JAMAICAN AUTHORITIES are facing a legal dilemma as they wrestle with how to treat victims of human trafficking when they are rescued.
O’Neil Francis, crown counsel in the Attorney General’s Chambers, said the National Task Force on Human Trafficking has been faced with challenges in recent times to detain victims of the criminal act as it is a violation of human rights.
He was speaking at the opening of the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons two-day conference and workshop at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel, New Kingston, on Thursday.
Francis said the State is finding it difficult to balance the victims’ rights to have freedom to liberty and freedom of movement against the State’s obligation to protect them from being recaptured by the perpetrators.
Citing a case which happened earlier this year, he said a number of victims were identified and housed in a facility, but the issue was challenged in the court on the basis that the individuals were held against their will.
Refusing to stay at shelter
He added that the victims, who the State was trying to protect, decided that they no longer wanted to stay in the shelter and they left.
“The question is: what does the State do in that situation [when] victims do not want to remain in the shelter? Do you have the police try to find them when they are leaving the shelter? Do you chase them and bring them back to the shelter because you want to protect them? That is the question,” he added.
In the meantime, state minister in the Ministry of National Security, Dr St Aubyn Bartlett, said the Government rejects the scourge of human trafficking and continues to participate in every programme and effort to address the problem.
According to a United States report on human trafficking, Jamaica is ranked at Tier Two for the past five years, but Bartlett said the country should not be complacent with the results.
“We will not be satisfied until we strengthen our investigative and prosecutorial capabilities, our overall capacity to protect our victims, and our ability to prevent or minimise the incidence of trafficking. Our goal is Tier One,” he said.
“Of paramount importance is the establishment of a sound counter-trafficking legislative framework. While the main piece of legislation is the Trafficking in Persons Act, 2007, the Government continues to provide subsidiary pieces of legislation that are also critical in the fight against human trafficking,” he added.
Francis said the workshop serves as a timely intervention, given the gravity of the issue of human trafficking globally and the noticeable increase in the identification of victims in Jamaica.
Sixteen victims have been rescued by the police since last April in Jamaica. They were from Guyana, Panama and India and were involved in the sex trade and forced labour.