ST. LUCIA is still a source and destination country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour.
In the U.S. Department of State’s 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report on St. Lucia, it was stated that even civil society had reported women, in some cases older teenagers, recruiting younger adolescents to provide transactional sex with adults at street parties.
The report claims that St. Lucia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so.
A demonstrated effort by the government was its investigation of three cases of potential human trafficking, including the prosecution in March 2015 of a labour trafficking case, in which 70 students from Nepal, India and the Philippines each paid an estimated US$9,000 to attend a hospitality training academy located in Gros Islet.
Upon arrival, the students found the academy closed and nine students were reportedly forced to provide labour under the guise of hospitality internships. The government arrested and indicted four men (three from India and one from Bangladesh) for labour trafficking.
That case is still ongoing in the magistrate courts. The VOICE learned that evidence has already been taken from students. Should a conviction come out of that trial, it would be the first time the country would have convicted someone for human trafficking.
Police are reporting cooperation between the United States and other Caribbean countries in exchanging information on trafficking cases. The government, in collaboration with an international organization and Interpol, trained immigration and police officers in investigative techniques and victim identification, referral and assistance. The government also provided a separate training for judicial authorities.
Earlier this week, the Caribbean office of the International Labour Organization (ILO) held a workshop for trade union representatives on the awareness of and advocacy against child labour, forced labour and human trafficking. The idea was to get participants to understand and identify child labour, forced labour and human trafficking, which is still a difficult thing here. Last year, no trafficking victims was identified. However, 10 were in 2015. But this does not mean that government is not trying.
According to the report, police raided one nightclub suspected of promoting trafficking or prostitution. However, they did not identify any victim in the raid because they did not have written procedures to guide them on the proactive identification of victims.
This is unfortunate because government never finalized the formal procedures which were drafted in 2014 by an international organization to guide law enforcement, health and other officials on victim identification and referral to available protection and assistance services.
The 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report listed several recommendations St. Lucia should follow to improve its status in human trafficking. One recommendation is to prosecute, convict and punish perpetrators of forced labour and sex trafficking.
Other recommendations include
• increasing efforts to identify and provide assistance to victims; fully implement the 2015-2018 national action plan; and adopting standard operating procedures on a victim-centered approach to guide police, immigration, labour, child protection, judicial and social welfare officers on victim identification, referral and participation in legal proceedings.
• Train officials and implementing procedures to proactively identify labour and sex trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers in domestic service and children exploited in sex trafficking.
• Taking measures, respective of due process, to expedite prosecution of trafficking cases. The call to amend shortcomings in the law so that penalties for trafficking are commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape, is another recommendation.
• Implementing a national public awareness campaign about forced labour and sex trafficking.
The 2016 report took aim at St. Lucia for not doing enough to strengthen its fight against forced labour and human trafficking. It stated that the Home Affairs and National Security Ministry led an anti-trafficking taskforce consisting of relevant agencies and NGOs in implementing the national action plan.
In September last year, the government approved a national action plan and a national framework for combating trafficking in persons. However, the government did not provide financial assistance to the task force to implement the plan and the task force made little progress toward that end.
Further, the government, in partnership with an international organization and local NGO, finalized a public education campaign but did not print and distribute the flyers due to a lack of funding.
However, certain measures to prevent human trafficking and forced labour were taken, such as the Immigration Department presenting recommendations for improving visa documentation based on the mistakes made in the labour trafficking case, and government funding an NGO to run a hotline for victims of violence, including trafficking victims. The hotline received zero human trafficking calls last year.