Human trafficking exists in Fiji

Written By : CHARLOTTE PETERS. Human trafficking deprives people of their human rights and freedom and undermines the safety and security of those concerned and affected. People become victims through
20 Jun 2008 12:00

Written By : CHARLOTTE PETERS. Human trafficking deprives people of their human rights and freedom and undermines the safety and security of those concerned and affected.
People become victims through forms of deception, abduction, coercion, fraud, threat, violence and political instability.
Some causes of trafficking include economic disparities, corruption in government, lack of employment opportunities, growing deprivation and marginalisation of the poor, organised crime, social discrimination and political instability.
Victims are exposed to all sorts of problems and here in Fiji the interim government, police force, non-government organisations, religious organisations and members of the public are taking action to combat the problem.
A US State Department 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report that was recently released revealed Fiji was on tier 3 because the government does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and was not making significant effort to do so.
The report said the government reported no effort to investigate or prosecute trafficking cases, to assist victims of trafficking or to raise awareness of trafficking.
“In the past year, despite a joint UNICEF and ECPAT report released in December 2006 documenting a problem of children exploited in the commercial sex trade in Fiji, the government has demonstrated no action to investigate or prosecute traffickers, assist victims, or participate in public awareness campaigns to prevent trafficking,” the report said.
The report further urged Fiji to fight against trafficking in persons by collaborating with civil society and international organisations on combating commercial sexual exploitation of children and training law enforcement officers on victim identification and protection; use Fiji’s laws in place to prosecute, convict and sentence traffickers and facilitators; develop and institute a formal procedure to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups such as women and children arrested for prostitution; support a visible anti-trafficking awareness campaign directed at clients of children in commercial sexual exploitation and conduct efforts to proactively identify trafficking victims.
In the report countries that fall under the tier 1 category are those that comply with the act’s minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; tier 2 are those that do not fully comply with the minimum standards but were making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance and tier 3 are those that neither satisfy the minimum standards nor demonstrate a significant effort to come into compliance.
Ambassador Mark Lagon the senior advisor to the secretary of state said in every country including the US there was evidence of trafficking in human beings.
Men, women and children he said were held in domestic servitude, exploited for commercial sex, forcibly recruited as child soldiers, or abused in factories and sweatshops.
“These forms of human trafficking are in fact modern-day slavery.” He said he has seen first hand the need to actively abolish this trade in people and seen the powerful impact when governments, NGOs and individuals stand up to meet this need.
Mr Lagon said those who commit or facilitate the crime of trafficking in persons, including fraudulent recruiters, exploitative employers and corrupt government officials must be held to account.
Immigration director Viliame Naupoto reportedly said politics should never be mixed with immigration matters to pressure a country.
He expressed disappointment at the report saying it was publicised without consultation and discussion with him as director.
Mr Naupoto said human trafficking and smuggling has one of the biggest penalties in Fiji and does not understand how the US State Department came to its conclusion.
Prue Rouse the chairperson of Crime Stoppers in the West who has always been vocal on the issue has been calling on authorities concerned to look into the matter.
Since last year Ms Rouse has expressed concern at the manner in which local women were being recruited to work in the Middle East saying some had been deceived into getting employment and upon arrival found out otherwise.
She said human trafficking was present in Fiji and people particularly women needed to be aware of agencies that promised lucrative jobs overseas.
“This is a very serious matter that concerns everyone. This issue must be addressed because it is happening and people need to be aware of it,” she said.
Police public relations officer Ema Mua said the force has never known Fiji to be a source country for human trafficking and as far as she was concerned the force was doing a good job in cracking down on illegal activities and crime.
She said prior to the compilation of the report, the force was adequately funded and resourced as it was receiving lots of aid and assistance during the term of ousted Police Commissioner Andrew Hughes.
“So if what the report is saying is true, then where did all that funding go?”
Ms Mua said they were looking at the report in its entirety and if some of the issues highlighted were true then the force would address it quickly and efficiently.
She said those that compiled the report should have consulted with the relevant authorities and stakeholders for their views as it was completely biased.
“To date however we have not received any registered report on human trafficking but that will not stop us from investigating if complaints are lodged,” said Ms Mua.
Interim Attorney General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum said human trafficking was an issue of concern that needed to be addressed by way of appropriate legislation and having proper policing mechanism in place.
He said this required resources and there were a number of matters of priority that needed to be addressed by the government with human trafficking being one of them.
“We are now signatories to the to the UN Convention Against Corruption, we are getting assistance and it is on the way and we appreciate the assistance of the agencies or those that have agreed to help,” said Mr Sayed-Khaiyum.
He said Fiji welcomed countries that were willing to help in term of resources address the issue of human trafficking.

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