The current economic and political crisis in Venezuela has resulted in a humanitarian crisis which has resulted in thousands of its citizens fleeing here in search of a better life. However, the country’s women are at a heightened risk for sexual exploitation.
This was the assertion of Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan as he delivered opening remarks at a conference on Trafficking in Persons (TIP) held for judicial officers yesterday at the Georgetown Club.
According to Minister Ramjattan, for the period January to June this year, 132 alleged TIP victims have been recorded. All the alleged victims, the Minister disclosed, are females, and Venezuelans accounted for a majority. Minister Ramjattan also disclosed that 115 of alleged victims were below the age of 30. He said that investigations led to the arrest of 18 suspects.
Based on information, for the first half of 2019, two individuals have been convicted on a combined eight charges – two for trafficking in persons, two for unlawfully withholding identification papers, which is another offence under the TIP Act, and the other four for related offences.
Last year saw 245 alleged victims of TIP of which 11 were under the age of 18. The Minister revealed that 55 percent of the alleged victims were below the age of 26. Investigations then, led to the arrest of 52 suspects with police filing 32 cases. Police instituted charges against 17 persons for TIP. The previous year saw 14 cases being investigated from which there were 50 alleged victims for which 21 of them were under 18 years of age.
That year also saw one conviction each for TIP, employing a child under 18 to work at a liquor store and conspiracy, Minister Ramjattan told the gathering. As for 2016, there were 98 alleged victims of TIP of which 86 percent were females. The remainder was males. According to Minister Ramjattan, the age group 12 to 18 was heavily preyed on during this period.
The Minister went on to explain that Region Four continues to be a hub for TIP, while Regions One, Seven and Eight are not very far behind.
Minister Ramjattan stated that it is largely businessmen that are involved in the lucrative trade of human trafficking. He, however, said that it is very difficult to apprehend them because they have links. He stated that law enforcement officials are only catching the small fish. He nevertheless said that the objective of the conference is to ensure that Judges and Magistrates are trained to deal with TIP cases.
As it relates to investigating TIP cases, Minister Ramjattan revealed, “…Only last week I signed on to the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) in relation to interviewing and a whole number of things…questioning and prosecution of offenders and how also thereafter the treatment that it given to the victim.”
According to him, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has already perused the SOP, which he said is in accordance with international best practices. He added that the Ministry of Social Protection will continue to monitor the TIP hotline on a statistical basis to ensure that data is readily available in this regard.
In closing, the Minister urged the participants to report to the Trafficking in Persons Task Force, so that Ministers will know their thoughts on certain cases that cross their paths. Speaking specifically to the Judges and Magistrates, Ramjattan said that he and other Ministers would like to know, “how it is that the police did not present the evidence properly or the investigators were wrong, so that we can have a feedback from especially you. We are not going to start perfect, we are going to make mistakes…”
“But we would like for the better systemic improvement that those mistakes are told to us. What went wrong and even if there is a suspicion that the policeman took bribe or whatever it is. It is important for us to know so that we can start identifying and vetting and doing everything that would make this scourge of society; this modern day slavery, be reduced and halted.”
He also reiterated government’s commitment in devoting resources to this fight. In its latest report on Trafficking in Person, the U.S Department of State ranked Guyana at Tier 1 for the third straight year, and this Minister Ramjattan stressed recognises the country’s efforts to combat the crime.
Meanwhile, Chancellor of the Judiciary Yonette Cummings-Edwards gave an overview of the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2005. Among other things, she explained that a person convicted of trafficking in persons by a Magistrate is liable to imprisonment of three to five years and is required to pay restitution to the trafficked person(s).
Upon conviction at the High Court, the Chancellor informed that a person is liable to five years or up to life imprisonment and is also required to pay restitution to the victim. In both instances, the property of the convicted persons is subject to forfeiture. However, she said that according to the Act, a convicted person’s sentence is increased in extreme circumstances, among them being if a dangerous weapon is used, or if the trafficked person suffers a life threatening injury.
Also delivering remarks was Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Shalimar Ali-Hack, who spoke extensively on the challenges faced when prosecuting TIP cases.
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