By Kaelanne Jordan
One child mental health therapist at The Franciscan Institute for Personal and Family Development has revealed that the average student’s understanding of human trafficking is “limited”.
This, Margaret Johnston said was based on information gathered from almost 2,000 students from Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia and Grenada during the Institute’s prevention awareness social media and print media campaigns.
Speaking during a discussion on Human Trafficking January 31 at The University of the West Indies (UWI), Chaplaincy, St Augustine, Johnston said that most students are aware that human trafficking happens, but not that it happens to locals.
She gave the example that in Trinidad, locals tend to believe that human trafficking happens to the “other”, i.e. Venezuelans, but in reality, the majority of people who are trafficked are trafficked in their own country by people from their own nation.
“In that Trinidadians are trafficked by Trinidadians,” she said.
Johnston was among the panellists comprising Alana Wheeler, director, Counter Trafficking Unit, Ministry of National Security; Jonathan Bhagan, attorney-at-law; Shireen Pollard, head of the recently-launched Gender Based Violence Unit in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, and Naureen M Nalia, Deputy Public Affairs Officer, US Embassy.
Johnston, who spoke on ‘Educating and Raising Human Trafficking Awareness through schools, workshops’ said that most students’ idea of human trafficking is limited to individuals being abducted off the streets for either forced labour or sex trafficking.
Most young people, she observed are not aware that being lured, tricked or coerced are common forms of obtaining human trafficking victims.
The “lover boy syndrome”, where you meet a “nice” young man or woman who then lures you into prostitution or becoming a sex slave is something to which a lot of young Caribbean people fall prey.
Johnston shared that students did not expect the extent of human trafficking worldwide which estimates range from 21.9 million victims at the low end to over 40 million victims at the high end.
She highlighted, “Now we can’t have specific statistics because many of these crimes are not reported, certainly under reported, so these are just estimates based on different international organisations that are collecting data.”
While young people in Trinidad and Tobago are “already aware” of several strategies to protect themselves from trafficking online and in the real world, it is “not as much” in Grenada and St Lucia, where they do not have as much of a wide access to social media compared to T&T.
Students also did not expect that more than one third of traffickers are women and sometimes those who are trafficked become traffickers.
“And that’s a worldwide statistic,” Johnston said, adding that in many instances, students did not see the “connection” between prostitution, child abuse, gender-based violence and human trafficking.
On the other hand, Johnston commented that what they have found is that young people are really “eager to take up this cause”, help educate other young people about human trafficking as they don’t want this crime to happen to them or their peers.
“And that’s a good start. If young people can look out for one another online and in real life, then fewer people are vulnerable to human trafficking. So, all is not lost. The youth of the Caribbean is ready to fight this fight,” Johnston said.