Human Trafficking has become a global concern as millions of people living on the margins of society, seek a better life thru migration. The risks to personal safety is huge as most fall victims to those who prey on the weak and vulnerable. In Belize like the rest of the region, governments are launching Anti-trafficking projects to combat this latest scourge - and, in no small measure, to placate the U.S. - which is where the majority of human traffic is heading.
The goal in Belize right now is to conduct assessments of the trafficking situation, including the institutional response, while also gauging the roles and capacities of key stakeholders.
Today at the ITVET conference room in Belize city, one key group of traffic first responders, labor inspectors received instruction from the International Organization for Migration.
The IOM says it is working with the government, to strengthen Belize's capacity to investigate, prosecute, and convict people involved in human trafficking.
We haven't had a conviction in Belize and busts made in the past have fizzled. But, as I found out, that's often because the problem is complex and layered in multiple levels of outlaw activity:
Jim McFadzean Reporting:
It was one of the main issues on the agenda at the 36th Annual Summit for SICA Heads of State, hosted on the island of Ambergris Caye, last December. Human Trafficking has become a major challenge for the region as thousands, if not millions trek thru the isthmus, looking for a better way of life. And what's making the issue of human trafficking even more onerous, is that it almost always overlaps with drug trafficking.
Prime Minister Barrow
"The majority of the time during the Summit was spent on the discussion of the regional security situation and that involve looking at all aspects including, drug trafficking, money laundering, cross border crime, including human trafficking."
The government of Belize has recognized the urgent need to address the rising incidences of human trafficking and forced labor in the country. Since 2003 there have been 33 arrests for human trafficking but only two convictions. Most prosecutions have been unsuccessful because of a lack of experience and knowledge on the part of the law enforcement agencies who make the arrests and prosecute the alleged offenders.
Diana Marian Shaw - Project Coordinator, IOM
"We are focusing today on labor officers, labor inspectors, and employment officers - personnel who are working in the labor department to sensitized them to the issues relating to the traffick, and their particular role in the trafficking intervention, but also to remind them of the the importance of actively prosecuting labor crimes. Because when we create environment where labor crimes are prosecuted, and there's a strong enforcement of labor crimes, it reduces the likelihood of trafficking for labor exploitation, which does happen in Central America and which is one of the things that we are seeing that Belize is also being use, not only for sexual exploitation, which we focusing a lot, but also for labor exploitation."
Belize has long been both a transit and a destination point, for those seeking a better way of life. In the journey to get there though, many have fallen victims to forced labor exploitation or some other form of servitude.
Diana Marian Shaw
"There was a study that was done in 2006, and it focused specifically on commercial sexual exploitation of children and adolescence. And that study was seeking to establish some of the manifestations of commercial sexual exploitation, and to give some ideas of the likely perpetuators, and the vulnerability factors. One of the things that they identified though, was that there was a reluctance on many part on victims, to participate in the study, to make their status known that they were victim. And there's also some ignorance among victims as to whether they're actually victims, and their reluctance to address - to come and say anything because of stigma, and the fear of being perceived as a prostitute and so on."
The workshop ends tomorrow.