JAMAICA has been asked by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) to enhance support services for victims of trafficking and sexual exploitation, even as the country struggles to eliminate all forms of violence against women and children.
The call was made during the committee's recently convened 52nd session at the UN Commission in New York, and follows on the heels of the island's downgrade by the US Department of State in its 2012 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report. Jamaica was downgraded from a Tier Two to a Tier Two Watch List, which suggests that the country has a significant number of victims of severe forms of trafficking, and has failed to provide evidence of increased efforts to combat trafficking.
In a statement that was presented to the committee by Minister with Responsibility for Information, Sandrea Falconer, it was noted that the government has pursued a number of legal reforms to properly address the issue. She said the country was committed "to addressing the disturbing problem of trafficking in persons, particularly since the majority of cases involve the sexual exploitation of women and girls."
"A major challenge is that increased levels of poverty heighten the vulnerability of women and girls to human trafficking and sexual exploitation. This in turn increases their risk of HIV infections and violence," she said.
In its effort to address human trafficking, Jamaica ratified the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organised Crime and its Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons in December 2005. Jamaica later passed the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) Act in 2007. The country also established the multi-agency National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons within the Ministry of National Security in an effort to monitor and coordinate responses to the situations of human trafficking.
Senior Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, Lisa Palmer-Hamilton, told All Woman that while the country has strengthened its legislative framework to deal with human trafficking, budgetary constraints mean there are limited resources to properly tackle the problem.
"Resources impact on the number of surveillance operations and raids and the effectiveness of these operations, whether undercover or otherwise, that our law enforcement can carry out," she pointed out.
"If raids are conducted and you do find victims of trafficking, one of the areas that was criticised and highlighted in the TIP report, is the fact that we do not yet have a specific trafficking in persons shelter, so if you are going to rescue victims of trafficking, you need to have a shelter that can house these victims of trafficking," she said.
When quizzed by CEDAW about the country's progress in establishing a shelter for victims of trafficking in persons, the Jamaican contingent pointed out that they had established a state-owned TIP care shelter for victims, however, it was not fully operational due to budgetary constraints.
According to data provided to the committee, there were three cases of trafficking in persons in 2008. The victims were all females from Jamaica. There were no cases reported in 2009, however, there were eight females in 2010. Only one of the victims was from Jamaica, while there were four from Panama, one from Guyana and two from the Dominican Republic.
In 2011, there were seven cases of trafficking in persons. The victims were all males of Indian descent.
Palmer-Hamilton said that while a TIP shelter could be very expensive to operate, victims of human trafficking need intense medical examination and ongoing counselling to help them to deal better with their traumatic ordeal.
"Because of the kind of trauma and what they would have gone through, the rehabilitative process and the re-integration and socialisation programmes that they must go through have to be extensive. You need to have proper programme in place to facilitate their rehabilitation and a re-integration in society, so a shelter is very important," she said.