USDOS – US Department of State (Autor)
The Government of Trinidad and Tobago does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included bringing additional trafficking charges against three police officers prosecuted in the previous reporting period; producing a guide for frontline officers on identifying victims of trafficking; taking steps to expedite and streamline cases and expand the use of virtual hearings and testimony; providing deportation relief to victims affected; drafting legislation that included increased penalties for official complicity in trafficking crimes; and drafting an anti-trafficking national action plan (NAP) for 2021-2023 in consultation with outside stakeholders. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government conducted fewer investigations, identified fewer victims, and has never convicted a trafficker under its 2011 anti-trafficking law. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns. Victim identification and services remained weak. Therefore Trinidad and Tobago was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials and staff. • Increase proactive victim identification, screening, and protection among migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees, especially Venezuelans. • Implement a formalized protocol and a functioning and active coordinating committee for victim care. • Approve and implement the anti-trafficking national action plan. • Improve the quality of victim care, especially for children, and increase access to certified bilingual social workers, counselors, shelter staff, lawyers, and health care workers. • Provide adequate funding for robust trafficking investigations and victim services, including accommodations. • Train law enforcement and prosecutors in proactively identifying, obtaining, preserving, and corroborating evidence of trafficking. • Ensure victims are not penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. • Improve cooperation between the Counter Trafficking Unit (CTU), prosecutors, judiciary, and NGOs to increase the number of cases that proceed to trial. • Strengthen oversight, regulation, and inspections of private labor recruitment agencies and domestic work locations. • Increase trauma-informed training on trafficking for NGO, shelter, social services, and law enforcement staff to improve their ability to identify and care for potential trafficking victims and increase civil society representation on the anti-trafficking task force.
The government decreased prosecution efforts. The Trafficking in Persons Act of 2011 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of no less than 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of no less than 500,000 Trinidad and Tobago dollars (TTD) ($74,650) for offenses involving an adult victim, and no less than 20 years’ imprisonment and a fine of no less than 1 million TTD ($149,300) for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government reported it prepared draft legislation in December 2020 to increase the penalties for human trafficking, including increased penalties for public officials complicit in trafficking crimes; the draft legislation remained pending with the Attorney General’s office prior to parliamentary debate at the end of the reporting period.
The government’s anti-trafficking unit reported investigating 12 cases in 2020, nine for sex trafficking and three for labor trafficking, compared with investigating 36 possible cases of sex trafficking or labor trafficking in 2019, 39 in 2018, and 38 in 2017. The government reported investigating and charging 14 individuals for solicitation of a sex trafficking victim under the Trafficking in Persons Act. The government reported two ongoing sex trafficking investigations and one ongoing labor trafficking investigation from prior reporting periods. The government reported arresting and then prosecuting two alleged sex traffickers in 2020, compared to two prosecutions of eight suspected traffickers in 2019, four prosecutions in 2018, and two prosecutions in 2017. The government reported continuing the prosecution of six defendants begun in previous reporting periods, including three police officers charged with additional human trafficking crimes in October and November 2020. The government did not report convicting any traffickers in 2020 and has not convicted any traffickers since the enactment of the 2011 anti-trafficking law.
The CTU, under the Ministry of National Security, had the sole mandate for investigating human trafficking cases. The government reported the Children’s Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (CATT) referred cases involving children to the CTU and the Child Protection Unit of the police for investigation; the CATT and the Ministry of National Security maintained an MOU. The Child Protection Unit developed referral and management procedures for cases received from the CTU and the Immigration Division, which remained pending finalization at the end of the reporting period. Authorities reported that prior to this, more informal documented interim procedures were implemented. CTU staff were exclusively dedicated to trafficking and covered all jurisdictions during the reporting period, but suffered from limited funding, staffing resources, and expertise. However, although NGOs reported identifying and referring many additional victims to the CTU for the purpose of initiating an investigation, the NGOs reported they stopped referring them due to the CTU’s failure to act on the information. The director of public prosecutions and the judiciary had responsibility, respectively, for prosecuting and hearing all cases, including those related to human trafficking. Observers noted authorities did not pursue a prosecution if the victims were not willing to testify against an alleged trafficker. There were no courts dedicated solely to trafficking cases. Courts continued to have a backlog and often took five to 10 years to resolve cases, including trafficking cases, despite adopting justice system reforms in 2019 to address the problem.
The government reported establishing five new courts and specialized divisions with 100 new courtrooms for cases including human trafficking during the reporting period to reduce delays, streamline processes, and enable a more victim-centered approach, especially for cases involving children. The government also reported increasing the number of high judges from 36 to 64 to hear criminal cases, including for trafficking. Due to the pandemic, courts closed in March 2020 and began working remotely where possible, including for hearings and urgent court applications. The government reported that if deemed expedient and safe to so do, many high-profile matters, including trafficking cases, were heard in-person or via hybrid hearings. The government reported establishing 12 virtual courts at the prisons to ensure the efficient continued hearing of criminal cases during the pandemic. Authorities also reported accelerated existing plans in response to the pandemic to merge magisterial districts for cases to be heard in any Magistrate Court in the wider geographic area versus being restricted to the previous 13 smaller districts where the charge was filed; the government reported trafficking investigations could span several geographic areas and the change allowed the police to avoid having to file charges in multiple disjunctive districts. The government also reported expediting the process to digitize the Magistracy for the first time.
The CTU and other coordinating bodies continued to operate during the pandemic on a limited and remote basis. Authorities reported the pandemic impacted the ability to collect law enforcement and victim identification data and gather evidence. The CTU collaborated with specialized units within the national police and the intelligence-led task force to identify and monitor suspicious establishments. A civil society organization reported authorities rarely raided some venues and suggested these venues were connected to corrupt immigration officials and police officers. In January 2021, authorities publicly stated the government was monitoring two dozen police officers allegedly involved in human trafficking; the investigation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period and authorities reassigned 40 police officers who refused polygraphs. The government also reported identifying a number of senior officials potentially involved in human trafficking but did not report criminally investigating these cases during the reporting period. Authorities reported that in cases of alleged official complicity, the Police Complaints Authority could receive a complaint against one of the investigating or other police officers involved in the inquiry and require the intervention of the Director of Public Prosecutions via consultation. The government reported the police service also had internal disciplinary procedures to suspend officers charged with human trafficking and other crimes. Authorities reported that sexual exploitation and trafficking were included in the Second Schedule of the Proceeds of Crime Act as specified offences from which forfeitures/confiscations/money laundering charges could be generated; actions taken under the Civil Asset Recovery and Unexplained Wealth laws required citizens, including public officials, to account for the source of their wealth. The government proposed an amendment to the Police Services Act in January 2021 that would allow additional disciplinary action, including polygraph testing and dismissal, for officers suspected to be involved in trafficking; the proposal was pending parliamentary review at the end of the reporting period. The case of a 2017 government employee charged with trafficking also was still pending.
The government did not provide its overall budget allocations for trafficking for 2020, 2019, or 2018, compared to a 7 million TTD ($1.05 million) budget reported in 2017. Authorities reported they did not divert anti-trafficking financial or personnel resources as a direct result of the pandemic. The government did not report entering into any new bilateral, multilateral, or regional law enforcement agreements, but reported it worked with Venezuela on child trafficking cases and publicly expressed a desire to initiate an extradition agreement with the Maduro regime in Venezuela. The government reported that in-person trainings moved to virtual platforms due to the pandemic. The Police Academy reported it conducted 14 human trafficking-related trainings during the reporting period that reached 790 law enforcement officials. The CTU reported it participated in the Turquesa (2) Operation in November and December 2020 along with 32 participating countries and in cooperation with international organizations and that it screened 37 vulnerable individuals for trafficking indicators during the mission. The government reported training officials of other governments through a regional security initiative. The government also reported developing legislation currently before Parliament to allow non-commonwealth countries with which it does not have a mutual legal assistance arrangement to access assistance in criminal matters to expand the scope of international cooperation.
The government maintained limited protection efforts. The government reported identifying six trafficking victims, compared with reporting 34 trafficking victims in 2019, 14 victims in 2018, and 14 in 2017. Of the six identified, three were female, and three were male; three were Venezuelans, of which two were children, and three were Indians; three were victims of sex trafficking, including both children, and three were victims of labor trafficking. The government reported the pandemic negatively affected the ability to identify victims, particularly due to the inability to meet with potential victims. NGOs did not refer any victims. Authorities reported providing some assistance to 70 potential victims during the reporting period, compared with reporting all identified victims received care in 2019, including 22 victims from prior years, 29 victims in 2018 and 14 in 2017. The government reported the exact number of victims was uncertain, as authorities gave some undocumented Venezuelans in dire need assistance without screening them first. The government reported it provided: accommodation for all potential victims; basic necessities for adults; English as a Second Language classes and life skills training; psychosocial support and art therapy interventions; medical, antenatal care, and parenting classes; counseling; Spanish language interpretation and translation services; and social assessments by qualified social workers. For potential child victims, the government reported it provided specialized care, including medical screenings and assessments at the Child Assessment Center and accompaniment to appointments, psychosocial support during police interviews, appointment of Child Advocates, provision of child reading material in English and Spanish, outings and excursions, and placement/accommodation in community residences and special homes for pregnant teens, weekly communication with family members and parents, child transition plans, legal representation for children as directed by the Family and Children’s Court; and social welfare visits and interventions. The government reported services were not time-limited or conditional on participation in the prosecution of the trafficker; however, victims who cooperated with an investigation or prosecution would receive legal aid, transportation, and lodging for themselves and their families.
The government reported the CTU had a dedicated budget of 120,000 TTD ($17,920) for victim assistance, compared with spending 120,000 TTD ($17,920) on victim protection and assistance in 2019; 203,100 TTD ($30,320) in 2018; and 198,900 TTD ($29,700) in 2017. The Ministry of Social Development and Family Services reported providing funding for 19 NGOs and three statutory boards for up to 60 percent of recurrent administrative and operational costs for victims of trafficking and other crimes, especially domestic violence, but did not disaggregate the amount for trafficking victims. Authorities reported the Ministry of National Security had an agreement with an international organization to provide support for adult victims. The government reported the Ministry of Health assisted foreign trafficking victims and funded the assistance from its annual budget. The government also reported the CATT funded the provision of child advocates for child victims from its general budget, and the government continued to provide legal services for children.
The government reported that during the reporting period the CTU produced a Pocket Guide for Frontline Officers, which included information on identifying victims of trafficking, and disseminated it to all agencies. The Ministry of Health also had policies for victim identification and the CATT—which is involved in all cases involving child victims—was in the process of finalizing a draft manual for victim care at the end of the reporting period. However, the government reported that a major challenge was the lack of implementation of a formalized protocol and a functioning and active coordinating committee for victim care. The government reported it needed to strengthen the quality of victim care, including specialized placement facilities for children equipped with adequate personnel and services and placement facilities for children transitioning out of the care system. Experts noted working-level staff at NGOs and shelters required more training on trafficking indicators to better identify potential trafficking victims. Authorities and an international organization also reported a lack of access to certified bilingual social workers, counselors, shelter staff, lawyers, and health care workers negatively impacted victim care. The government reported that while public health services continued during the pandemic for all patients, including trafficking victims, it transitioned in-person counseling and psycho-social interventions to virtual services. The pandemic negatively affected the capacity of authorities and NGOs to provide essential services to victims and to give basic protective gear to law enforcement officials and service providers when assisting potential victims. The government reported it restricted outings and visits by external parties at community residences due to the pandemic, and it also implemented safety protocols; new admissions at the community residences were contingent on the availability of space for quarantining. However, the government reported community homes did accept new arrivals, with quarantine spaces established based on health guidelines and protocols; health care officials provided necessary training for shelter staff and conducted social assessments for victims virtually.
Outside experts noted there was insufficient government funding and personnel for comprehensive victim care including appropriate shelters with adequate staff and security personnel. The government did not provide funding for or manage any trafficking-specific shelters. Authorities placed adult female victims in domestic violence NGO-run shelters funded by an international organization, while they placed adult male victims in safe houses operated by the security services. Victims did not have a choice of which shelter to use. Outside experts noted the shelters had strict rules restricting unchaperoned freedom of movement or communication outside, and these restrictions caused some victims to run away from shelters or ask to be repatriated before authorities completed investigations. The Children’s Authority placed child victims in government-funded children’s homes in the community, which also could house children who were criminal offenders, and observers reported a lack of specialized care. The government reported it usually placed child victims in one community residence. The government reported children were not allowed to leave their residence without permission from the CATT. An international organization reported that in the few cases where victims requested assistance, they did so through local NGOs, private individuals, government agencies working with Venezuelan migrants, or through international organizations who then referred the cases to the CTU. The CTU screened migrants for trafficking indicators. However, some observers indicated that following police actions or immigration raids, authorities detained some foreign victims for violating immigration laws without screening for trafficking indicators or victim care – even though those unlawful acts occurred as part of the trafficking crime and traffickers may have compelled victims to commit them. The CTU reported intervening on behalf of some foreign victims to have them removed from detention centers to alternate sites. According to NGOs, the coast guard and local authorities did not screen detained refugees or asylum-seekers for trafficking indicators as required by international conventions. In addition, NGOs asserted the Venezuelan embassy’s involvement in the repatriation process put individuals at risk if they had a legitimate fear of persecution. In May 2020, a group of 12 Cuban medical professionals arrived to assist with pandemic efforts; the government did not report measures to monitor this group for trafficking indicators nor to put protection measures into its agreement with the Cuban government to prevent forced labor.
The government reported all foreign adult victims who agreed to cooperate with an investigation received a renewable Minister’s Permit enabling them to remain in the country for the duration of court proceedings, to move about unchaperoned, to work in the country legally, and to apply for permanent residency after the completion of court proceedings. The government reported victims could not leave the country and return on a regular basis, even apart from border closures due to the pandemic. The government reported providing deportation relief to 23 victims, including six from the current reporting period, due to the pandemic. Victims stated they feared retaliation from traffickers and re-trafficking if they remained in the country; this situation was exacerbated because cases could take up to a decade to come to trial.
The government offered some immigration relief—including for potential victims—at the end of the reporting period by extending the registration cards for Venezuelan refugees and migrants through July 2021; however, this was only available for 16,523 individuals previously registered in 2019, not for more numerous recent arrivals. Authorities said the registration card would not automatically allow migrants to obtain drivers’ permits and other official documents despite allowing them to work and live in the country. The government reported taking undocumented Venezuelan nationals under the care of the state who gave birth to babies to the Venezuelan Embassy to register the birth and obtain official identity documents; however, outside observers reported that many of the children were not provided with documentation. Although the government agreed that an international organization could conduct refugee status determinations, there was no impact on a trafficking victim’s legal status in country and refugee children could not access public education, heightening their risk for trafficking. During the reporting period, the government changed the evidence acts amendment to allow legal proceedings of cases without relying uniquely on the victim’s willingness to cooperate. The CTU provided 24/7 security for victims who participated in court proceedings, along with witness protection and support to victims during preliminary hearings based on a risk assessment conducted for each victim. As a pandemic measure, in October 2020 authorities established several virtual hearing centers for judges and judicial officers to take evidence by any specific means and from a specific location, including the Judiciary’s Virtual Access Customer Center or any court building; the law required all court matters to be held in camera, although the courts allowed for victim testimony via video or written statements. The anti-trafficking law imposed penalties for breach of the victims’ and their families’ identities. The CTU previously provided sensitivity training to judges and magistrates to avoid re-traumatization of trafficking victims but did not report doing so during the reporting period. The anti-trafficking law provided for restitution by the court; however, no cases had reached the stage where a victim would be able to apply for restitution. Between May and December 2020, authorities reported the CTU funded 18 virtual trainings for 1,040 members of the public and private sector on how to identify potential victims of human trafficking.
The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons (Task Force) was the national coordinating body and included the Ministry of Social Development, the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, the Office of the Prime Minister (Gender and Child Affairs Division), the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Health, the Attorney General, and Legal Affairs. The Task Force did not include any NGOs, although there was an inter-ministerial working committee that included two NGOs, and the government reported it sought the input of survivors in crafting its trafficking laws, regulations, policies, and programs, specifically for children, and in their implementation. Experts continued to note a need for the government to add more NGO representation to the Task Force to strengthen government-NGO partnerships and receive more NGO input into government decision-making.
The Task Force collaborated with the CTU on anti-trafficking efforts. The government drafted and began consultations with more than 100 NGOs, international organizations, foreign embassies, religious bodies, and a university on a NAP for 2021-2023; the NAP was still pending cabinet approval at the end of the reporting period. Quarterly reports of some anti-trafficking activities were submitted to the Task Force, and it prepared annual reports on the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, although the government did not make these reports available to the public. The government reported preparing a parliamentary report in July 2020 on its anti-trafficking efforts that was available to the public. The CTU had a 24/7 English-language trafficking hotline, which reported receiving 47 calls and referring one case for investigation during the reporting period. The government also had other contact phone numbers and email addresses to report cases; an international organization reported the hotline was not widely used, especially in cases involving Venezuelan migrants. The government publicized the hotline through social media, airport advertisements, billboard advertisements, movie screenings, and radio programs. Observers noted the need for more Spanish language services in the hotline.
The Employment Exchange Act prohibited recruitment fees. Labor recruiters required a license to operate; the licensing officer could accept as equivalent a license issued by the competent authority of a foreign country. Forced labor cases could be referred to the labor inspectorate for investigation, and the inspectorate met with employers about paying employees unpaid wages. The law did not differentiate between domestic and foreign employees. Domestic workers were covered under the law, but observers noted the oversight and regulation of domestic workers remained weak, although employers must register domestic workers within 14 days or face a 5,000 TTD ($746) fine. The government reported reconstituting a labor law body to consider reforms to the law to widen the protections for domestic workers and to establish a special tribunal to hear disputes between domestic workers and their employers. The government reported three working groups for an update to the Recruiting of Workers Act met in December 2020 and recommended that means of fraud, including for the purposes of trafficking, be included in the Act and that migrants be included in the definition of “worker.” The Ministry of Labor (MOLSED) reported it continued to work on a labor migration policy begun in 2019. In March 2021, MOLSED and the Ministry of National Security agreed to increase collaboration on human trafficking, child labor, and labor exploitation, including training for labor inspectors to enable them to refer potential trafficking victims to the police or immigration. The government reported all labor inspectors were trained to use trafficking screening forms. Authorities reported continued efforts to raise awareness on social media about the labor rights of migrant workers, responsibilities of employers, and available avenues for reporting breaches. The government reported one of its Labor Attachés in Canada had specific responsibility for the Commonwealth Caribbean Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Program. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex. The government reported its laws allowed for the prosecution of suspected sex tourists for crimes committed abroad, and it developed draft legislation to strengthen the registration and reporting of sexual offenders to aid law enforcement, locally and internationally, in apprehending sexual offenders. The government provided training on human trafficking issues to staff and officers of the Ministry of Foreign and CARICOM Affairs, but did not provide training to diplomats during the reporting period.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Trinidad and Tobago, and traffickers exploit victims from Trinidad and Tobago abroad. Trinidad and Tobago also serves as a transit point for Venezuelan refugees and migrants en route to Europe, North Africa, and elsewhere in the Caribbean. The ongoing humanitarian crisis in neighboring Venezuela has contributed to a large influx of refugees and migrants who are at high risk for trafficking. Trinidad and Tobago closed its borders due to the pandemic from March 2020 through March 2021, but an international organization reported Venezuelans continued to arrive in large numbers on a daily basis. Unaccompanied or separated Venezuelan children are at increased risk for sex trafficking. Many victims enter the country legally via Trinidad’s international airport, while others enter illegally via small boats from Venezuela, which is only seven miles offshore. Migrants from the Caribbean region and from Asia, in particular those lacking legal status, are at risk for forced labor in domestic service and the retail sector. Sex trafficking victims are women and girls primarily from Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Guyana; traffickers offer employment in brothels and clubs, including via social media—which increased as a result of the pandemic—along with advertisements in Venezuelan newspapers and recruitment by other victims. Traffickers also exploit individuals from Puerto Rico, the Philippines, China, India, Nepal, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Traffickers are increasingly targeting and accompanying vulnerable foreign young women and girls between the ages of 15 and 21. LGBTQI+ persons are at risk for sex trafficking. Cuban medical professionals may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Corruption in police and immigration has been associated with facilitating labor and sex trafficking. Observers report that law enforcement and security officials are implicated in human trafficking, including coast guard officials who facilitate the transit of women and girls from Venezuela to the country; immigration and customs officers who ensure that women and girls arrive and receive entry; and members of the police who accept bribes to facilitate transport to houses across the country and work with brothel owners to protect their establishments from police raids, particularly in the southern police districts where most Venezuelan refugees and displaced persons attempt to enter the country. Transnational organized crime with a link to megabandas—large criminal gangs with more than 50 members who are part of transnational organized crime networks in Latin America—may increasingly be involved in human trafficking. Prior to the pandemic, Trinidad and Tobago may have been a sex tourism destination. After the country closed its borders in March 2020 due to the pandemic, more victims arrived by sea through illegal points of entry and trafficking moved from brothels to private, clandestine locations.