Guyana’s capacity to address human trafficking weak – activist

Human trafficking is a widespread plague in Guyana, with cases of such activities increasing every year, particularly involving women. While the country is governed by laws to ensure that victims are protected after being rescued, the institutional capacity to deal with these situations is very weak.

Women’s Rights Activist Karen De Souza

This is according to Women’s Rights Activist Karen De Souza of the Red Thread Group, who told Guyana Times during an interview that there are provisions for victims to access counselling and other assistance to regain their stability, but those provisions must be strengthened to win the battle against the epidemic of human trafficking.
“The law has a number of protections in it for persons who have been rescued from a trafficking situation. They have to be given whatever assistance is necessary to get his/her life back together, and that would include counselling; training; assistance to find work; repatriation, if the person is not Guyanese, and so on. In terms of the institutional capacity to deal with all that, I would say that it is very, very weak, and a lot has to be done to build up that capacity,” De Souza said.
She declared that financial and human resources are the most important aspects in building capability to effectively support persons who are liberated from trafficking rings. She thinks those resources are presently lacking to ensure that these laws are upheld.
“There are a number of areas that need to be looked at more closely in relation to implementation of the law that exists; and the resources also have to be provided for the full implementation of the law, as in how do you support a person that has been trafficked to retake their lives, and put things together for a person to become a free, functioning, and emotionally secure human being. I’m saying we don’t have all those resources at the moment.”
She declared that training should not be done with personnel and officers of the Social Protection Unit, but further education should be imparted at schools and in communities. This will ensure that persons are au fait with the dynamics of trafficking, and will be able to make early detections thereof. If a person is rescued from the inception of the trafficking, that person will not require as much assistance as those who have been kept against their will for a longer period of time.
De Souza declared, “Training has to be done at various levels. I would say more budgetary resources have to be allocated to implementing the law. I think we have to speak beyond a certain kind of specialty. One of the things that are necessary in terms of public education is to ensure that every school child of a certain age understands what trafficking in persons is. This should extend to the community as well, so persons are on the lookout for behaviour that is clearly trying to recruit unsuspected persons to be trafficked.”
She believes that with the introduction of such information in communities, violence will also be reduced.
Meanwhile, the activist reiterated that some individuals choose the life of a trafficked person just to provide an income. This revelation speaks to the need for better opportunities for youths, thus preventing their urge to resort to these means.
“In an ideal situation, we should have the counselling skills available in every community, and not just for trafficking. There is so much violence in our communities that we have to find some means to address it. Also, we have to look at the prevention aspect; so economic opportunities for young people also needs to be looked at very seriously, so that there is not that push-back. A lot of people are trafficked because they’re looking for some improvement in their circumstances,” she stated.
In the past, the Social Protection Ministry had provided training for shelter operators who are exposed to trafficked victims. For 2018 only, some 156 cases of human trafficking were reported in Guyana.
De Souza said responsible media reporting and proper Police approach to these matters are also important. After being rescued, some victims are arrested and questioned, instead of being offered counselling and other support mechanisms.
“I think it is also true that we have to look more seriously at the ways in which the media report or the language that is used on trafficking. I’ve seen headlines that say persons were nabbed by the Police, and it’s clear that sometimes some of these people are trafficked. ‘Nabbed’ essentially means ‘arrested’, which is absolutely not what the Police is supposed to be doing with a person suspected of being trafficked,” she explained.
For the first two months of 2019, eight cases were reported. According to officials, this is a small number when compared to the statistics of cases that remain undetected. In some cases, Venezuelan and other migrants enter the country illegally and seek employment through trafficking.
World statistics show that trafficking in persons is among the fastest growing crimes, wherein there are approximately 24.9 million people trapped in its forced labour.