By: Tony Best
By any measure, human trafficking is a scourge that needs to be eliminated.
It’s a highly profitable but diabolical business that leaves people, especially woman and children, at the mercy of unscrupulous masterminds of the dirty business, often in foreign countries but within national boundaries as well.
So when Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, came to the United Nations the other day and delivered her government’s first foreign policy statement to the General Assembly since the People’s National Party trounced the Jamaica Labor Party in general elections last year, it didn’t come as a surprise when she focused much international attention on what she called “a dastardly threat to the welfare of our women, girls and boys.” In the end, she described it, quite rightly, as a “form of modern-day slavery which renders women, girls and boys to be traded as chattel.”
Human trafficking, which was unknown, ignored or downplayed in the Caribbean as the 20th century ended and the 21st was being welcomed with hoopla and great anticipation is now an awful fact of life, one which independent island-nations, coastal states and dependent territories in the region are being forced to confront. We say forced because the UN itself, the United States and a plethora of international agencies are turning up the heat behind countries which fail to deal with it. And the last thing that the tourism destinations in the Caribbean with their pristine beaches and appealing accommodations want is to be shown around the world as places where human degradation isn’t taken seriously.
But the Caribbean isn’t alone. The United States which has moved aggressively in recent years to toughen its laws and heighten prosecutions of traffickers is sensitive to the dehumanizing practice. Just last week President Barack Obama went to the UN and spoke from the same podium at which Simpson-Miller and her Caribbean colleagues delivered their foreign policy statements and spoke out against human trafficking, insisting on tougher international measures to end it.
It was interesting, though, that Jamaica dealt with it in as forceful manner as it did.
The Caribbean country is at the forefront of UN efforts to erect a lasting permanent memorial on a suitable and prominent spot at the world body’s headquarters in order to remind everyone of the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Because of slavery millions of people of African descent were transported in chains from their African homelands to the Caribbean, North America, Europe and elsewhere during a period of more than 200 years. They were brutalized and often killed in order to enrich commercial traders, major corporations, plantations and the leaders of many governments. Presidents, prime ministers, kings, queens, princes of the realm and lords and ladies of the manor all benefitted from the abhorrent commercial enterprise and fought against its abolition until resistance was futile.
Jamaica’s Ambassador to the UN, Raymond Wolfe, members of his delegation and ambassadors from across the Caribbean and Africa are all contributing to the noble effort to raise money for the worthy cause. Their efforts deserve success.
In her UN address, the Jamaica leader broadened her plea for action to underscore the plight of children and insisted that their abuse must come to an abrupt end.
Child abuse is a pervasive menace in rich and poor countries and while agencies such as UNICEF, national and regional institutions in the Caribbean as well as federal state and city government departments in New York, Boston, Miami, Washington D.C. and other areas of the country usually act swiftly to deal with it, tougher measures and heightened vigilance are absolutely necessary.
In these tough economic times when national budgets are under assault, there is a tendency to reduce spending on children’s services. Ironically, that’s happening, not only in New York but in the Caribbean as well. Our children are among our most precious resources and their lives, development and their future must be safeguarded. Programs and policies that protect them must not simply be the subject of eloquent statements but must be supported with effective action.
The UN millennium Goals whose timetable for assessments and achievement is three years away include child development, including survival, education, health and well-being of our youngsters as a major priority. The international donor community must be mindful of the need to help poor countries, including those in the Caribbean undertake initiatives and programs geared to guard against the kinds of abuses of which Simpson-Miller spoke.
Stated simply, lip-service is one thing, strong action, efficient and effective action is another.