Harsh penalties for offenders in new Trafficking in Persons law

The government has taken an aggressive approach towards ending the scourge of human trafficking, with the passing of the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill 2023 in the National Assembly, Wednesday evening.

The robust and comprehensive legislation strengthens Guyana’s response to human trafficking, as it is constituted with key measures that are aligned with global best practices and evolving socio-political requirements.

It seeks to replace the Combating of Trafficking in Persons Bill of 2005, thereby protecting the rights of individuals and inserting punitive measures that are geared towards addressing the social issue and deterring possible offenders.

Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr Vindhya Persaud informed the house that the bill received extensive work from local and international bodies, as well as wide consultations.

Minister of Human Services and Social Security, Dr Vindhya Persaud

“The objective of this bill is to provide measures to combat trafficking in persons including children and it sets out a litany of criminal offences with extraterritorial effect and this extraterritorial effect facilitates partnership and cooperation between Guyana and other states to prevent and suppress trafficking in persons and of course, it gives a wider scope to punish offenders,” she stated.

With the new legislation, anyone who commits the offence is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for five years. Conviction on indictment carries a penalty of life imprisonment.

Minister Persaud added that there will also be significant fines, charges, and convictions relative to attempts of conspiracy or complacent acts of trafficking.

“The bill speaks to the establishment of the ministerial task force. The ministerial task force in accordance with this legislation must be appointed by the president. This task force is to comprise members of various sectors including immigration, law enforcement, legal affairs, foreign affairs, public health and Amerindian affairs, human services, and social security.

It is to be chaired by the Ministers of Home Affairs and Human Services and this task force is to develop a plan of action…that focuses on many important components that deal with specifically, trafficking in person and also includes the compilation of a report coming out of data collection to be presented to cabinet,” Dr Persaud underscored.

Endorsing the bill, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mohabir Anil Nandlall, SC, indicated that restitution is an approach that must be pursued to hurt perpetrators of human trafficking.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, SC

“If you hit the criminal in the pockets if you hit them financially and you hurt them economically, you’ll eventually hurt them. So, in anti-money laundering offences, terrorism, in the trafficking of firearms, in the trafficking in narcotics, and human trafficking, you find that concept has been embraced fully in this bill,” the AG noted.

Restitution is a legal method for victims to receive compensation for profits that traffickers withheld from them, additional losses they might suffer, and future costs they incur because of being trafficked.

Minister of Home Affairs, Robeson Benn revealed that his ministry’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Unit has made several successful strides in combating human trafficking.

“In 2022, we had 22 cases where people who [were] actively apprehended and interrogated with some arrest, we had 22 operations with 247 victims screened and interviewed and one conviction archived.

In 2023, to date five cases were put before the courts, 12 operations were conducted, 190 suspected victims interviewed and screened, and two convictions,” the minister added.

Meanwhile, the human service ministry’s Counter-TIP Unit has trained 2,003 people to better recognise those who are victims of human trafficking.

Initiatives like these reflect the government’s determination to safeguard vulnerable people from exploitation and its dedication to ending the social scourge.