Human Trafficking in the Caribbean

Human Trafficking - The Silent Crime of the Caribbean


Human trafficking in the Caribbean typically goes unmentioned, unreported and ignored.

Organizations like the Franciscan Institute for Personal & Family Development, a ministry of the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother based out of St. Lucia and Trinidad/Tobago, are working to try and raise awareness of this egregious crime.

Human trafficking is the act of recruiting, harboring, transporting, providing, or obtaining a person for compelled labor or commercial sex acts through the use of force, fraud, or coercion.​ It is, essentially, modern day slavery. There are an estimated 20+ million victims of human trafficking across the globe.

In its 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, the U.S. cited ten Caribbean countries where the number of victims of severe forms of human trafficking are “very significant or significantly increasing.”

Victims can be involved in sex trafficking, labour trafficking or both. Victims can be women, men and children of any age, race or socioeconomic status, and can be both locals and immigrants.

Labour trafficking cases typically involve victims working in construction, agriculture or domestic servitude, where victims are vulnerable to beatings, sexual assaults and other abuses by family members in the homes where they reside. Labour trafficking has also been reported in the fishing, mining and forestry industries, and victims have even been forced to scavenge through garbage.

Many domestic servants are dismissed or run away, a large majority of them children, and make up a significant proportion of the large population of street children in the Caribbean who end up forced into prostitution, begging or street crime. Other at-risk children are those working in the informal sector, such as on farms, in street vending, markets and shops, as well as those engaged in begging.

Sex trafficking of children and adults occurs on the street, in night clubs, bars, massage parlours and private homes.

Many children are coerced into prostitution, often occurring through parents pushing their children to provide sexual favours to older men in exchange for school fees, money and gifts.

Sex trafficking also may occur within debt bondage, as women and girls are forced to continue in prostitution through the use of unlawful “debt” purportedly incurred through their transportation, recruitment, or even their crude “sale” – which exploiters insist they must pay off before they can be free.​ Many adult victims of sex trafficking are also often arrested and charged with soliciting/prostitution.

There is a very high number of missing children in the Caribbean, and NGOs and governments are concerned that some of these children are falling prey to forced labour or sex trafficking.

It is helpful to know the “red flags,” or signs, that an individual may be a victim of human trafficking. These include:

  • Shows signs of physical/sexual abuse, restraint, confinement or torture
  • Not free to come and go as she wishes
  • Has a much older “boyfriend”
  • Sudden increase of expensive “stuff”
  • Carries multiple phones
  • Constantly late or absent from school
  • Ran away or disappeared

Many Caribbean governments have not made progress in proactively identifying and assisting suspected trafficking victims or prosecuting trafficking offenders. The laws are weak to hold trafficking offenders accountable, and there is a significant lack of enforcement and punishment.

Both individual factors and outside circumstances contribute to human trafficking within the Caribbean. Individual risk factors include poverty, unemployment, membership in an indigenous group, illiteracy, a history of physical or sexual abuse, homelessness, drug use and gang membership.

Outside factors contributing to human trafficking include the following: (1) the high global demand for domestic servants, agricultural laborers, sex workers, and factory labor; (2) political, social, or economic crises, as well as natural disasters occurring in particular countries, such as the January 2010 earthquake in Haiti; (3) lingering machismo (chauvinistic attitudes and practices) that tends to lead to discrimination against women and girls; (4) existence of established trafficking networks with sophisticated recruitment methods; (5) public corruption, especially complicity between law enforcement and border agents with traffickers and alien smugglers; (6) restrictive immigration policies in some destination countries that have limited the opportunities for legal migration flows to occur; (7) government disinterest in the issue of human trafficking; and (8) limited economic opportunities for women. Although women have achieved the same (or higher) educational levels as men in many countries, women’s employment continues to be concentrated in low-wage, informal sector jobs.


The “3P” paradigm – prevention, protection, and prosecution – continues to serve as the fundamental framework used by governments around the world to combat human trafficking.  A new “fourth P”– partnership – serves as a pathway to achieve progress on the 3Ps in the effort against modern slavery.

Today, prevention encapsulates cross-cutting endeavors that include rectifying laws that omit classes of workers from labor law protection; providing robust labor law enforcement, particularly in key sectors where trafficking is most typically found; implementing measures that address significant vulnerabilities such as birth registration and identification; carefully constructing labor recruitment programs that ensure protection of workers from exploitation; strengthening partnerships between law enforcement, government, and nongovernmental organizations to collaborate, coordinate, and communicate more effectively; emphasizing effective policy implementation with stronger enforcement, better reporting, and government-endorsed business standards; and tackling this global crime at its root causes by monitoring product supply chains and reducing demand for commercial sex.

Protection is key to the victim-centered approach the international community pursues in efforts to combat modern slavery. Effective victim protection efforts include the “3Rs” – rescue, rehabilitation, and reintegration.

Prosecution is an indispensible element for government programs to fight trafficking. Imposed sentences should involve significant jail time, with a majority of a government cases resulting in sentences on the order of one year of imprisonment or more. Sentences should take into account the severity of an individual’s involvement in trafficking, imposed sentences for other grave crimes, and the judiciary’s right to hand down punishments consistent with that country’s laws.


To end sex trafficking would require a multi-pronged approach – one which involves change in male attitudes, reduction of demand strategies and strict enforcement of laws.

Governments need to put steps in place to ensure actual enforcement of laws against prostitution and trafficking and at the same time succeed in prosecuting brothel owners and exploiters. There are forfeiture laws that can be put into place which will take the traffickers money, real estate and other assets they’ve acquired through illegal activities.

Some countries have criminalized the purchase of sex, reducing demand. Offenders can be sent to jail, or in some instances, may avoid jail by attending John’s School.

Offenders have said they would be easily deterred from seeking prostitutes if the current laws were enforced. Most of the men said that fines, public exposure, employers being told of their activities, the risk of a criminal record, and being given an ASBO (antisocial behavior order, which means an individual’s activities can be made known publicly) would stop them from continuing to pay for prostitutes.

It is also important to re-educate the male population so that the culture of purchasing sex can be eradicated. Grooming the next generation of children to take a stand against prostitution, sex trafficking and sexual exploitation of minors is imperative.

Survivors of sex trafficking also need assistance from a holistic perspective – emotionally, physically, spiritually and in many other ways to help them heal and adjust to society. They may need counseling, education, housing, supplies and much more to be empowered to succeed in daily life after enduring the trauma of being a victim of sex trafficking.

The above activities to fight sex trafficking may strain financial resources in countries with limited resources. One way to obtain additional funding would be for governments to establish laws that would authorize the utilization of assets forfeited from convicted human traffickers to fund these activities.

Citizens must also participate by raising their voices by reporting the presence in their neighbourhoods of brothels, massage parlours or other private sex establishments which seek to evade police scrutiny by hiding in residential areas.

Politicians, law enforcement, teachers, faith-based leaders, business owners, parents and other community leaders must work together to re-establish moral codes and local activities which can protect victims from sexual abuse, violation and exploitation.


Some situations of domestic servitude and forced labor can be resolved when civil action against employers is taken. When successful, freed slaves can recover unpaid wages and benefits and the law may even authorize the forfeiture of offenders’ assets to meet a reward of damages.

However, the majority of action needs to come from the demand and legislative side of this issue. As consumers, we need to become informed about the industries and businesses which use slave labour so that we can utilize our power as consumers to compel them to alter their business practices and become more socially responsible.

Identifying which industries and companies use slave labor is the challenge. Some reports from the U.S. Department of Labour or the International Labour Organisation will indicate countries where slave labor is utilized, but seldom specify the companies who may be culpable.

Transparency of a company’s supply chain is the key to identifying which use forced labour to produce their goods. Most companies do have supply chain departments, but few share the extent and details of their supply chain, especially

However the tide is changing as more people become aware of this issue and speak up about it, gathering the attention of the media. Investigative journalists are now exposing profitable companies which rely on poor workers in third world countries. Apple Inc. and others have been forced to apologise for and change their outsourcing practices when faced with evidence in the global media of slave-like conditions at factories where their components are produced.

Nonprofit groups are forming to address the issue of labour trafficking as well, and using social media and traditional marketing practices to help more people become aware of the issues. Some of these groups offer resources to help consumers identify which companies allegedly rely on slave labour to produce chocolate, clothing, electronics and other items for consumers in Western markets.

Legislative and industry initiatives to apply pressure to businesses to develop and adhere to minimum standards of behavior so as to eliminate human trafficking from supply chains are critical. Legislation such as the Transparency in Supply Chains Act of the State of California in the U.S., which was passed in January 2013, ensure that all stakeholders, including consumers, can become aware of a company’s full supply chain and whether that company regularly checks that supply chain for possible slavery or trafficking conditions.

​Initiatives such as this bill support increased corporate social responsibility and ethical trade principles, which protect workers while promoting new opportunities for industry.

Today’s consumers have the purchasing power to take a stand and the right to be aware if their purchases are contributing to human rights atrocities being committed in the name of profit.

​​​​For more detailed information on any of the above, please consult the sources below for this article:



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