for intra-country human trafficking incidences
• Continue to train relevant officials to identify cases of human trafficking and move towards the collection of evidence to prosecute offenders
• Support the NGO sector to assist with research, provide shelter, relevant care etc. to victims

Emtage went on to say that the NGO sector still has to develop the capacity to adequately deal with victims that approach them. Most of the time, people are uncertain where to refer victims. Yet, civil society’s strength lies in its ability to lobby government and engage in the type of advocacy to bring about awareness in the country. The question of funding and sustainability will inevitably be an excuse to not face the challenge head on. As a global issue, the Government and NGO sector should seek to engage and partner with other entities across the globe to protect victims, ensure justice, and reunite victims with their families.

From the average citizen to private sector enterprises, the wider society has a role to play in identifying incidences of human trafficking within their community and workplace. Emtage recommends that education around human trafficking be directed at the most vulnerable in the community. People should be advised to retain several copies of their passports, which allow officials and embassies to track persons who have travelled. She stresses that, where possible, information should be shared with friends and family. If people are enticed by better working conditions, they should always seek to ask as many questions as possible. Furthermore, she believes that there are many resources available online such as awareness building material to circulate to hotel staff to identify incidences of human trafficking. Similar resources could be used in advocacy and to set up the necessary systems in support of victims of human trafficking.

This modern-day slavery sheds a new light on the vulnerability of the poor and the exploitation of Barbados’ most valuable asset, its people. The slave trade also reminds countries of the importance of access to education and the right of people to economically empower themselves. As a hub within a region known for transshipment of drugs and people, Barbados cannot afford to ignore the plight of theses modern-day slaves. With a history of slavery, Barbados and its Caribbean neighbors have a responsibility to their ancestors to never allow such inhumanity to continue to happen again.

*"This list includes countries whose governments do not fully comply with the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with those standards AND: a) The absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking is very significant or is significantly increasing; 
b) There is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year; or 
c) The determination that a country is making significant efforts to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards was based on commitments by the country to take additional future steps over the 
next year." (U.S. Department of State http://www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/2011/164228.htm)

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future a program of World Pulse that provides rigorous new media and citizen journalism training for grassroots women leaders. World Pulse lifts and unites the voices of women from some of the most unheard regions of the world.

Comments

Stella Paul's picture

Well done!

Dear Juliette

Trafficking indeed is a global issue and a grave one at that. In South Asia its taking a monster form. Every day we see people being rescued and as feared, 90% of them are women and children. Data collection is a huge challenge, thanks to social stigma and the secrecy attached to the whole issue. I thank you for joining the voices against this endemic crime.

I also love the solutions you propose. Looking at it from where I stand, I would also say that media sensitization is also extremely important. In short time span, climate change issue has gained a lot of space in the media because of the growing number of media workshops that are organized globally these days. But when it comes to Human trafficking (or,for that matter, most women's issues), media is just sent a press release and expected to write. I think big changes can happen if media is taken more into confidence and shared the insights by CSOs and the govt agencies. Sensitization of private sectors is another way to bring in effects because that's where a lot of demand is originated, which leads to the supply.

Well done Juliette and congrats on completing 4th module! Time flies fast, huh? Love

Stella Paul
Twitter: @stellasglobe

Juliette Maughan's picture

That it does

Only one more assignment left and I do not want it to end!

Thanks for your feedback and yes media and private sector have a major role!

Duda's picture

Dear Julliete,

you wrote a great piece. Trafficking is a huge problem in Serbia as well. Lack of information, law, good organization made it worse.

Thank you for sharing this with us.

Big hug,
Duda

Juliette Maughan's picture

Thank you Duda!

It is a worldwide problem and that is what is so challenging about it. It is not for only one country to solve.

mrbeckbeck's picture

Big challenge

Well done, confronting a monster in your midst. It is a world-wide tragedy that so many people are trapped in this shadow-world, and I applaud your effort to bring it to light.

Last year I learned that Portland OR, my home-town and World Pulse HQ, is a major hub for human trafficking on the west-coast. I couldn't believe it... or rather, I didn't want to believe it. I think you're right that there needs to be a lot of education about the issue, because right now it's just not discussed. Governments, law enforcement, NGOs, media... everyone needs to step it up and put this new slavery in the history books.

Well done, as always. Looking forward to your digital story project!
Best,
Scott

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

Juliette Maughan's picture

Thanks!

Yes Scott it is a topic, as I highlighted, that was discussed in Washington as it relates to the Caribbean. Of course the government and the people do not want to acknowledge it. Human trafficking leaves such a bad taste in people's mouths and as a tourist destination, it is just bad business.

Acknowledging, I guess, would be tantamount to accepting and the media cannot have conflicting images as it relates to us.

But a proactive approach could have the opposite affect I believe. Just that with drugs and human trafficking there is a lot of money to be spent...

Oh well one step at a time.

Cannot believe it is almost over :(.

mrbeckbeck's picture

Agreed

Right, people don't want to think about modern-day slaves while they sit on a beach looking out at a beautiful sunset. I agree with you that Barbados could be a leader and take big steps to end the practice... and it would make it that much more attractive for tourists/investors. Potentially.

I can see similarities in the way that big food businesses right now are resisting being forced to label things with genetically modified ingredients. But, if they stepped up their game and stopped using them, they could be the first ones to say "Now with NO genetically modified ingredients." I guess there's more money in business as usual though.

And, it's not the end, just a new beginning! :)

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

Debra Engle's picture

Beautifullly written!

Juliette,

Your feature story has the hallmarks of fine writing: a compelling lead paragraph, excellent research and substantiation from statistics and quotes, and a subject that matters. I especially appreciate the practical suggestions at the end of the story, such as retaining copies of passports and sharing information with friends and family.

The only things I recommend from a writing standpoint are to include more direct quotes from your first-person sources so you're telling the story in their words, and to find a person who has experienced human trafficking (not an easy task, I realize) so that readers can experience the horrors through that person's eyes. Those two things would give the story more emotional power.

That said, I admire everything you've brought to this story and the way you've so clearly presented the culture of denial in Barbados. This piece could certainly open people's eyes to the reality of human trafficking and, hopefully, be a catalyst for change. Great job!

Juliette Maughan's picture

Feeback

Thanks Debra!

I am honoured to receive your feedback.

Yes it is very difficult to find a person who was trafficked. I was asking around but something like that would take more than a month to build trust. Persons are not in the habit of sharing shameful stories but hopefully I can report in the future on this situation and be able to gather even more information. Yes I should have included more direct quotes.

Who knows, if I can get the persons together I may do my photo journal or video piece on it. I am really hoping so but I am waiting to hear back from contacts to see if persons are willing to talk.

Juliette

Debra Engle's picture

Great reporting skills

Juliette,

It does take time to build trust, doesn't it? I think that's one of the things reporters understand and do so well. You clearly have that sensitivity...I can see it in your thoroughness and attention to detail with this story.

I'll be eager to see what you do with your photo journal or video. Even if you aren't able to get people to share their stories at this point, you've made a great start at building those relationships and exploring this topic in depth, which I"m sure will serve you well in the future.

noreens's picture

Juliette, You did a good job

Juliette,
You did a good job writing about a difficult subject. Lots of detail. It would be very interesting to see a video story about this subject, but I agree with you, it would be hard to find someone willing to talk. Good luck, if you do give it a try!

Noreen

Juliette Maughan's picture

Yup

I will need to ask a lot of people to see if it can be done.

Best,

Juliette

Abigail Fern's picture

very well written

Juliette,

This is a very well-written article and I left feeling not only inspired, but also educated. You do a great job of providing research and interviews that inform the reader and build a deeper connection to the issue of human trafficking. I agree with others that having a first-person account from a survivor of trafficking would significantly add to your article, but understand how sensitive the topic is and how difficult it can be to encourage an interviewee to share their painful story. Great work overall!

Best,
Abby

Juliette Maughan's picture

Thanks for your feedback

Yes Abby,

Even the critics of the piece in my country said it lacks the voice of a trafficked person, or "concrete evidence."

I guess the point I wanted to bring home was overshadowed by the message that these cases are not being captured in a way that can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that they were here. Where they came from and their experience.

I will try for the video to get this voice but it all depends on if I can find a person(s) who are willing to talk.

We shall see!

Juliette

MaDube's picture

The problems with identifying

The problems with identifying victims will always be the same, getting the victims to trust you enough to want to talk to you. They also fear for their own life and security because sometimes when they talk they get killed by their traffickers. The mixed migratory patterns do not make it easier to identify victims of trafficking for individuals who are smuggled as economic migrants some of whom would have been prepared to engage in commercial sex work. And, the mixing up of trafficked victims who are sexually exploited and commercial sex work/prostitution make sit harder to differentiate the two-only after talking to the person and they really open up to you can you tell one from the other. It is a complex affair and I think it is unfair for critics to expect to hear the voice of a victim when you are trying to raise awareness bout the problem because clearly people hold these confusions in their heads.

I think you did a good job. This is an issue I am passionate about too and it was the subject of my op-ed. I am also writing a series for a local women's portal started by one of the alumni from VOF raising awareness on all forms of human trafficking not just for sexual exploitation.

Juliette Maughan's picture

Thanks Ma Dube

Please be sure to share the link for the series with me when you do so. I would like to pass it onto the research fellow.

It is just so uncomfortable hearing these stories almost like urban legends about all forms of human trafficking and no one knows for sure. So the tendency here is to say no no no not here because there is no proof. People also do not know what trafficking is defined as.

The thing is that human trafficking is a global issue so our Caribbean countries cannot say that they are immune to it. To ignore is not to be sensitive to the signs if/when it does surface and to prepare relevant authorities on how to effectively bring the perpetrator to justice.

I think to myself about how our security for traveling has increased, scanning this and that and the little bags and all sorts of equipment and we in the Caribbean do not have attacks like in other countries yet we engage as a security measure. Why is this issue so different?

J

Corine Milano's picture

Juliette, I wanted to leave a

Juliette, I wanted to leave a comment to let you know that you did a first rate job on your feature story. By exploring human trafficking in Barbados, you've shed light on more than a regional issue. It's a global one, and one that is little talked about...especially when it comes to its connection with tourism. Your writing is very clear and concise and you've done a fabulous job synthesizing a lot of information into an easily digestible article. And I love all of your recommendations at the end--way to be solutions oriented!

Congrats on a powerful assignment.

Corine

Juliette Maughan's picture

Thank you Corine

I was hoping to have my video follow on from this assignment but it is really difficult to get people to talk outside of the ones I have interviewed. And no one can identify a victim.

Alas this issue will have to be taken up in another way.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

J

Osai's picture

Great Piece

Thanks for writing a story about modern day slavery and the invisible women whose voices you have amplified. Definitely not an easy task.

Best wishes,
Osai

Twitter: @livingtruely

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