AuthorMckenzie, Gabrielle


Anecdotal evidence suggests that human trafficking in the Caribbean is widespread. In Haiti, traffickers buy and sell children found in orphanages. In Guyana, men are forced to toil in gold mining fields while women are sold for sex next to them. In Jamaica, parents have been known to sell their young children into sex slavery. The Caribbean, which encompasses thirty countries and forty million people, has recently taken steps to combat these practices, but there is still much to be done to successfully eradicate human trafficking in the region.

Human trafficking can take many forms. The Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children ("the Palermo Protocol"), in force in all thirteen independent Caribbean countries, specifically defines "Trafficking in Persons" as

the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs. (1) Despite the limitations with a global implementation of this protocol, (2) many agree that at the heart of this crime is exploitation. Traffickers exploit victims for their labor.

Researchers believe that the Caribbean's most common form of human trafficking is sex trafficking, followed by forced labor and domestic servitude. (3) Women and children appear to be most frequently targeted for trafficking activity, (4) but they are not the only victims. When trafficking thrives, families are torn apart, gender relations further deteriorate, legally-sanctioned markets suffer, diseases spread, and people lose faith in the legal system. (5) In other words, human trafficking has disastrous implications for societies, economies, health, and the rule of law. (6)

Effective anti-trafficking measures must start with understanding the scope of the issue. In spite of the countless cases of human trafficking in the Caribbean, statistical data on the crime in the region remain extremely limited. Some researchers have tried to capture the scope of the region's trafficking situation, (7) but to date, no comprehensive studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of today's responses to human trafficking in the region. This article seeks to remedy the inattention to anti-trafficking measures in the Caribbean and provide a tool to further develop region-specific responses to the crime.

This article develops as follows. Part I provides a broad overview of human trafficking in the Caribbean. It first explores the scope and contributing factors, providing anecdotal evidence from throughout the region to begin to paint a picture of the trafficking situation on the ground. It then reviews current legal responses and, finally, highlights recent anti-trafficking efforts in the region. The second part of the chapter aims to develop Caribbean-centered approaches to the crime. It first highlights legal and social challenges to existing anti-trafficking efforts, including the lack of input from Caribbean stakeholders in global and regional anti-traffic king measures. It then discusses the importance of Caribbean-centered approaches to anti-traffic king efforts in the region. Finally, it describes a proposed study that Caribbean practitioners, survivors, legislators, scholars, and civil society might use to better understand and develop Caribbean countries' responses to the crime. The study, a survey of Caribbean human trafficking experts, would offer new insight into the strength of current Caribbean responses to human trafficking and provide critical information for developing more effective anti-trafficking policies in the future.


The Caribbean is home to thirty countries, each with a unique historical, social, and geographical context. There are thirteen sovereign Caribbean nations: Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Haiti, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago. (8) These nations are the focus of this chapter, as anti-trafficking efforts and legislation in territories and dependencies tend to follow those of their controlling state. In spite of the uniqueness of each region, there are key commonalities among these countries that would make a regional response to trafficking viable in these countries and in the Caribbean more broadly.

This section offers a basic overview of the trafficking situation in the region through open source data and anecdotal evidence. It examines the scope of trafficking in the region and its contributing factors, as well as the anti-trafficking legislation currently in place. It concludes with a look at recent anti-trafficking developments in the region.

Contributing Factors & Scope

Factors that contribute to human trafficking in the Caribbean are not unlike factors that contribute to trafficking in the rest of the world. Gang violence, (9) natural disasters, (10) porous borders, and high migration rates are all among the factors that make certain areas of the Caribbean susceptible to both national and transnational human trafficking. (11) Less prevalent but also present are extreme poverty, political instability, illiteracy, stark inequality between genders, high unemployment rates, and harsh societal attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, all of which further contribute to human trafficking in parts of the region. (12)

Of course, the Caribbean also faces its own set of unique factors that contribute to the crime. First, the region has a complex history of indentured servitude and slavery. A concurrent system of slavery and indentureship existed throughout the regions early development, differently affecting people of different ethnicities. (13) Indentureship outlasted formal slavery in the region, but historical perspectives on both still permeate laws and societal views on labor exploitation today (14)

Second, an increase in violent crime throughout the region has strained law enforcement resources and inevitably pushed anti-trafficking efforts to the wayside. (15) Researchers have pointed to a disturbing trend of rising homicide rates in parts of the Caribbean. (16) A 2021 report on Latin America and the Caribbean found that Jamaica had the region's highest homicide rate at 46.5 per 100,000 people. (17) In 2021, Barbados saw a two-fold increase in homicides from numbers in 2012. (Comparatively, India saw a 22% decrease, the UK saw a 6% decrease, and the US saw a 37% increase in homicide rates between 2010 and 2020.) (18) Limited resources may force Caribbean law enforcement agencies to prioritize violent crime to the detriment of human trafficking victims.

Third, the geography of the region--particularly its archipelagos and porous borders--contributes to the ease of committing the crime. (19) Large numbers of islands paired with difficult-to-monitor coastlines leave several states vulnerable to unregulated travel. (20)

Fourth, the Caribbean's prime geographic location attracts many tourists, which has led the region to an economic dependency on tourism. (21) This includes heavily racialized sex tourism, a practice in which Black bodies are fetishized and exploited. (22) With sex being a large part of the "Caribbean paradise" fantasy, sex tourism (and, consequentially, sex trafficking) has flourished. (23)

Finally, for a myriad of historical and contemporary reasons, many developing Caribbean countries lack the financial and technical capacity to handle human trafficking effectively (24) Practitioners have identified that law enforcement frequently misidentifies trafficking victims and that "resources may be needed to implement [anti-trafficking] legislation" once in place. (25)

This combination of factors makes it difficult for governments and Caribbean criminal justice systems to effectively respond to human trafficking. But even with this understanding of contributing factors, there is still a significant gap in knowledge about trafficking in the Caribbean. (26)

The full scope of human trafficking in the Caribbean has proven very difficult to measure. (27) Despite the prevalence of the crime, (28) there is relatively little documentation of trafficking statistics compared with other regions of the world. (29) Underreporting by law enforcement officials (30) and a lack of Caribbean-specific efforts to collect data on the issue both contribute to this problem. Some global reports disregard several Caribbean countries in trafficking figures because of their status as territories; they are instead lumped in with their "mother countries." (31) Moreover, the Caribbean is often grouped with Latin or Central America in regional analyses of human trafficking, and these research efforts tend to focus mainly on Latin or Central American countries. (32) Considering the Caribbean and Central or Latin America together is not an unreasonable exercise; many human trafficking routes traverse the two regions. (33) However, casting such an inclusive net necessarily misses key nuances present in smaller areas. Researchers have estimated that there were "a total of over 1.9 million victims of modern slavery in the Americas on any given day in 2016," (34) but no statistics currently break this number down to show what percentage comes from the Caribbean specifically.

Even without specific numbers, anecdotal evidence indicates human trafficking is widespread in the Caribbean. In 2018, police freed...

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