Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice, Carol Palmer, has called on Justices of the Peace (JPs) to play a more active role in sensitising community members about human trafficking and identifying perpetrators of the crime.
Mrs. Palmer, who is also Chairman of the National Task Force Against Trafficking In Persons (TIP), made the appeal as she addressed an installation ceremony for 35 new JPs for the parish for St. James, held on Thursday (June 20), at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.
“We have seen in the past few years, an increase in the number of reported cases of trafficking in persons in Jamaica … I implore you to be keen on this issue and to help to uncover in your communities, any instance of forced labour, forced prostitution or forced exploitation,” she stated.
Human trafficking is a form of modern-day slavery andinvolvesthe use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploitchildren and adults for some type of labor or commercialsex purpose.
Jamaica has made significant strides in addressing human trafficking. In addition to establishing the national task force, there have been increased activities in preventing human trafficking and punishing traffickers.
A shelter has been established for the care and protection of victims and between April 2012 and March 2013, the police conducted some 213 raids in establishments across the island and 23 human trafficking victims were rescued. There have been seven TIP investigations launched and four arrests made up to March 2013.
Public education efforts have been significantly revved up to increase awareness of the crime.
The United States (US) State Department, in its latest Trafficking in Persons Report, has upgraded Jamaica from its Tier 2 Watch List to Tier 2, which is a recognition of the country’s gains in complying with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.
Mrs. Palmer, in her address to the JPs, also urged them to be on guard when persons come to them to authenticate documents.
Traffickers will often confiscate the passports and visas of victims, or have identifying documents drawn up based on false information.
“In your role of verifying documents and validating identity, I urge you to be vigilant that you do not unwittingly assist would be perpetrators. When persons or groups come to you for the verification of documents, be observant. Does one individual seem to be exercising unusual or inappropriate control over another person and their documents?” she stated.
Mrs. Palmer told those JPs, who are afraid to carry out their role in this regard, to immediately turn in their commission to the Custos of the parish. “If you are not prepared to say ‘I do not know you, I cannot do this for you’ then return the instruments of office to the Custos,” she advised.
The Permanent Secretary said that as “standard bearers” in their communities the JPs are called upon to serve with integrity, honesty and dignity, and to be morally upright.
“Do not be influenced by anyone in carrying out your duties. Do not be afraid to carry out your duties in strict adherence to established principles, laws, regulations and guidelines. Do not allow anyone to cower you from your pedestal of moral exactitude,” she told them.
By Glenis Rose, JIS Regional Office, Montego Bay.