Address By His Excellency at a Luncheon hosted by The Children’s Ark

Address By His Excellency President Anthony Thomas Aquinas Carmona ORTT, SC At A Luncheon Hosted By The Children’s Ark – May 20, 2016

I do recall in 2013, stating at the launch of this good and honourable organisation, the Children’s Ark, “There can be no nobler cause than the one being pursued by the Children’s Ark. There can be no greater symbol of protection than the Ark. The Ark could push society to bear witness to its humanity by our actions rather than our glorious words.” Three years later, I stand before you with a gush of pride and satisfaction as your Patron, for the sterling service the Children’s Ark has provided to our Nation’s children. I commend Mrs Simone de la Bastide and her hard working executive for their spirit of volunteerism, dedication and tenacity in their relentless fight to make the world a better place for our displaced children. You are giving voice to a sometimes disadvantaged demographic in our society protecting and preserving their innocence and giving them the opportunity to enjoy a healthy childhood as they should.

Today, the world faces the ravages of that growing, ugly phenomenon, human trafficking. Human trafficking is defined by the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and the Protocols Thereto as, “The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring 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 labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.” I have intentionally quoted this definition so that you are made aware of both the characteristics of this plague and the social dysfunction that is triggered by it.

We in this Republic are not immune to man’s inhumanity to man. Our children and by extension our society are targeted by predators lurking and looking for soft targets. Human and child trafficking is a very real threat in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean. Almost every week via traditional and social media we are bombarded with images of missing women and children, and the consequent pain of family members. How many of us remember, the horrible discovery last year, where detectives from the Human Trafficking Unit swooped down on a club in Penal, South Trinidad and arrested 22 female nationals from the Dominican Republic, believed to be victims of a human trafficking ring together with four men? Women were found in various stages of undress, while two were found tied to a bed. Evidence suggests that the women were brought into the country illegally to be used and abused as prostitutes. That club in Penal can be found in every village, every town and every municipality. That club in Penal can be found in other parts of South Trinidad, North Trinidad, West Trinidad, East Trinidad and Central Trinidad. Yes, we all know where to go and the location of the house involved in human trafficking. We need to get serious about ourselves if we are serious about attacking the scourge.

Worldwide, children and young women are being recruited, transported, harboured, and received in trafficking rings. They are being made to work in strip joints and clubs, brothels and sweatshops, because human trafficking has an economic component driven by massive profits.

Children are even sold to traffickers by their families, who may or may not have an understanding of what will happen to the child or are made vulnerable by those same families who abandon their responsibilities in favour of their own selfish pursuits.

Internationally 600,000 to 800,000 women, children and men are bought and sold across international borders every year and exploited for forced labour or commercial sex. When internal trafficking victims are added to the estimates, the number of victims annually is in the range of 2 to some 4 million with 50% of those victims being estimated to be children. As parents must do all that we can to protect our children. We buy them all the latest technology, iPads, iPhones, they are on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat but we do not keep tabs on our children’s electronic lives. It is estimated that 76 percent of transactions for sex with underage girls start on the Internet and it is estimated that Human Trafficking will surpass the illegal sale of drugs in the next few years. Technology aids Human Trafficking. We need, therefore, to be more vigilant on social media as child predators are adopting personas to lure our vulnerable children. Several websites on the internet allow older men to operate under aliases and seek out children and women for the purposes of trafficking.

The media has unwittingly facilitated the trafficking of women through the advertisements of jobs online and in newspapers. It is difficult for the media to determine what is authentic and what is not. How often we see advertisements for escort services, international modelling jobs and the sale of exotic massage. Whenever I see these advertisements, being someone involved in the criminal justice system all my life, I look at them with a jaundiced eye. All of us must approach such with great caution and advise the vulnerable accordingly. Our women folk need to be made more sensitive that perceived opportunities available to women are often mired in subterfuge and exploitation. We therefore need to sensitize our society about the mechanics of Human Trafficking because many are caught out through sheer ignorance and misplaced trust.

There is also the legislative component in the fight. We have International Conventions and Protocols which we have signed on to, which we must follow through with enabling implementable legislation and administrative action. The Trafficking In Persons Act 2011 gives effect to the United Nations (UN) Protocol to Prevent Suppress and Punish Trafficking of Persons especially Women and Children forcefully supplementing the UN Conventions Against Transnational Organised Crime. Yet, there are outstanding related Protocols not yet ratified by us.

It is critical that Governments, NGOs and other stakeholders are able to facilitate and accommodate victims of human trafficking who have been rescued. Programmes need to be implemented to ensure that victims receive adequate support, medical treatment and psychiatric care. Consider for example the case of The Queen (on the application) of Antanas Galdikas etal v. The Secretary of State for the Home Department etal (2016) EWHC 942 (Admin), which was delivered on 26 April 2016. That case examined the issue of the requisite care and support to be given by authorities of the ‘host’ country – in that case, the United Kingdom – to victims of trafficking, in compliance with EU’s Trafficking Directive 2011/26. The Claimants, Antanas Galdikas, Rimantas Tamosatis and twins, Edgaras Subatkis and Edvianas Subatkis, were all “conclusively recognised as victims of trafficking”. It therefore became incumbent on the country to which they were trafficked, the United Kingdom, to invoke the necessary regime to provide support to the Claimants. In the UK, pursuant to the EU Directive, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice jointly fund a national support service for adult victims of trafficking in England and Wales under a victim care contract, which provides vulnerable victims of trafficking with care and support. The Court, in that case, recognised that the importance of care and support to persons who are victims of trafficking and stated unequivocally in the judgment, (and I quote), “The United Kingdom government considers that human trafficking is a form of modern slavery, because the essence of it is that its victims are coerced or deceived into situations where they are exploited.”

Perhaps, in the Caribbean and elsewhere in the world, we can all follow the UK and EU’s example and do what we must to provide victims of trafficking with the necessary care, treatment and support to facilitate their healthy reintegration into society.

It is documented that through the organization Maiti Nepal and her personal initiatives Anuradha Koirala, has rescued 12,000 women and children from the labyrinth of human depravity and exploitation. Ms Koirala, what is not documented, is that you have saved 29,000 souls because you have helped rebuild fragile human spirits to live again, to hope once more, and to aspire to real self-actualisation. There is no greater human tragedy than being enshrouded by that unforgiving weight of helplessness and hopelessness. However, there is no greater achievement for anyone, than mending the broken spirit of a man, woman or child. Dijju (older sister), Anuradha Koirala this you have done with telling effect and the world is watching and listening. Your message of hope has been recognized by many, more so by CNN, that international news agency, who in 2010 declared you a CNN hero for your indomitable struggle to fight that egregious social evil of human trafficking.

Rest assured the Children’s Ark, under the stewardship of Mrs. De la Bastide, has picked up that baton that you gave to the world, and continues to run a gallant race in the name of humanity. I can assure you there are singular battles being fought in small pockets of our society to do justice to the abandoned child. I wish to share a true anecdote with you this afternoon. Abandonment takes many forms. I want to tell you about a remarkable UWI graduate called Allison who graduated with a degree in languages. A mother of seven children, six of them biological, who dealt humanely with a tragic form of abandonment. Allison speaks Spanish fluently and is well known in the Spanish community. A young Spanish woman came to her one evening and dropped off her two-day old baby, asking her to take care of the child and she would return. Eleven years have since passed. Among Allison’s six children, one is blind and there is not enough room in their small house. Allison decided to bring up that child as her own, with the same love and care as she metes out to her biological children, not give him up to an orphanage. She now lives in a very small rental apartment. By the way, she has been seeking Government housing for many years, and her plea continues to fall on deaf ears. Allison has not given up on that child that she loves without reservation, a child who became baggage for its natural mother in the context of the world’s oldest profession.

Mrs. De la Bastide, I wish to commend you for sticking to your guns, because you did promise us last year that you would be bringing a distinguished speaker from Nepal. In fact, you brought us an exceptional speaker of enlightenment, a light in our darkness. I do hope that the visit of Ms. Koirala, that distinguished speaker, will create not only awareness of and sensitivity to the plight of those caught in the web of human trafficking, but that it will result in necessary action institutionally, collectively and individually to battle this anathema. Ms Koirala I have read extensively on the work that you have done and your service to humanity and what resonated in my mind was when you said, “Take each child as your daughter.” This is the message that I would like Trinidad and Tobago to understand, appreciate and follow in real terms.