A new Combatting of Trafficking in Persons Bill was tabled in the National Assembly on Monday and through this proposed legislation, the government hopes to intensify the fight against the scourge of trafficking in persons.
The Bill, if passed, will repeal and replace the existing Combatting of Trafficking Persons Act 2005. It falls under the purview of the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security.
The new law is touted as a mechanism providing more comprehensive measures to combat trafficking in persons, in keeping with international best practices and changing socio-political needs.
Notably, Part II of the Bill sets out criminal offences and those offences have an extraterritorial effect.
Anyone who commits the offence of trafficking in persons is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for five years. A conviction on indictment, however, carried a life imprisonment penalty. Culpable persons may also be required to forfeit property and pay full restitution to the victim.
Several protections are offered to vulnerable persons in this part.
It says that consent of past sexual behaviour or history of the victim is irrelevant; the legal age of consent to sex or of marriage cannot be used as a defence to trafficking in persons; and the victim is immune from prosecution for immigration offences.
The Bill also outlines that a Counter-Trafficking in Persons Unit shall be responsible for protecting and assisting victims of trafficking; it also works with other relevant agencies. The President, based on Part VI of the Bill, shall also establish a Ministerial Task Force comprising various stakeholders to help with the protection of people, collecting and publishing data, training law enforcement officers and conducting public awareness.
And the Bill also outlines several provisions for investigation and court procedures that are meant to provide better services to victims while more efficiently combatting the issues.
According to the 2022 United States’ Department of State Trafficking in Persons report for Guyana, the government has met the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Because of this, Guyana maintains its ‘Tier 1’ status.
Despite this, the report noted that there are some shortcomings.
“Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not convict any traffickers for the first time in four years.
“It did not formally approve standard operating procedures (SOPs) to identify victims, provide sufficient security for trafficking victims at shelters, provide enough Spanish-language interpreters, identify any victims among the vulnerable Haitian population, or adequately oversee recruitment agencies,” the report noted.
As such, several key recommendations were made.
Those include increasing prosecutions and convictions in sex and labour trafficking cases and pursue them under the Combating Trafficking in Persons Act of 2005, including for cases involving child victims; ensuring security for victims, especially those residing in government shelters, and their relatives; and proactively screen vulnerable populations, including Haitian migrants and Cuban medical workers, for trafficking indicators, refer them to services, and ensure potential victims are not deported without screening.
Other recommendations included calls for the reduction in the delays during investigations, court proceedings, and pretrial detention of suspects, a reduction on the reliance on victims to serve as witnesses in prosecutions and reducing police abuses during raids while keeping officers accountable for misbehaviour.
Improving support and protection for victims are also viewed as crucial.