77 TIP cases filed in 2023; US State Dept. cites lack of dedicated police budget to fight trafficking

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana

The Government of Guyana has increased its prosecution efforts against Trafficking In Persons (TIP), according to the 2024 TIP report prepared by the US Department of State.

During 2023, the report pointed out that 77 TIP cases were filed under the Combating Trafficking of Persons Act of 2023 resulting in ten suspects being arrested of which seven were charged. This reflected an increase from 2022 when there were 28 cases.

The prescribed penalties under the revised 2023 Act include five years to life imprisonment and extended criminal liability to corporations, and explicitly included the use of children for the production and distribution of narcotics within the definition of trafficking. The law also defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation.

In addition, the report noted that the prosecutions were initiated against three alleged traffickers under other laws, including the Protection of Children Act for employing a child where liquor was sold, the Summary Jurisdiction (Offenses) Act for keeping a commercial sex establishment, and the Sexual Offense Act and the Summary Jurisdiction (Offenses Act) for sexual and bodily harm against a child younger than 16 years old. This is compared with two prosecutions under other laws in 2022.

One of the challenges faced by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security (MHSSS), and NGOs is that “some victims may have declined to participate in prosecutions after receiving a pay-off from the trafficker, because of familiarity and trust built with the trafficker, or because of income received through commercial sex,” according to the report.

On this note, it was pointed out that the police lacked sufficient resources for non-English speaking victim-witnesses, while there is a limited government presence in the interior of the country to consistently and sufficiently conduct law enforcement actions, monitor establishments, screen for victims, and observe trafficking trends.

Despite the strides in tackling this crime, the US State Department highlighted that Guyana Police Force (GPF) Counter-Trafficking (C-TIP) Unit and the GPF Prosecution Unit lack the dedicated budgetary allocations to carry out their duties. The GPF’s C-TIP Unit exclusively investigates trafficking cases while the Prosecution Unit manages preliminary hearings into felony crimes – including trafficking crimes – in the Magistrates Court.

The US State Department also recognised that the judicial process remained slow, with trafficking and other major criminal trials taking an average of two to five years to complete because of shortages of trained court personnel, postponements at the request of the defence or prosecution, allegations of bribery, poor case tracking, and delays in preparing cases for trial.

In 2016, a former police officer was convicted of sex trafficking and released on bail after the death of the suspect. However, in the 2024 report, it is stated that “the government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes.”

“Observers did not find any cases of police complicity in trafficking crimes but noted low-level police corruption generally may have impacted victims,” it added.

It was also highlighted that Police prosecutors from the GPF Prosecution Unit were not licensed attorneys, though some had law degrees and received specialised training in legal procedure. As such, the GPF prosecutors request advice and guidance from the DPP before initiating legal proceedings, but the government reported this was not often done.

As such, police, other government officials, and members of civil society are trained on topics including financial investigations for human trafficking offences, the 2023 anti-trafficking law, using technology for human trafficking investigations, and trauma-informed care for victims.

Cooperation with two foreign governments on investigations has also been fruitful leading to the arrest of three suspects and identification of 44 victims, the report stated.