Trinidad and Tobago
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices. There were reports of government corruption during the year, and the World Economic Forum and Transparency International ranked corruption as a problematic factor for doing business in the country. There were no documented instances of an individual receiving a criminal punishment for corruption.
Corruption: Corruption in police and immigration services continued to be a problem, with senior officials acknowledging that officers participated in corrupt and illegal activities. There were allegations that some police officers had close relationships with gang leaders and that police, customs, and immigration officers often accepted bribes to facilitate drug, weapons, and human smuggling as well as human trafficking.
In September, two police officers were arrested for kidnapping and holding an innocent person for ransom. The minister of national security and commissioner of police worked quickly on the case, ensuring the safe release of the victim and arresting the suspected police officers. As of November the case was pending, but all charged officers remained incarcerated.
There were continued allegations that some ministers used their positions for personal gain.
Financial Disclosure: The law mandates that public officials disclose their assets, income, and liabilities to the Integrity Commission, which monitors, verifies, and publishes disclosures. Officials and candidates for public office were reluctant to comply with asset disclosure rules, primarily due to the perceived invasiveness of the process. The act stipulates a process when public officials fail to disclose assets and provides criminal penalties for failure to comply. The law clearly states which assets, liabilities, and interests public officials must declare.
While the commission undertook numerous investigations, it seldom referred cases to law enforcement authorities, and prosecution of those officials who refused to comply with asset disclosure rules was very limited.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating human rights cases and publishing their findings. Government officials generally were cooperative and responsive to their views.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman investigates citizens’ complaints concerning the administrative decisions of government agencies. Where there is evidence of a breach of duty, misconduct, or criminal offense, the ombudsman may refer the matter to the appropriate authority. The ombudsman has a quasi-autonomous status within the government and publishes a comprehensive annual report. Both the public and the government had confidence in the integrity and reliability of the Office of the Ombudsman and the ombudsman’s annual report.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: Rape of men or women, including spousal rape, is illegal and punishable by up to life imprisonment, but the courts often imposed considerably shorter sentences. Police channeled resources to the Victim and Witness Support Unit in an effort to encourage reporting.
The law provides for protection orders separating perpetrators of domestic violence, including abusive spouses and common-law partners, from their victims. Courts may also fine or imprison abusive spouses, but it was rarely done.
The NGO Coalition against Domestic Violence charged that police often hesitated to enforce domestic violence laws and asserted that rape and sexual abuse against women and children remained a serious and pervasive problem.
Sexual Harassment: No laws specifically prohibit sexual harassment. Related statutes could be used to prosecute perpetrators of sexual harassment, and some trade unions incorporated antiharassment provisions in their contracts.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization.
Discrimination: Women generally enjoyed the same legal status and rights as men. No laws or regulations require equal pay for equal work.
Birth Registration: Every person born in the country is a citizen at birth, unless the parents are foreign envoys accredited to the country. Children born outside the country can become citizens at birth if on that date one or both of the parents is, or was, a citizen. The law requires registration of every child born alive within 42 days of birth.
Child Abuse: Child abuse cases continued to increase. During the fiscal year 2017, the Children’s Authority received and investigated more than 4,200 reports of child abuse and maltreatment. More than half (55 percent) of all cases involved female children. Neglect and sexual abuse accounted for 24 percent and 26 percent of the cases, respectively. The law prohibits both corporal punishment of children and sentencing a child to prison. According to NGOs, however, abuse of children in their own homes or in institutional settings remained a serious problem.
Early and Forced Marriage: Child marriage is illegal. The law defines a child as younger than age 18. In June 2017 parliament passed legislation changing the legal marriage age to 18. The president formally proclaimed the enactment of the Marriage Act in September 2017.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The age of sexual consent is 18, and the age of consent for sexual touching is 16. Sexual penetration of a child is punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. The law creates specific offenses such as sexual grooming of a child (gaining the trust of a child, or of a person who takes care of the child, for the purpose of sexual activity with the child) and child pornography. The law prescribes penalties of 10 years’ to life imprisonment for subjecting a child to prostitution.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
There were fewer than 100 Jewish persons in the country. There were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
Disability rights advocates were not aware of any efforts by the government to implement the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which it ratified in 2015. Prior to the ratification, the law prohibited discrimination based on disability but did not mandate equal access for persons with disabilities.
Persons with disabilities faced discrimination and denial of opportunities. Such discrimination could be traced to architectural barriers, employers’ reluctance to make necessary accommodations that would enable otherwise qualified job candidates to work, an absence of support services to assist students with disabilities to study, and social stigma accompanied by lowered expectations of the abilities of persons with disabilities, condescending attitudes, and disrespect.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
On September 20, the High Court issued a final ruling on the country’s Sexual Offenses Act, removing an “antibuggery” law and effectively decriminalizing same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults. High Court Judge Devindra Rampersad first ruled in April that the law was unconstitutional and expressed his intent to amend the law, which criminalized same-sex sexual conduct between consenting adults. Although the legislation was not struck out completely, the ruling provides that consenting adults will not be liable to criminal charges if engaging in consensual sexual acts. Immigration laws also bar the entry of “homosexuals” into the country, but the legislation was not enforced during the year.
The law identifying classes of persons protected from discrimination does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The 2012 Children Act decriminalizes sexual exploration between minors who are close in age but specifically retains language criminalizing the same activity among same-sex minors. Other laws exclude same-sex partners from their protections.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Stigmatization of those with HIV persisted, especially among high-risk groups, including men who have sex with men. There were reports of discrimination against this group but no clear evidence of violence. The government’s HIV and AIDS Unit coordinates the national response to HIV/AIDS, and the government employed HIV/AIDS coordinators in all ministries as part of its multisector response.