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.