Child protection officials from several governmental and non-governmental agencies began meeting Thursday in a two-day seminar designed to bring “focused attention” to international measures aimed at countering the trafficking of children within the Caribbean.

The workshop is sponsored by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), based in Washington, D.C., U.S.A., the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and the Department of Social Services.

Participants included officials from the Department of Social Services, the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, the Department of Immigration, Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Crisis Centre and a number of child protection agencies in The Bahamas

Minister of State for Social Development, the Hon. Loretta Butler-Turner said the two-day workshop comes at an “opportune” time as it falls within the gambit of National Child Protection Month, which ends April 30, and also serves as a “proactive approach” towards the issue of the illegal trafficking of children.

While the illegal trafficking of children is not an issue in The Bahamas, actual research conducted on The Bahamas – which was invited to be one of seven countries in the region to participate in a project on the trafficking of persons – indicated that The Bahamas was fertile for facilitating trafficking in human beings, Mrs. Butler-Turner said.

“This phenomenon may not be a problem in The Bahamas at this time, it is an area that should be monitored extremely closely, Mrs. Butler-Turner said.

The assessment of The Bahamas as being “fertile for facilitating the trafficking in human beings” was made as a result of the large numbers of illegal immigrants that pass through The Bahamas, in addition to other illegal activities, such as gun and drug trafficking, which are said to be “ingredients for human trafficking.

Mrs. Butler-Turner said the two-day workshop allows officials to be “proactive” in their approach in dealing with the potential for human and child/children trafficking, and provides ministry and IOM officials with an opportunity to alert, inform, advise and talk to the professionals working in these areas so that if it does occur, those professionals will be able to intervene.

The Minister of State for Social Development said it “behoves” Ministry officials to ensure that child protection officials within The Bahamas are educated and informed about anything that has the potential to interfere with the well-being of our children.

Mrs. Butler-Turner said Bahamians have a “legal and moral obligation” to ensure and promote the safety and well-being of children and to respond effectively to any form of child maltreatment and/or abuse.

This two-day workshop focuses on another dimension of child abuse which is the trafficking of children, Mrs. Butler-Turner said. Often times when we hear the term ‘trafficking’, we think of drugs or conjure up images of human smuggling. Trafficking in persons, however, should not be confused with these areas.

According to Article 3(a) of the United Nation’s Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, trafficking in persons means “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.

That exploitation is to 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, se4rvitude, or the removal of organs.

Human trafficking occurs when someone tries to recruit, harbour or move a person from one place to another with the promise of giving one a job or an offer of marriage, or by using fraud, deception or force and is often referred to as modern-day slavery, Mrs. Butler-Turner said.

Traffickers are usually very clever in recruiting persons (and) appear as legitimate businesses offering jobs under the guise of model agencies, travel agencies, employment companies, baby-sitting services and others.

Trafficking also includes legal, illegal or no border crossings; legal or illegal documents; documents taken; coercion and repeated exploitation; restricted movement, control and is considered a crime against an individual.

Smuggling involves illegal border crossings, illegal (false or stolen) documents, is voluntary and is considered a crime against the State.

Mrs. Butler-Turner said at the conclusion of the project on trafficking in persons, the IOM partnered with the Bureau of Women’s Affairs, the Crisis Centre, Department of Immigration and the Eugene Dupuch Legal Aide Clinic to carry out” an educational campaign on this most important issue.

Such work must continue is we hope to ensure that all persons residing in The Bahamas are aware of what trafficking in persons is, where they can seek additional information and where they can obtain help if required, Mrs. Butler-Turner added.