Following the recent release of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons 2018 Report, acting Coordinator of the Ministerial Taskforce on TIP, Oliver Profitt, has revealed that there has been, last year, an increase in the number of trafficking cases involving minors.While the US report did not specifically deal with child labour, it outlined that a total of 131 TIP offenders were identified in 2017 — 65 were for sex trafficking, 35 for labour trafficking, and 31 for both forms.At a press conference held on Friday to discuss the report, Profitt detailed that there were eight cases of minors under the age of 12 who were victims of trafficking last year. This is compared to one case recorded from 2014 to 2016.Ministerial Taskforce on TIP, Oliver ProfittEven more disturbing, the Taskforce coordinator added, is that there might be more than eight such cases. “I’m not sure how much our statistics would have reflected the actual situation in terms of minors,” he told reporters when questioned about cases involving minors.Nevertheless, the State Department’s 2018 TIP report, which was released on Thursday, has cited several headways Guyana has made over the past year, but also highlighted that the numbers of trafficking investigations and new prosecutions have decreased, while the number of successful convictions remain low.The US report outlined that only four new trafficking investigations – two for sex trafficking and two for labour trafficking – were launched last year. Additionally, there were 17 prosecutions, 12 of which were initiated in previous reporting periods, and there were two convictions. This is compared to 19 investigations, 19 prosecutions, and two convictions in 2016.At Friday’s press conference, Profitt, lamented the challenges the TIP Taskforce faces, high among which is the access to hinterland communities, given the country’s geographical expanse.“It’s not easy to move around this country… Just to get to a place to do some awareness sessions, or to get to a place for the Police to do their investigation, orfor the Police to respond to a report, is not very easy to get to… It can be difficult to move around, and certain areas are harder to reach than others; so, getting there with an ATV or moving with an eight-man team, you won’t necessarily have the resources to have eight ATVs at all times,” he pointed out. However, the Taskforce Coordinator noted that while hinterland communities are vulnerable to high prevalence of TIP activities, Region Four (Demerara-Mahaica) is leading in terms of the highest number of cases, followed by Region Seven (Cuyuni-Mazaruni).“We look at [statistics] in terms of both where the crime is committed and where the victims originated from. So we would have seen on both of those lists that Region Four is on top, [but] we must take into consideration (that) the population of Region Four is much higher than the other regions. But in terms of where the victims originated from, we would have seen in the statistics coming out of the Police Force, we would have seen that Region One [Barima-Waini] would have been right there behind Region Four,” he noted.In regard to foreign TIP victims, Profitt noted that they, too, represent a high percentage of the cases. Police statistics also recorded 41 alleged TIP cases in 2014; fifty-on in 2015, 98 in 2016 and 50 in 2017.Moreover, the Taskforce revealed last week that Guyana has recorded 68 cases of alleged TIP already for 2018, of which Latin American nationals are the majority of the victims, with Venezuela heading the list.On the other hand, the State Department’s 2018 TIP Report highlighted that despite increased efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims, assistance to those vulnerable people remains insufficient, especially in areas outside the capital, and for child and male victims.Profitt confirmed at the press briefing that the shelter outside of Georgetown caters only for adult females, and not children or males. The report recommended that funding for the provision of such services be made available.Another recommendation was for the provision of “additional protection for victims to testify against traffickers in a way that minimises re-traumatisation”, and according to Profitt, the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is leading efforts of the Taskforce to come up with ways to address this.