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ALICIA WALLACE: Trafficking is a problem to understand and tackle - together

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ON Saturday, Equality Bahamas hosted its sixth event in its CEDAW (Convention) Speaker Series, designed to increase understanding of the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. On a monthly basis, an expert, usually from the CEDAW Committee, leads discussion on one of the Articles of the Convention. At the most recent event, Corinne Dettmeijer, a Committee member from the Netherlands, made a presentation on Article 6 which is focused on trafficking and exploitation of prostitution.

Dettmeijer noted there used to be three Ps important to the conversation and action on trafficking.

There were prevention, protection and prosecution. There are now two additional Ps — punishment and partnership. She shared that there must be follow-through, and no step or concept is sufficient on its own. Where prevention and protection fail, there must be prosecution and that prosecution has little effect without punishment.

Partnership, the last of the five Ps, not only applies to agencies and sectors, but to countries and regions. “Fighting human trafficking,” she said, “is not something that one country does [on] its own. It needs cooperation.” She added: “Traffickers don’t really respect borders.”

In the session, Dettmeijer referred to the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children which was adopted in 2000 and supplements the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Aligned with the five Ps, its stated purposes are to prevent trafficking in persons (with specific attention to women and children), protect and assist victims of trafficking, and promote cooperation among States.

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Dettmeijer highlighted that, contrary to what we may assume, trafficking does not necessarily involve the crossing of borders. Particularly useful is the definition of “trafficking in persons” provided in the Protocol. Article 3(a) defines it as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.”

Once we understand what trafficking is, we need to pay attention to the people affected by it. It is critical we collect data, analyze that data and use it to develop interventions.

”What gets counted counts,” Dettmeijer said. In the Netherlands, they looked at the number of trafficking victims per 100,000 people. It was found that 257 of every 100,000 Dutch girls and 311 of every 100,000 Dutch girls between 12 and 17 years of age were victims of trafficking.

These numbers were then compared with the flu as an epidemic because, in the Netherlands, when 50 of every 100,000 people get the flu, it is considered an epidemic. This is an easy way for people to understand how many girls are trafficked, not only in numbers, but proportions. The data itself, then, is not all that matters. It must be presented in a way that is easily understood and contextualized.

In its Concluding Observations following the 2018 report of The Bahamas, the CEDAW Committee expressed its concern about the low number of trafficking cases taken to court and the lack of data on trafficking of women and girls. It recommended The Bahamas build capacity of the judiciary, law enforcement, health workers and other professionals who need to be able to identify victims of trafficking and make proper referrals. It also recommended the enforcement of the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention and Suppression) Act and support it with appropriate resources. Its third recommendation is the government conduct a study on trafficking in women and girls to establish trends and the extent of it.

As with the other recommendations made by the CEDAW Committee, we need to know these three recommendations, understand how they would help us to address the issue, and be active citizens who call on the government to action them.

Our borders do not protect us from trafficking, nor does our citizenship. We do not have to be taken from one country to another to be trafficked. As the definition of the Protocol makes clear, there need only be an abuse of power on one end and/or vulnerability on another end.

Trafficking has to be dealt with, not only in legislation, but in policies, through the training of law enforcement officers, healthcare workers, and social workers, and the collection, analysis, and sharing of data. Our next appearance before the CEDAW Committee is quickly approaching, though delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have work to do to come into compliance with the Convention, and there is no time like now to begin that work.

The full recording of the CEDAW (Convention) Speaker Series on Article 6 with Corinne Dettmeijer is available on the Equality Bahamas YouTube channel. It can be directly accessed at tiny.cc/cedaw6recording.

The next session, on Articles 7 (public and political life) and 8 (representation), led by CEDAW Committee member Nicole Ameline (France) will be held on Saturday, November 5, at 10am. Register for the virtual event at tiny.cc/cedaw7.

RECOMMENDATIONS

1 Ask for what you need. We sometimes fail ourselves by choosing not to ask for help. We may do this because we don’t want to admit that we don’t have it all together, we don’t want to inconvenience or bother anyone else, or we are afraid of our request being denied. It can be difficult to push past these barriers we impose on ourselves. It is important to remember that we are all interdependent, and we all have a need for the care of another human being.

Give people the opportunity to show up for you. Give yourself permission to verbalize your needs and receive help from loved ones. Sure, they will be unable or unwilling to help from time to time, but that is not in your control. It is okay to ask for someone, or even multiple people, to support you. The people who love you will be happy you asked and it will make them feel good to be able to meet your needs. Think of it as a win-win. You get what you need, and they get a self-esteem boost.

2 Remember that two things can be true, and more than one action may be required. It is possible to recognize that a specific action needs to be taken now, and to acknowledge it is unfair, inconvenient and the result of systems of inequality and oppression. There are times when, for expedience, we do what we have to do to get by and to do so quickly. This does not mean we cannot challenge the systems and practices we have to operate within.

For example, there was a request for financial assistance for a person who needed to present a passport to a new employer. Someone gave the money, and others challenged this requirement, noting it is both unfair and unnecessary as there are other, less costly ways to verify a person’s citizenship and right to work in the country.

Someone noted the person who just got a job is probably not in a position to challenge the requirement. This is all true. The person was better off getting support in acquiring a passport to avoid delays in starting the new job, and we will all be better off when we successfully challenge this requirement and change the way employers verify identity and right to work.

A passport should not be required of anyone who is not crossing borders. We should not excuse bad systems, but we also should not expect the people marginalized by them to change them on their own. Some of us are better placed to do that, and we all need to step up.