USAID-Funded Programme Helps Young People at Risk of Human Trafficking

Scores of young people, who, because of poverty, lack of adequate education, or inability to find employment, were at risk of being lured into unsavoury activities, including prostitution, have benefited from an anti-trafficking in persons programme, sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The programme, which was implemented by the People’s Action for Community Transformation (PACT), a non-governmental organization (NGO), involved research into the problem in the country, and providing education, skills training and counseling services for at-risk young people. It was in response to the country’s anti-trafficking initiative, which is being strongly supported by the United States government.
Programme Director of PACT, Sheila Nicholson, tells JIS News of the work done to turn around the lives of the young people, age 18 to 25, who were heading in the wrong direction.
Explaining the genesis of the programme, she recalls that in 2004, the USAID published a request for an organization to conduct work to address human trafficking in Jamaica. “We didn’t know too much about trafficking but our work takes us into the realms of young people and children and we know about their hardships. The USAID did say that there are a number of young persons aged 14 to about 25, who are in danger of being trafficked because of their social and educational situation,” she notes.
“They (USAID) spoke quite a lot about young women, uneducated, not being able to find employment. They spoke about the mushrooming of all these parlours/clubs in the tourism sector that are inviting young people to dance, to be masseuses. In these sorts of situations, these young people fall into or are encouraged into prostitution, and from that there is the next step to being trafficked in or outside of Jamaica. They, the USAID were very concerned about this and trying to curb this tendency, because trafficking is an international crime, (they asked us), could we look at these young persons and see what we can do about them,” she says.
According to Mrs. Nicholson, PACT picked up the mantle and conducted research to find out all it could about human trafficking.
Having armed itself with the necessary knowledge on human trafficking and with some $8.7 million in funding from the USAID, PACT set out to carry out its mandate to facilitate the entry or re-entry of at-risk young people into the mainstream labour market, provide social services for the participants, and to develop a public education programme to bring to the general public, the plight of these young person and the tragedies of the sex trade.
PACT, as a first step, carried out some 17 seminars and workshops to benefit some 345 persons. “We trained everybody we could find – the police, immigration officers, government ministries, children services, teachers, schools, just about everybody we thought of. We had 17 seminars. averaging about 25 to 26 persons per seminar and we opened it to about everybody . and they came,” Mrs. Nicholson tells JIS News.
PACT, in carrying out its work, made contact with four community-based organizations and NGOs with youth support and intervention programmes – Children First in Spanish Town; Western Society for the Upliftment of Children in Montego Bay; North Street United Church in West Kingston and Churches Action in Negril.
The four organizations were asked to actively recruit young people for the project and investigate the level of human trafficking, to which young people in the areas they serve were exposed. They found that there were a number of dancehalls and nightclubs where young girls went to dance and were being lured into prostitution and that community dons were recruiting young girls into sex acts.
Sharing findings from the research, Mrs. Nicholson says that a young woman recruited to dance in a Montego Bay nightclub, recounted tales of abuse faced by girls, such as having their $3,000 per week salary dockedfor lateness and “going outside during working time”.
They cited peer influence and the lure of money as factors which pushed them into these jobs, which often led them into prostitution, where earnings could be as high as $10, 000 per night. They however expressed a desire to “get out” and “settle down”, with some noting that their families do not know what they do for a living.
“It’s a terrible thing for our young people,” Mrs. Nicholson notes. “The girls, some of them, don’t know what they are getting themselves into. It sort of moves directly into prostitution, because they earn very little in the dancehall, but the money is in prostitution. I remember a youngster telling me, “Lord Miss, me stomach sick but the money good,” she recalls.
Working through the NGOs, PACT provided the youngsters with formal education for four days per week to upgrade their education to the grade 9 level and impart skills-based training. They also benefited from health counselling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDS. Volunteer teachers, probation officers and counsellors pitched in to work with the young people “on their personal issues and their education,” Mrs. Nicholson informs.
Pointing to the success of the programme, she tells JIS News that “the programme worked so well. There were a number of young people, both men and women, with a possible average age of about 20, who were at loose ends. They were not doing anything. Many of the girls did not have any stable residences, they were probably physically abused by their partners, there was nothing to look forward to and they really rushed into the project. This project focused on upgrading their English and Mathematics, taking them through the HEART Trust NTA Programme in Runaway Bay (for residential training), and getting jobs for them in the hotels.”
Data from the inaugural year of the project (2004-2005) shows that of the 150 young persons to benefit, all advanced to at least one JAMAL literacy level. Seventy-six (76) gained basic computer literacy while 30 achieved more advanced competency; 10 were scheduled to sit the HEART NTA examinations; 54 were trained in videography; 16 in cosmetology; seven in barbering; two in baking; 12 in interior decorating; four in tour guide training; and four in hotel skills.
The initial one-year term of the programme ended in June 2005. At this time, the United States State Department had placed Jamaica on tier three in terms of human trafficking, which is the lowest rank of its three-tier system. In this position, the country faced the threat of statutory restrictions on non-humanitarian and non-trade related U.S. government assistance, and possible withholding of funding for educational and cultural exchanges.
The Government subsequently set up a task force to address the problem and PACT is now a part of that task force. In 2007, the USAID committed US $65,000 for a five-month project, which provided for an extension of the anti-trafficking initiative to the resort town of Ocho Rios, through the Women’s Centre in the area.
Young people served by this centre, in addition to those served under the initial project in Montego Bay, Negril and Spanish Town, benefited under a venture capital initiative set up by PACT. The destruction of the North Street United Church prevented the extension of this benefit to youths in Western Kingston. “We put aside some funding for young persons and explored with them what they could do for a living if they were not in school and what they would like to do. We set aside $500 a week for 36 weeks. We encouraged them to lodge it in the credit unions and banks. After a year, they got a tidy little sum,” Mrs. Nicholson relates.
She notes that most of the beneficiaries wanted to use the funds to further their education. However, some have set up micro-businesses. One girl now has her own beaded jewellery business. A group of cosmetology trainees, she informs, “have set up business doing hair and nails, while a few went into barbering, “so at least there is something that we could do to help occupy them.”
In the meantime, the Executive Director says that she has seen a change in attitude and self-esteem among the participants, “especially among these girls in Negril”.
Project beneficiaries also had glowing tributes for the programme. “We don’t have to turn worthless” one youngster says. “This has changed my life for the better. I’m so grateful for this opportunity”; “The programme was educational and helped to build my self esteem and should have been longer,” state other beneficiaries. “It has inspired and educated me,” still another has said.
Says another, “I stopped school at grade 9 and since I come here to this group, I pick up where I left off. I’m happy for a new start. If it was not for the project, I do not know where I would be. I am inspired. I wish the programme would be longer.”
Granted the opportunity to continue the programme, the PACT Director says she would want to focus on research to assess the real extent and impact of human trafficking on young people. She notes that for an NGO, investigations are difficult and potentially dangerous. “You can’t delve into what is going on. We also have to protect the kids. It’s not an easy task for a non-government organization,” she points out, noting that NGOs were also hampered by limited funding.
She says that Church Action in Negril has continued to work with the youngsters without any funding. “Luckily for them, they have been able to recruit able volunteers, and so they are carrying out their programme hoping we will find more funding for them,” she notes.
PACT has made another bid for a similar project for anti-trafficking intervention advertised by the USAID last August, and is waiting for a reply from the agency, says Mrs. Nicholson.
Trafficking in persons, also known as human trafficking, is defined as a situation in which persons employ, take on, hire, or sign up other persons through the use of fear, force, fraud, and transport them to another place or country in order to use them for their own gain.
A form of modern day slavery, traffickers usually prey on individuals who are poor, frequently unemployed, who may lack access to social safety nets, and are predominantly women and children. Victims are often lured with false promises of good jobs and better lives and then forced to work in brutal and inhuman conditions.
The Government has advanced several initiatives to improve the problem. Last year, anti-trafficking legislation was passed; a public awareness campaign was launched and National Anti-Trafficking in Persons Task Force was established to coordinate anti-trafficking matters.
Other initiatives embarked on includes the appointment of a police officer to handle trafficking-related investigations; and wide scale training of personnel in government agencies, teachers, judges, police and immigration officers, civil society and private sector interest groups.
Police and immigration officers have also intensified their surveillance activities, aggressively keeping an eye out for local and international perpetrators and a number of traffickers have been arrested. A safe house for victims is also to be established.
In June of 2007, Jamaica received a Tier Two ranking from the State Department and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Justice and Chairperson for the National Task Force, Carol Palmer, has also expressed hope for a Tier one ranking by June this year.

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