Guyana maintains Trafficking In Persons status; new report points to insufficient labor inspectors, inadequate training

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Guyana has retained its Tier 1 ranking in the latest Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report of the United States Department of State, which was released on Thursday.

However, the report stated that although the government meets the minimum standards, it investigated and prosecuted fewer suspected traffickers, identified fewer victims of trafficking, and did not provide adequate screening or shelter for child and male victims.

The TIP report also pointed to insufficient labor inspectors and noted that their training in human trafficking is inadequate.

It recommended the training of law enforcement officials and front-line responders in written trauma-informed victim identification and referral procedures.

The annual report also called for a reduction in court proceedings as it was found that despite training for some judicial, prosecutorial, and law enforcement officials, trafficking and other major criminal prosecution cases took an average of two years in process and pretrial detention averaged three years.

According to the report, in 2019, the government reported 27 new investigations (25 for sex trafficking and two for labor trafficking), a decrease from 30 new investigations in 2019 and 4 in 2018.

“Police made 55 arrests in cases of sex trafficking and labor trafficking and continued investigations in 19 trafficking cases initiated in 2018. The government reported three new prosecutions of suspected traffickers in 2019 (one for sex trafficking and two for labor trafficking), a decrease from 11 prosecutions in 2018 and 17 in 2017. Authorities convicted one trafficker for sex trafficking of a minor and an adult female, compared with one conviction in 2019,” according to the TIP report.

Consistent with previous years, the report pointed out that traffickers exploit victims from Guyana, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Suriname, and Venezuela but the Government has noted a large increase in the number of trafficking victims from Venezuela.

As such, one of the recommendations include funding for specialized victim services for Venezuelan victims in their native language.

“The government maintained inadequate efforts to protect victims and identified fewer victims, despite an increase in Venezuelan refugees. Victim assistance remained a serious concern, especially in areas outside the capital and for Venezuelan child and male victims,” the report stated.

In 2019, the government identified 102 victims (63 sex trafficking and 39 labor trafficking), a decrease from 156 identified victims in 2018 and 131 in 2017, according to the report.

However, the Ministry of Social Protection in a statement noted that one hundred and twelve (112) alleged victims were identified and provided with psychosocial support from the Ministry and its partners.

The victims came from Guyana as well as the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Venezuela. Ninety-five were female and seven male, with 10 minors.

The government referred 99 out of 102 victims to shelter and 98 to protective services, compared with 93 out of 131 victims in 2018.

Local authorities are also urged to “hold convicted traffickers, including complicit public officials, accountable by investigating, prosecuting, convicting, and imposing sufficiently stringent sentences.”

This recommendation was made as it was found that the government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses, although the government screened Venezuelan women and children who experienced human rights abuses, including sexual exploitation by government officials.

Observers noted there were frequent, widespread reports of physical and sexual abuse of children and allegations that some police officers could be bribed to make such cases “go away”.

The Ministry of Social Protection has said it accepts the recommendations made and concurred with those recommendations as areas that need to be bolstered.

The annual TIP Report ranks countries across the globe based on their efforts to combat “trafficking in persons,” with Tier 1 being the highest-ranking a country can attain.

This is the fourth consecutive year that Guyana received a Tier 1 ranking.

The government was lauded for demonstrating serious and sustained efforts by completing a draft amendment of the Combating Trafficking of Persons Act, sentencing a convicted trafficker to a total of 15 years imprisonment, drafting a national action plan to eliminate child labor, completing standard operating procedures for investigating and prosecuting trafficking cases, and opening its first trafficking shelter outside of the capital area.

The government in 2019 provided $60M to NGO-managed shelters providing housing for adult female victims of gender-based violence and trafficking, the same amount provided in 2018. Victims could receive shelter, food, training, and psychological therapy.

The government also provided $2M, a decrease from $3.5M last year, indirect financial assistance to victims who chose not to stay in a shelter.

Authorities opened the first shelter for trafficking victims outside the capital.

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