Caribbean urged to take radical approach to human trafficking

Human trafficking

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados – One university of the West Indies (UWI) lecturer is calling on Caribbean governments to take a different approach to the issue of human trafficking.

Senior lecturer in Sociology at the Cave Hill Campus, Dr Joan Phillips said while there was a lot of anecdotal information in the Caribbean when it comes this issue, it seemed to be a matter of people moving for “work”.

She was presenting on the paper Deportation and the Challenge of the Paradigm of Sex Trafficking in the Region, during a session at the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) 20th annual conference in Barbados.

She argued that too often, Caribbean countries were made to feel that “something needs to be done” about human trafficking and that it needs to be done now.

“So we in the Caribbean we are sort of caught in a conundrum. We are being pushed to look at something that we are not sure of what is happening but because of the political and economic influence of US foreign policy we need to do something or we will lose funding if we don’t do anything,” she argued, adding that human trafficking was now being seen as modern day slavery.

The academic argued that trafficking on the international scene did not share the same realities as the region, adding that they did not take into consideration the willing movement of people to work in various settings including nightclubs.

“The conclusion is, we can talk about the whole idea of this continuing compliance by the Caribbean governments to the US foreign policy, even though we are supposed to be independent . . . [but] what is happening is that women themselves are being undermined by a system that should be supporting them,” argued Phillips.

“The only issue with the sex paradigm is that poor women are becoming poorer and they are becoming more undermined by the fact that there is nothing out there to help them. Even the systems that have been put in place are lip service. There are laws put in place but if you overstay your time you are deported. There is no restitution for you,” she said.

The UWI lecturer said it was therefore time for Caribbean governments to view the issue of trafficking differently.

“My argument is we need to look at trafficking and the ideology about trafficking in a totally different way, because trafficking in the Caribbean is mobile migrant sex work linked with levels of exploitation because women have become more vulnerable, because women need to feed their children and families and that is the big issue,” she said.

“So I think the Caribbean governments have to make a big decision on whether they accept the foreign policy of the US and talk about this sexual trafficking and put all this law in place and not focus on what they think the bigger issues are – poverty, vulnerability, lack of education, the need for support for children, unemployment and so on. So I am saying we need to look at the whole notion of human trafficking in a totally different way,” she insisted.

Phillips said based on research with sex workers from some Caribbean countries and some stakeholders there seemed to be a blur between migration, actual sex trafficking and other forms of human trafficking “or something else”.

She pointed out that most of the Caribbean countries were on tier two of the US Trafficking in Persons Report, meaning that more measures were needed to address the issue.

The 2018 report released in June last year, said that Barbados did not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, “however, it is making significant efforts to do so”.

The report said over the past five years, Barbados has been a source and destination for women and children subjected to sex trafficking”, adding that contacts reported that foreign women have been “forced into prostitution in Barbados”.

However, Phillips said the issue should be addressed “in the context of the Caribbean”.

“You cannot talk about sex trafficking and migrant sex work without talking about the history we have of colonialism and the intersection of race and class and inequality and sexuality which is all added up.

“What the anti-trafficking agenda does is try to silence this idea of women moving across borders for work . . . The approach here is looking at the way women are silenced by being criminalized because as soon as police realize they are not Barbadian they are deported. Even though the law says there should be restitution there isn’t because there is no support for anyone who might have said ‘I have been trafficked can you help me’,” she argued.

Phillips questioned if there weren’t “bigger problems” such as drugs that regional governments should be tackling, adding that research showed that many women move between Caribbean islands in order to earn money to send back to their families.

“Their focus is ‘I need to support my family and this is the best way of doing it’,” said Phillips.