Cox: Human traffickers target youngsters on social media

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Donna Cox

MINISTER of Social Development Donna Cox has warned that human traffickers were using social media to try to ensnare youngsters and adults into a life of exploitation.

She was speaking on Wednesday at the Brix Hotel, St Ann’s, at the launch of Heal, Empower, Rise Counter Trafficking in Persons (HER CTIP) Project.

This US$950,000 project is funded by USAID through the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and seeks to improve the treatment, care and support for survivors of human trafficking in TT, as explained by IOM project manager Zeke Beharry.

He said over the year of its duration the project would improve the protection and assistance to victims; supply technical assistance, resources and training to partners; and help retrofit state-owned and state-supported facilities which accommodate trafficking survivors.

Cox declared, “More and more people – women, girls, boys, persons with disabilities, refugees, migrants, asylum-seekers and even men – are being lured away by unscrupulous individuals.”

She said in this age of computer technology, the risk of becoming victims of human trafficking was greater through social media.

“Adults and children become easy targets for those human trafficking criminals, who troll these virtual spaces and enter chat rooms with one motive – to capture their next victims.

“Our location in the Caribbean creates multiple vulnerabilities that we must build defences against.”

Her ministry has created a draft manual for social-service providers on the care of trafficking victims, including addressing their need for care and protection; food, clothing and shelter; legal representation; repatriation and reintegration; and referral to international agencies.

The manual will also underline the need for a victim-centred approach and the need for collaboration among law enforcement, governmental and NGO agencies. Once Cabinet approves the manual it will be circulated to stakeholders, she said.

Cox said her ministry has a working committee on trafficking, which reports to the permanent secretary and the National Task Force Against Trafficking in Persons.

“This facility was developed with the understanding that 72 per cent of the globally detected human-trafficking victims are girls under age 18,” she said.

Cox urged people to speak out on trafficking, urging, “If you see something, say something.”

She said a significant decrease in human trafficking would be seen when perpetrators are captured, brought before the court, and convicted. Hence it was important to work together to educate people to identify the signs of human trafficking and how to prevent it.

Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister Ayanna Webster-Roy said a shelter was being established for migrant women who were victims of trafficking.

US charge d’affairs Shante Moore said the US Government was committed to eliminating the scourge of human trafficking, which he described as modern-day slavery. “Human trafficking, as you well know, inflicts untold suffering and misery on innocent victims, perpetuates crime and criminality, and costs society in human lives upended and human productivity lost.

“To this end, the US Government, through the USAgency for International Development (USAID) has committed over US$14 million to support counter-trafficking efforts in the Caribbean.”

He said the project focused on strengthening the support systems for victims of trafficking.

Moore said, “Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said, ‘Everyone should be free. And yet, through force, fraud, and coercion, human traffickers violate this most basic right. Traffickers’ exploitative practices affect every country in the world, including the US, by diminishing and destroying our communities, sense of security, and the global economy.’”

Saying no country was spared from human trafficking, he said, “Criminals in Caribbean countries target the most marginalised (and) source, move and sell the most vulnerable members of our society, including young women and children.”

He explained that amid efforts to dismantle human-trafficking rings and prosecuting the guilty, victims and survivors must receive protection, care and support.

“These efforts will help to place them on the path to healing and rebuilding their lives.”

Moore said the HER C-TIP project has a “survivor-led, trauma-informed, and comprehensive victim-centred” approach to human trafficking.

“To ensure this goal is realised, USAID, through its implementing partner, the International Organization for Migration, will work closely with the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, and the Ministry of Child and Gender Affairs.

“We look forward to hearing of the future success of this project and we are grateful for your strong participation and collaboration.”