Five females, who were last week removed by the police from the Mahdia backdam where they were allegedly being held against their will, vanished from a safe house on Sunday, Minister of Human Services and Social Security Jennifer Webster confirmed yesterday and an investigation has been launched.
In addition to the five females, whose ages are in dispute, a deaf mute teenager who was rescued last month from the Number 58 Mabura, Region 10 area, where she was suspected to have been trafficked, has also left the ministry’s facility.
Asked about the security arrangements at the facility, Minister Webster said there is security and that is why the police have been called in to investigate the matter.
She said the females disappeared and at this point it is unknown if they were being pursued by the person who was holding them against their will or if they wanted to go back. According to her, the females were removed from the backdam after the police conducted a raid and she indicated that they were adults. However, President of the Guyana Women Miners Organisation (GWMO) Simona Broomes said her information was that the girls’ ages ranged from 15 to 22. While the minister said the females were adults, she could not say what their ages were.
Broomes, in an invited comment, told Stabroek News that while she was in the US, where she was involved in a leadership programme on Trafficking in Persons (TIP), she was contacted by one of her members and told about the five girls being trafficked at Mahdia. She said she instructed her members to contact the police and the Human Services Ministry. This was done and Broomes said she also asked her members to keep track of the case and write a report on the issue. It was this report that stated that four of the five girls were in fact teenagers, with one being below the age of consent.
Broomes yesterday said that was very concerned that the girls had escaped from the facility and ultimately the authorities have to take responsibility as often TIP victims are treated as suspects rather than victims. “These are the kinds of things we have been talking about—that enough is not being done for TIP victims. These girls should not have been given an opportunity to leave. Who is to say that they are not now in present danger?” Broomes questioned.
She said more needs to be done to effectively assist the traumatised victims of TIP and to really give them that second chance that has been touted. She once again called for a home to specifically house victims of TIP and for the authorities to have a plan how they would help them “to get back on their feet.” Often, rescued TIP victims are treated like prisoners and are made to feel hopeless about their future, a state that fuels their desire to leave.
This situation also affects the successful prosecution of cases, as Broomes pointed out that once they leave the state’s care, it would be difficult to find them if they do not want to be found. Broomes also pointed out that TIP is not only happening in the mining areas as she has been receiving reports of trafficking in persons occurring in Georgetown. Broomes, who was honoured in the US recently as an anti-TIP hero, once again called for collaboration among all sections of society to fight TIP and she issued an open call to all parliamentarians to meet with her organisation to help find a way to effectively fight TIP.
Last month, Opposition Leader David Granger urged the government to lift the veil on human trafficking in a motion presented by him, which was passed by the National Assembly without the government support. The motion called on President Donald Ramotar to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the incidence of trafficking in persons.
“There have been credible reports that underdetermined numbers of persons, have been trafficked, kept in involuntary servitude and required to perform forced labour, particularly in the hinterland regions of Guyana, but also elsewhere,” Granger had said at the time.
The recent US State Department report on TIP placed Guyana on Tier 2 Watch List-which is one step lower from its Tier 2 ranking it had for the previous two years. The Watch List rankings are giving to countries where governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards of Trafficking Victims Protection Act, 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;
there is a failure to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year, including increased investigations, prosecution, and convictions of trafficking crimes, increased assistance to victims, and decreasing evidence of complicity in severe forms of trafficking by government officials; 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 steps over the next year.
According to the US definition, trafficking in persons and human trafficking have been used as umbrella terms for the act of recruiting, harbouring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labour or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.