Guyana Still Behind Minimum Standards for Elimination of Trafficking in Persons

GUYANA, SOUTH AMERICA - Guyana is listed as a country of origin, transit and destination for young women and children trafficked for the purposes of sexual and labour exploitation, according to the US Department of State's 2006 Trafficking in Persons Report released this month.

The annual report is said to be the primary diplomatic tool through which the US Government encourages partnership and increased determination in the fight against forced labour, sexual exploitation and modern-day slavery.

And it said that the Government of Guyana does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking "however, it is making significant efforts to do so." The report said the Government of Guyana was one of the first in the hemisphere to publish a review and self-assessment of its anti-trafficking efforts. Guyana is still listed as a tier two country.

The report said most reported cases involved internal trafficking of adolescent girls. "Much of this trafficking takes place in remote areas of the interior, or Amerindian girls from the interior trafficked to the coastal areas to engage in prostitution or involuntary domestic servitude," the report said.

It said girls promised employment as domestics, waitresses and bar attendants are trafficked into prostitution and that young Amerindian men are exploited under forced labour conditions in timber camps. "In some instances victims are forcibly abducted," the report said.

It added that Guyanese girls are trafficked to neighbouring countries such as Suriname and Barbados.

The report also pointed out that the Government of Guyana has increased financial support to NGOs that provide victim assistance, expanded the reach of prevention activities and began applying new laws to investigate and arrest suspected traffickers. "The government should expand training efforts to include more rural officials, aggressively prosecute traffickers, and continue working with NGOs to assist victims," the report said.

In terms of prosecution, the report said law enforcement efforts to identify cases improved, but that no traffickers were convicted in 2005. "The country's slow judicial process contributed to the lack of progress in convicting traffickers," the report stated. It said also that Guyana's law enforcement authorities applied Guyana's newly enacted Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act and arrested at least ten persons under the act. The Act requires sentencing ranging from three years to life imprisonment and the confiscation of trafficking-related assets. According to the report, 15 investigations of cases initiated in 2005 and in previous years remained pending in pre-trial status.

"Rural court and law enforcement officers lacked adequate training to identify and deal effectively with trafficking. Technical training and sensitization efforts should be expanded to reach officials in rural areas where trafficking most occurs. Law enforcement officials worked with source and destination countries such as Brazil, Suriname and Barbados to share information on potential trafficking and assist victims. There was no evidence that the government was complicit in trafficking," the report stated.

The US Department of State called the efforts of the Government of Guyana "modest" in terms of victim assistance. "It funded $30,000 of repairs for an NGO-run shelter to supplement the government's limited shelter capabilities and included NGO funding in its 2006 budget," the report said. It added that there were no reports of victims jailed or mistreated by officials and that law enforcement officers referred victims to social workers and a local NGO for assistance. The government also provided medical attention, housing and funds to return victims to their homes, the US State Department said.

Speaking on Guyana's efforts to prevent trafficking in persons, the report said that the government expanded on prior prevention initiatives. "It [government] trained social workers, launched a new awareness campaign through the print and electronic media and met with key religious leaders, business, mining and local government stakeholders," the report said. It added that ten trafficking detection training sessions reached 361 community facilitators around the country and stated that in January the Government of Guyana unveiled a review of its counter-trafficking activities for 2004 and 2005, which recognised that better policing of and outreach to rural communities are still needed.

According to information on the US State Department website, US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice submits the annual "Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000: Trafficking in Persons Report" to Congress. This report covers "severe forms of trafficking in persons" defined as: "(a) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or (b) the recruitment, harbouring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labour or services, through the use of force, fraud or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery."

*News Source: Stabroek News - Tuesday, June 6th 2006