Human trafficking awareness — A lesson for unsuspected victims


I am motivated to write this article because I was taken aback when I discovered whilst talking to some of my classmates that they really don't know what exactly is human trafficking.

Trafficking in human beings, especially women and girls, is modern-day slavery. It spans national and international boundaries and is considered to be a gross violation of the basic human rights. Victims of human trafficking are often mentally, physically and sexually abused and forced into service without pay in the worst condition. Despite the brutal nature of human trafficking, many countries have either been slow to recognise the problems associated with human trafficking or have been unsuccessful in combating it.

Jamaica is a source, transit, and destination country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour (US Department of State 2013 Report). Whilst there is no compelling evidence, it is arguable and highly probable that some of our young women and girls that are reported missing daily might be victims of human trafficking.

How does a mother from deep-rural Westmoreland identify what is human trafficking? Sex trafficking of children and adults likely occurs on the street, in nightclubs, bars, and in private homes throughout Jamaica, including in resort towns. In addition, massage parlours in Jamaica reportedly often lure women into prostitution under the pretence of employment as massage therapists and then withhold their wages and restrict their movement -- key indicators of human trafficking. People living in Jamaica's poverty-stricken garrison communities, territories ruled by criminal dons, effectively outside of the government's control, are especially at risk. Children from poor families are sent to better-off families or local dons with the intent of a chance at a better life are highly vulnerable to prostitution and forced labour, including domestic servitude. Other at-risk children include those involved in street vending as well as those engaging in begging.

Action, Means, Purpose

This definition of human trafficking contains three separate elements all of which must be present for a situation of trafficking in persons to be recognised as a breach.

The first element relates to the action -- recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons. The action element is the actus reus of trafficking. This element is critical in establishing the scope of the trafficking protocol's definition. The action element has the effect of encompassing within the definition, not just recruiters, brokers and transporters, but also owners and managers, supervisors and controllers of any place of exploitation such as a brothel, massage parlour or household.

The second element is the means, which is the second part of the actus reus of trafficking. The means element -- force, coercion, abduction, fraud, abuse of power or position of vulnerability, and giving or receiving of payments or benefit to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person -- is relevant only to trafficking in adults.

The use of the word coercion is an umbrella term, used previously in the context of trafficking which refers to the range of behaviours including violence or threats use of force. Deception and fraud are examples of less direct means and will generally relate to the nature of the promised work or service. Abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability is defined as an additional means through which individuals can be recruited, transported, and received into situations of exploitation.

The European Trafficking Convention goes further than the framers of the protocol in stating that: "The vulnerability may be of any kind, whether psychological, emotional, physical, family-related, social, or economic. Persons abusing such a situation flagrantly infringe human rights and violate human dignity and integrity, which no one can validly renounce."

The third element is the purpose, which is the mens rea requirement into the definition. Trafficking will occur if the implicated individual or entity intended that the action -- which, in the case of trafficking involving adult victims, must be taken through prohibited means -- would lead to one of the specified end results. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime refers to this element in identifying trafficking as a crime of specific or special intent (dolus specialis). It defines the dolus specialis of trafficking as "the purpose aimed at by the perpetrator when committing the material acts of the offence".

Root causes of human trafficking in Jamaica

The supply and demand equation is typically described in terms of "push and pull" factors. These factors have a global resonance, but vary in local emphasis and scale. Poverty, high unemployment and lack of opportunity, the quest for a means of survival serve as the engine driving trafficking in humans. The push/pull factors -- two sides of the same coin -- that make women and girls particularly vulnerable are rooted in systemic gender discrimination. It is important to remember that these explanatory factors can be mutually reinforcing, and some of the causes can also be the consequence of others.

Factors contributing

to supply (push):

- Lack of legitimate and fulfilling employment opportunities particularly in rural communities;

- Disruption of support systems due to fact some fathers are absent (dead, prison)

Factors contributing to demand (pull factors)

- Women's perceived suitability for work in labour-intensive production and the growing informal sector which is characterized by low wages, casual employment, hazardous work conditions, and the absence of collective bargaining mechanisms;

- The increasing demand for exotic dancers, workers for domestic and care-giving roles, and the growth of the billion-dollar sex and entertainment industry, tolerated as a "necessary evil" while women in prostitution are criminalised and discriminated against;

- The ease in controlling and manipulating vulnerable women.

You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know. -- William Wilberforce

Victor Barrett is a Jamaican final-year student at the University of the West Indies Faculty of Law, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados.

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