International research conducted on female drug trafficking cited economic hardship and poverty as key factors that strongly shaped the decision of women to become involved in drug trafficking. Writers on this topic believe that female drug traffickers are expanding across the world. According to United Nations (UN) reports, women’s roles both as participants and victims in drug trafficking are ever increasing and are grossly understated.
Research conducted by the Criminal Justice Research and Planning Unit (CJRPU) gleaned that women’s involvement in drug trafficking is more prevalent among those who:
• Lack education.
• Lack economic opportunity.
• Have been victims of abuse.
As highlighted in the UN World Drug Report 2019, “substance use by women tends to progress to drug use disorders in a shorter time period than substance use by men. However, women may be afraid to seek treatment, in particular, if they are pregnant and fear legal issues and social stigma. If they are mothers or caregivers, childcare arrangements can become an issue.”
Single mothers who are unable to care for their children are most vulnerable and are easily coerced into becoming drug couriers. Research compiled on this subject indicates that women, more so than men, are recruited to traffic drugs. Women who are recruited to be drug traffickers are forced into swallowing or inserting drugs into their bodies and transporting them across international borders.
Over the years, the criminal justice system in Barbados has adjudicated hundreds of cases concerning female drug traffickers. Local research among this population revealed that female drug traffickers are, in most cases, young, single mothers, who dropped out of school at an early age. These women usually lack familial support and come from homes headed by single mothers who are themselves struggling to take care of their families.
When females’ involvement in drug trafficking in Barbados was first explored, social conditions were found to be a major driver to this category of female offending. Women who were incarcerated for drug trafficking were motivated by the opportunity it provided them to be elevated out of poverty, as well as to care financially for their children. However, this is not always the reality, especially if they are caught by law enforcement officers. Research shows that female drug traffickers are often poorly paid for the risk they undertake to traffic drugs within and across borders. This risk also extends to their families if they reveal the source(s) of the drugs.
An area that is under investigated is the effect drug trafficking has on the lives of women and their children. Children are often separated from their primary caregivers who, in most cases, are incarcerated for long periods of time in other countries. The separation and loss of a parent can result in a child suffering both physical and emotional harm.
In small societies similar to Barbados, there is also the risk of stigma and discrimination. Stigma and discrimination are two of the main barriers to ex-offenders’ capacity to successfully reintegrate into Barbadian society (CJRPU, 2014). Unemployment among ex-offenders is also one main consequence of the stigma and discrimination associated with incarceration. Single mothers who are convicted and later incarcerated for drug trafficking have to overcome these barriers whilst still continuing to care for their children.
In summary, children can become the victims of the actions of their mothers, who themselves are victims of a drug trade that targets vulnerable, powerless women. Young, impoverished single mothers are the most “at-risk” of becoming drug traffickers, since they perceive that this is a direct way out of their poverty, depression and hopelessness. Despite these findings, further research is needed in this area to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the extent of the female drug trafficking problem.
For more information on this subject, contact the Criminal Justice Research & Planning Unit (CJRPU) at 436-4742.