Guyana’s Tier 2 status with regard to human trafficking remains unchanged for the second year running, according to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report for 2012. And given the government’s continued belligerent stance on the issue, come 2013, it is more than likely that the status quo will prevail.
As in everything else, there first has to be admission that there is a problem before there can be moves to correct it. The Government of Guyana does not believe that this country has a problem with trafficking in humans. The Ministry of Home Affairs’ ministerial task force said as much in its statement issued on Tuesday; that government and its partners “have been able to reduce this menace to a bare minimum.” And that has to be the reason why there is still a lack of full compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.
However, it would appear that Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Robert Persaud, did not get the memo regarding the government’s stance on this issue. Just last month, while on a visit to Mahdia, Minister Persaud denounced trafficking in young girls when the issue was raised at a meeting he held with residents there. Recorded as the first male minister to ever frontally address the issue, Minister Persaud had said that he was disgusted with the situation and he called on the residents of Mahdia to take a stand against it in their community.
As it has done in the past the US report identifies Guyana as a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour. It noted that Guyanese have been subjected to human trafficking in Caribbean countries, adding that “Cases of human trafficking reported in the media generally involved women and girls in forced prostitution.”
In April, through the efforts of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO), four girls—two under 18 and two under 16—were rescued from a mining area where they had been taken to do sex work. At least one of the girls had been recruited by a man who was acting for a woman who owns a shop in the interior. The girl, who was from the Berbice area, was offered a job selling in the woman’s shop at a lucrative salary. However, when she got there she was ordered to have sex with men in exchange for gold and abused when she refused to comply. She made determined efforts and was finally assisted in escaping from the area and was handed into the care of the GWMO. Her revelations led to the other three girls being rescued and they were all then placed in the custody of the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security under whose purview both children and TIP fall. What followed was a huge fiasco.
This case was not the first one brought to the attention of the GWMO. After the organization was founded, it began to visit the various mining areas around the country in its effort to fully represent women miners. During these visits, TIP cases have been highlighted by both women miners and community leaders. However, given its status as an NGO, the GWMO cannot act in certain cases beyond passing the information on to the authorities.
That aside, there is anecdotal evidence of children and adults in the deep poverty bracket being procured to work as maids and labourers far from their homes and being underpaid or not paid at all; being forced to do dangerous and humiliating tasks; or to have sex with their employers or their relatives.
Unfortunately, few if any of these cases are followed up and neither the procurer nor the employer is made to face the law.
There are also reports of young women being enticed by the lure of well-paying jobs in other Caribbean countries only to find when they get there that they are expected to do sex work. Similarly, young Brazilian females are brought here and exploited as strippers, exotic dancers and prostitutes.
US Ambassador to Guyana D Brent Hardt said in an op-ed piece released yesterday that the report recognizes the Guyana government’s “enhanced efforts to identify, assist, and protect victims of trafficking during the reporting period.” It also noted that there were no new prosecutions over the reporting period and no substantial progress on previously initiated prosecutions, and it made several reasonable proposals to address this.
However, as long as government remains on the defensive and in denial over the TIP report, which is the sort of constructive criticism needed to evoke change, then we should prepare ourselves for a long sojourn on Tier 2 or perhaps even a step down to the Tier 2 Watch List or Tier 3.