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#IJCHRHumanRightsWeek: Humanity denied!

Human trafficking and human rights


Thursday, December 07, 2017

This article was written in light of the recent revelations of modern-day enslavement and sale and murder of African migrants in Libya and the ongoing recognition of Human Rights Week by the Independent Jamaican Council for Human Rights (December 3–10, 2017). Although this is one of the most atrocious examples of human trafficking on an international scale, one must not think this sort of thing would never happen in Jamaica. It could be happening closer than you think, and it is our duty to bring this issue to light with a quintessential Jamaican example:

Picture yourself as a rural 14-year-old about to select your Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate courses. You go to the funeral for a family member and that rich relative you've never met before approaches you and your family and offers you the chance of a lifetime. They say, “I'll put you up so you can go to a traditional high school in town and I'll pay for everything.” Your parents get excited and tell you to take the opportunity.

A few days later, they take you to their house and say, “In order to stay here you have to do a few chores.” You think that is fine as you had to do chores when you were at home. But little did you know it was only the beginning of your sorrows. They continue to add obligations and chores so much so that you never get to benefit from their promise of better schooling. They treat you as a maid, cook, babysitter, and everything in-between.

You are hardly ever allowed to speak to your parents and when you do it is 'supervised', making you feel too uncomfortable to be honest with your parents so you lie and tell them everything is fine. Soon after you realise they never intended to send you to school; they only wanted a free servant. And every attempt you make to reach out for help is met with further restrictions and punishment.

Outlined above is an example of what could amount to human trafficking in the Jamaican context. Otherwise known as “child-shifting”, it involves moving a child from one family to another, as well exploitation of the young (Smith G R and Palmer-Hamilton L M, Human Trafficking: Modern Day Slavery or Child Abuse or What?).

Under the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression, and Punishment) Act, 2007, human trafficking occurs where someone trafficking in persons recruits, transports, transfers, harbours, or receives another person within Jamaica, from Jamaica to another country, or receives another person from another country into Jamaica for the purpose of exploitation. This may be by way of any of the specified means: threat or coercion, abduction, deception, abuse of power, etc.

In the story above, the rich relative is the recruiter, transporter, harbourer, and exploiter of the trafficked child. The child was transported from one area in Jamaica to another — though this is not necessary for the offence as trafficking can occur even if the person remains in the same house or location. The relative has deceived the child and abused their power over the child.

Clearly, the restrictions placed on the child would violate their right to freedom of movement and education. These violations of the child's rights show the unavoidable conflict between human rights and the act of human trafficking.

The relationship between human trafficking and human rights is best expressed by Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, the president of the 66th Session of the United Nations General Assembly, when he described human trafficking as “an appalling form of human rights abuse. Human trafficking denies individuals of their dignity, reducing them to mere objects by shamelessly exploiting them”.

This highlights the fact that human trafficking robs a person of their dignity by denying them their ability to make basic choices for themselves. This cedes the control over the trafficked person into the hands of the trafficker creating an environment ripe for the continued exploitation of the trafficked person.

Since the entry into force of the Trafficking in Persons Act, there has been at least one successful prosecution of this offence — the case of R v Rajesh Gurunani. The court found Gurunani guilty on three counts of human trafficking, three counts of withholding travel documents and three counts of facilitating trafficking in persons. The defendant, on arrival in Jamaica, confiscated their travel passports, “forced” them to work for little pay, restricted their movements, and limited their communication with family members. He was apprehended in an Organized Crime Investigations Division operation.

You can help stop this appalling human rights abuse by simply reporting it to the authorities: Call 1-1-9 and ask for the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Division, or call the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences & Child Abuse (CISOCA) at 926-4079, 906-5325, or 754-8217. Tell them what you think is going on.

With increased reports, tips, and information, the police can assist prosecutors to secure justice for the exploited.


Makene Brown is an attorney-at-law. This article was submitted as part of the Independent Jamaican Council for Human Rights (IJCHR) observance of Human Rights Week, December 3 - 10, 2017. Human Rights Day will be celebrated on December 10, 2017. #IJCHRHumanRightsWeek