By Sara-Lou Angelique Morgan-Walker
What is Human Trafficking?
Well, from the name, I could decipher that it was human beings being transferred from one location to the next. However, I never quite understood the gravity of it. I was a university graduate who was unemployed and in debt due to a decent size student loan. Consequently, my drive to be fully socially aware of the world’s crisis had slowly depleted to a thin thread over the years after completing my university education. I had become morally and intellectually insensitive to the spurts of crime in my own country of Jamaica and I certainly wasn’t planning to lose sleep over what was happening in first world countries.
It was not until June 2014, when I got the opportunity to partake in the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Leadership Training session that I became aware of the National Integrity Action, a non-governmental organization combating corruption and building integrity in Jamaica. They presented a ten-minute video of an intercepted human trafficking transaction. It involved a man closing a deal with three Caucasian men of how much they could pay to have his niece and when she would leave. One of the men expressed interest in seeing and testing out the goods first; of which the uncle requested additional money for such a favour. They obliged and he brought one of the men into a back room where the girl was sitting on a bed, scared and seemingly in shock. I bet she was relieved when the Caucasian man said to her, “It’s okay, I won’t hurt you, I am a police investigator. This is all a part of an FBI investigation, and you will be safe. Just stay here while I go and close the deal and make the necessary arrangements to have you transported to a safe house.”
The video ended with the entire family – two uncles, her aunt, and two cousins – being arrested and charged with human trafficking, facilitating trafficking in persons, and living on the earnings of prostitution. After the video presentation, I was so enraged I didn’t hear much of what was said by the NIA team, during the question and answer section, nor in their wrap up of ‘how we could become involved’. I could not fathom how guardians who were responsible for protecting and caring for their loved ones, could willingly participate in activities that put those same children in danger. Activities that would leave them with years of trauma and emotional scars and foreshadow their entire lives. I was not sure how I could get involved in this fight against human trafficking. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to get involved, but my heart was on another course. I had a passion for the empowerment of girls within the foster care system and those in various correctional facilities.
I decided to Google “Human Trafficking in Jamaica”, to see what information I could garner. It was like looking at a compass to decide where you were and which direction you needed to go. To say that I was majorly disappointed in what I found would be an understatement. There were numerous articles about Jamaica attaining Tier 2 ranking in the United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report having climbed from a Tier 2 Watch List. Even with my university education, I was clueless as to how this translated on the ground in Jamaica. I had no idea how this was reflected in the inner-city communities and what it even meant.
However, I occasionally contemplated the whereabouts of all the missing girls that would creep across my television screen each night. Nightly, an array of photos deciphering girls between the ages of nine and seventeen would be displayed immediately following the local and international news. An act of appeal came from the police department and loved ones to the public, to report the whereabouts or come forward with any information about any of the girls, leading to the perpetrator(s)’ arrest(s). Dozens of girls were shown each night and you would never see the same set of girls on any given broadcast. It had become so commonplace that many people were no longer emotionally affected or appalled.
I tried to make a connection between the missing girls and our human trafficking dilemma in Jamaica, but it was not until listening to a keynote address from the Children’s Advocate of Jamaica, Mrs. Diahann Gordon-Harrison, in April 2016, that I was able to measure the gravity of human trafficking in our little island of wood and water. An island that attracted close to two million visitors each year, if not more. An island that was just a mere dot on the global map but was known around the world for one of two things: our crime rate or our athlete’s performance in any recent track and field championships.
Jamaica was a transit and a source for human traffickers. Traffickers targeted women and children who were on the lower spectrum of the economic strata. They focused on victims who were already in abusive situations, prostitutes trying to make ends meet, and broken families from the most vulnerable communities. Human trafficking was a thirty-two billion-dollar industry, and every pauperized individual without any morals wanted a piece of the pie, and for those on the latter end of the trickling system that probably even meant the crumbs.
This had to be the precise explanation as to why we were never able to locate our girls that were missing, no matter how quickly we responded to the Missing Person’s Report. This led me into a mental frenzy as I sat in a pew at my church looking through the gates at the surrounding zinc fence houses at people that lined the streets, engaging in lively conversations and even laughter. My church was in the South Side, a vulnerable community referred to by many American artists such as Nicki Minaj and Sean Kingston in their songs. A community that lacked valuable information; a community that lived on less than the country’s minimum wage of US $46 per week. A community whose young people were enslaved in their own community, due to a lack of employment opportunities, education, and any source of income gain.
A thought-provoking realization formed in my mind. I, a graduate of the University of the West Indies who had access to the internet, various lecture series and campaign forums, and multiple governmental and lead agencies debates, still did not know the depth of human trafficking and how it affected vulnerable communities in Jamaica. How much more would those women and men in these communities know about human trafficking? These women and men, who were more concerned about their immediate needs of basic of food, clothing, and shelter. Can they identify a trafficker? Do they know who to report to should they have an inclination that they are being lured into trafficking? Do they even know how to protect their children and other loved ones? I could not even answer these questions, and that’s when I realize that the Heads of Government, the team at NIA, The National Taskforce Against Trafficking in Persons (NATFATIP), and all the other NGOs involved in fighting human trafficking had failed.
These bodies had failed in breaking down the facts of human trafficking so the most vulnerable among us could digest it. They, along with the Church, had failed to organize multimedia campaigns and town hall meetings where members of the community could present their questions to government officials and the Human Trafficking Task Force personnel. They had failed to involve community members in their module and strategy to combat human trafficking in Jamaica, along their journey of acquiring Tier One status in the United States Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report.
In an effort to bring solution and a positive response to aforementioned questions, I present the following simple but presumably effective suggestions:
- The month of January is promoted as Human Trafficking Month. It is my belief that the National Integrity Action or any non-governmental agencies who fight against human trafficking -The National Taskforce Against Trafficking in Persons (NATFATIP), Child Development Agency of Jamaica, government officials, member of Parliament, and partnering organizations – should host a minimum of two public forums and town hall meetings, across the 14 parishes of Jamaica. This would give community members an opportunity to engage in conversations, share their concerns, and have their queries answered. Such efforts would educate the public on the dangers of trafficking, teach them how to identify traffickers, and make them familiar with legal charges for being involved in trafficking.
- Engage the public to make videos advocating for the fight against human trafficking, using social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to promote their ideas and get mass support. This would attract more young people to the cause. These videos can be used in various media campaigns during Human Trafficking Month, promoting awareness to residents of Jamaica. Young people should also get the opportunity to be youth ambassadors and participate in human trafficking forums throughout the Caribbean.
- Various international organizations such as A21, IJM (International Justice Mission) should extend subsidize mission and outreach trips to church youth groups. Over the years, I have learnt that hands-on experience and exposure through volunteerism and participation evoke a deeper sense of compassion and responsibility in young adults (18-35) than lecture series and publications will ever do.
I will not deny that work is being done in Jamaica, but I strongly believe that officials have collectively covered their heads, leaving their bottoms exposed. More can be done and should these suggestions be taken into consideration we can climb to Tier One status.
Sara-Lou Angelique Morgan-Walker was born and raised on the tropical island of Jamaica. She began writing at the early age of eight as a medium to express herself. Sara-Lou found the way words flowed together exciting. She has a passion for aiding in the rehabilitation and reintegration process of girls who are being abused, living within the foster care system, and/or are being confined to a correctional facility. She hopes to one day own girls homes in Jamaica, Africa, Haiti, and anywhere else the Lord lays on her heart. She blogs at https://journey2selfloveblog.wordpress.com and https://brokentoberestored.wordpress.com/.