By Klysha Best
On July 30, 2023, the world marked World Day Against Trafficking in Persons.
The Day was created by the United Nations in 2014.
Kimoy Thomas, Deputy Director of the Counter Trafficking Unit within the Ministry of National Security, describes human trafficking as a modern-day form of slavery.
During her appearance on the August 4 edition of The Catholic News’ television programme Altos, Thomas said some people tend to find themselves in situations where they are being exploited, either because someone forced them to do it or deceived them.
“Human trafficking in Trinidad and Tobago today can take several forms – we have sexual trafficking, which is where persons are forced to provide sexual services against their will. We have labour trafficking, where persons are working for very long hours and they’re not being paid, they can’t communicate with their families,” revealed Thomas.
Thomas said the problem is bad in Trinidad.
She pointed out that due to T&T’s proximity to Venezuela and because of the economic situation there, her Unit has for some time been seeing an increase in Venezuelans entering the country illegally.
As a result of their vulnerability, their lack of identification documents, the language barrier, and of course being here illegally, people take advantage of them.
Thomas said many Venezuelan women are being forced to provide sexual services and the men are given the most minimum of wages in the workplace.
Young citizens, who spend time online on social media, are also at risk. They may be engaging with persons who are seeking to exploit them.
“…children admit to connecting with persons that they don’t know and sometimes they say these persons ask them to send nude pictures or ask them a lot of questions like: ‘Are you home alone?’, ‘Where are your parents?’.
Signs of trafficking
There are signs to look out for. In the case of sex trafficking, Thomas pointed to many women living under one roof.
“They tend to live in very small apartments together. So you might see 10 to 15 women living in a one bedroom apartment. You would notice a particular car taking them out. They are not free to go out. Sometimes the situation is so bad that there might be a padlock on the gate and only one person can open it,” said Thomas.
She also said that they are very fearful of law enforcement and will divert or go in a different direction if they have seen a police officer or an immigration official.
With regard to labour exploitation, especially for men, they tend to live where they are working.
She said close attention must be paid to young children working in restaurants and groceries, “that is something we are seeing on the increase as well with both local children and migrants”.
However, she noted that there is a fine line separating the human trafficking of children and child labour.
“Child labour is where a child is working under the age of 16, so they’re not being allowed to attend schools, they’re not allowed any recreation and things like that. But, it turns into human trafficking when the child’s life is at risk.”
How the Church can help
Thomas said the Catholic Church can assist the Counter Trafficking Unit by continuing to support the vulnerable communities – not just the migrants, but also the locals as well who may be unemployed or victims of domestic violence.
She said the Church can also do its part by having food drives and clothing drives for example, as these things would help persons be less vulnerable to being exploited.
The Catholic Church can also partner with the Counter Trafficking Unit to reach out to the migrant community, to sensitise them on human trafficking, how to protect themselves and how to identify a potential trafficker so that they can avoid such persons.
While Venezuelan nationals are the largest group of persons being trafficked at this time, Thomas said they aren’t the only ones here in T&T facing those issues.
“We also have victims from India, Guyana, as well as Kenya – those tend to be victims of labour trafficking.”
Thomas said the Unit has been working assiduously to manage the prevention, protection and prosecution of offenders.
However, she said to date, the most challenging issue for them has been the prosecution.
“We are reviewing the Trafficking in Persons Act to make some of the offences hybrid and also with the recent passage of the Administration of Justice Indictable Proceedings Act – that is expected to fast track some of the human trafficking cases. So we’re on the right path.”