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Trafficking headache

marciadottin, [email protected]

Trafficking headache

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A determined effort is underway in Washington and Bridgetown to clean up Barbados’ tarnished human trafficking image.
Worried about the potential fallout from the negative picture painted of the island as a place which was failing to curb human trafficking, Barbados is working with the United States State Department to sketch a more accurate picture in the widely circulated United States annual global report.
The move came after Barbados was downgraded last year from the “Tier 2” level in 2009, and placed in 2010 on “Watch List”, a category reserved for countries that aren’t meeting minimum international anti-trafficking standards and where the absolute number of victims of severe forms of trafficking “is very significant or is significantly increasing”.
American and Barbadian officials met recently in Bridgetown and Washington searching for ways to improve the assessment of Barbados in the 2011 report scheduled to be released in June.
“We want to ensure that the State Department recognizes that we take the issue of human trafficking seriously and are moving aggressively to deal with it,” said John Beale, Barbados’ Ambassador to the United States. “We feel confident the report on Barbados in 2011 would see us return to the level of previous years.”
The United States last year listed a catalogue of trafficking ills in Barbados, including a charge that the Government had made “no discernible progress in its anti-human trafficking law enforcement efforts during the year”. It also said Barbados didn’t even “comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”.
In addition, law enforcement officials were said to be simply deporting people without first trying to find out if they were victims of trafficking.
Just as bad, it accused Government of not launching a single investigation into sex and labour trafficking and didn’t haul any before the court for alleged trafficking.
On top of that, the State Department complained that Barbados hadn’t enacted specific legislation designed to prohibit trafficking. That wasn’t all.
Yes, a Cabinet minister had spoken out against child prostitution but the Government had made “no noticeable efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts”, despite rising public concern about “the problem of sex tourism, including child sex tourism”, the report charged.
In its defence, Barbados complained that United States officials had failed to check the accuracy of information fed to them by people and organizations on the island, resulting in false charges being published.
Beale said while Barbados might not have specific anti-trafficking legislation, it had “alternative” measures designed to protect victims.
“The reason why Barbados was downgraded was probably in two areas; one was that it was the fault of the people from the US side who went in and did an analysis and probably didn’t really get all information verified.
“Furthermore, they never discussed it with Government authorities, so that if there was misrepresentation, it wasn’t cleared up before it was published. Some of the people who go down to Barbados get incorrect information and don’t even check it with the authorities. They [Americans] have agreed to improve how they get data and even discuss it with us before printing it.”
On the other hand, Barbados might not have sent a clear enough signal that it was taking the issue seriously enough and was making every attempt to deal with it, Beale hinted.
“Even though you may not have every single law in place, if you are seen, perceived, to be interested in working with it, that’s very important to these people because they want to see that it wasn’t being pushed under the carpet,” he added.
“This year, I am sure that when the people go [to Barbados] to do their work, we will have our ears and eyes on the ground. We are taking this thing seriously and it will be seen in that light.
I am sure it will give us a better rating.”
Washington has urged Barbados to enact “a comprehensive anti-trafficking law”; prosecute suspected human traffickers; implement procedures to help law enforcement officials identify trafficking victims; and undertake a national trafficking awareness and prevention programme.
Beale said the island was sensitive to the trafficking charges because of any possible negative impact they could have on the tourism industry.
“While a lot of people may not think this is important, in the tourist business, there are people who will check a country and if they see it is being downgraded for trafficking in persons they might not want to go to that country,” Beale said.