- Convicted persons can be imprisoned for up to 20 years
- There is also provision for a new offence of conspiracy
The Senate has approved legislation to impose harsher penalties for the crime of human trafficking, and to expand the list of offences under the law.
Under the amendments to the Trafficking in Persons (Prevention, Suppression and Punishment) Act, convicted persons can be imprisoned for up to 20 years, with provision for the court to impose an additional 10 years if the offender commits any other offence while trafficking persons, such as debt bondage.
The legislation also increases from 10 to 20 years, the period of imprisonment for persons who knowingly receive financial or other benefits from trafficking in persons.
There is also provision for a new offence of conspiracy, which is punishable by imprisonment of up to 20 years and/or fine.
Piloting the Bill, Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, noted that it is being increasingly recognised in other jurisdictions that trafficking in persons may, in fact, involve other offences that are not caught in the Palermo Protocol (United Nations Standards) definition of human trafficking.
“Such offences may include, but are not limited to assaults, rape, carnal abuse, child pornography, forced labour and forced begging, where these arise in the context of human exploitation. However, there are no provisions in the Palermo Protocol or the Principal Act addressing these offences when committed along with human trafficking,” Mr. Golding said.
“The practice in Jamaica is to prosecute those offences separately under laws which already exist and which pre date the Principal Act. This development has had a significant impact on Jamaica as the broader view on human trafficking, which has been adopted in other countries, such as the United States, is reflected in its annual country report on human trafficking in which countries receive a ranking based on their anti human trafficking efforts,” he added.
He further explained that in light of these developments, a review of the Principal Act was done with a view to identifying legislative changes to make the Principal Act more effective and to eliminate the gaps in the country’s legislation, with regard to the treatment of offences akin to trafficking.
“Significant changes which have been made in the Bill include provisions for offences akin to trafficking in persons, the upper limit on the penalties for trafficking in persons have increased, conspiracy to commit the offence of trafficking in persons is being made a distinct offence, and restitution for trafficked victims is being provided,” Senator Golding said.
In her comments, Senator Sophia Frazer Binns expressed her support for the increase in penalties for offences committed under the Act.
She also stressed the importance of enforcing the provisions of the Act as well as continuing the public education programme being undertaken by the various stakeholders.
“This crime is of such magnitude and such gravity that nothing but the harshest penalty will act as a deterrent to the offence,” Mrs. Frazer Binns said.
For his part, Opposition Senator, Kavan Gayle, noted that the Bill is timely and also called for a sustained public education programme.
In his response, Senator Golding said the Government has revived the National Task Force on Human Trafficking as well as developed wallet cards, which describe human trafficking and highlight the essential elements of what is human trafficking.
So far 15,000 of these wallet cards have been produced and distributed to police officers across the country.
He also cited the development of a strategic communication plan, where 43 public relations sessions were held, as well as the use of social media to disseminate information.
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 trafficking in person investigations launched and four arrests made up to March 2013.
Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery involving victims, who are typically forced, defrauded or coerced into various forms of exploitation.
The Government has been tackling the problem through a number of initiatives, including legislative amendment, public education and prosecution of persons found involved in the crime of human trafficking. The Bill was passed with three amendments.