The Dominican Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Reports indicate that large numbers of Dominican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking throughout the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and the United States. A recent study conducted by the United Nations Population Fund revealed that tens of thousands of Dominican women are presently victims of trafficking worldwide. Additionally, the commercial sexual exploitation of local children by foreign tourists is a problem, particularly in coastal resort areas of the Dominican Republic, with these child sex tourists arriving year-round from the United States, Canada, and European countries. Dominican officials and NGOs have documented cases of children forced into domestic service, street vending, begging, agricultural work, construction, and moving of illicit narcotics. The large populations of working children and street children are highly vulnerable to forced labor and sex trafficking. NGOs have increasingly reported cases of forced labor of adults in construction, agricultural, and service sectors. The large population of undocumented or stateless persons of Haitian descent in the country is particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Dominican and foreign women in exotic dancing and in prostitution in the Dominican Republic’s legalized sex trade are highly vulnerable to sex trafficking within the country.
The Government of the Dominican Republic does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the government made notable progress by prosecuting, convicting, and punishing a perpetrator of child sex trafficking as well as perpetrators of child forced begging; the latter was the first known example of the government using its human trafficking statute to prosecute labor trafficking offenders. The lack of a government-wide protocol to guide officials in the proactive identification and referral of trafficking victims was a problem, and government-funded assistance for victims was scarce. Long-term shelter, counseling, and immigration relief for adult victims largely did not exist in the Dominican Republic. There were serious concerns that the government was also not addressing official complicity in human trafficking or the demand for human trafficking within the country.
Recommendations for the Dominican Republic: Vigorously prosecute and punish offenders involved in the forced labor and sex trafficking of children as well as adults; vigorously investigate and prosecute government employees complicit in forced prostitution or forced labor; work with NGOs to establish and implement a formal government-wide protocol to guide officials in how to identify adult and child trafficking victims, especially those in the sex trade, and refer them to available services; work with NGOs to ensure adequate shelter and services are available to adult victims and that more child and adult victims are identified and receive services; establish formal legal alternatives to removal for foreign victims to countries where they would face retribution or hardship; and implement a forced labor and forced prostitution awareness campaign in Spanish and Creole that targets trafficking victims, the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor, and provides instruction for reporting human trafficking cases.
The government made progress in prosecuting sex and labor trafficking offenders during the reporting period, though alleged complicity of government officials in human trafficking remained a serious problem. Law 137-03 of 2003 prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment with fines—penalties sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law’s conflation of human trafficking and human smuggling, however, continues to be problematic. The government reported two new labor trafficking investigations and at least five new sex trafficking investigations during the reporting period. The government initiated two new forced begging prosecutions and two new sex trafficking prosecutions during the reporting period, compared with eight labor trafficking and 12 sex trafficking prosecutions the previous year. In a positive step marking the government’s first labor trafficking convictions using its human trafficking law, authorities reported two forced begging convictions and one acquittal in 2012; sentences for the two convicted labor trafficking offenders were 15 years’ imprisonment plus fines. The government also reported one conviction of a child sex trafficking offender, who received a four-year prison sentence. All reported prosecutions and convictions involved child trafficking; the government did not report any prosecutions or convictions in cases involving adult victims of human trafficking. The government cooperated with governments in Europe and throughout the Western Hemisphere on investigations of transnational human trafficking cases.
There were also numerous reports that official complicity in human trafficking was a serious problem. For example, an agricultural worker reported that military personnel, or individuals dressed as such, prevented workers from leaving workers’ accommodations. Agricultural workers in the coconut sector alleged that inspectors and military personnel in the border province of Dajabon conspired with a company owner to smuggle workers into the country, where they subsequently were held in coercive conditions. Several stakeholders alleged some police officers were complicit in the exploitation of children as drug couriers. NGOs reported a public protest in January 2013 involving scores of Haitian migrant workers who claimed to have been recruited through fraudulent offers of employment and other coercive measures. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government employees for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period.
The government identified the need for specialized training for officials on human trafficking, and the government cooperated with international organizations and foreign donors on a number of trainings during the reporting period.
The government made little progress in the protection of trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government’s lack of formal procedures to guide front-line responders such as police, labor inspectors, and health workers on how to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups (such as people in the Dominican Republic’s legalized sex trade and migrant workers) and refer them to available services resulted in victims being unaware of or being refused access to the limited victims’ assistance resources. The government emphasized the use of temporary shelters to provide victim care services. The child welfare and protection agency (CONANI) had eight active shelters for children in danger. The Department of Migratory Control and Investigation referred victims of trafficking to IOM for appropriate attention and care, including provisional shelter and psychological help. The government reported the Attorney General’s Office of Legal Representation of Victims provided pro bono orientation, assistance and legal representation to low-income victims as well as access to medical care, social workers, and family therapists. NGO partners reported inadequate victim care services for all identified victims, including child sex trafficking victims, and that services were generally provided on an ad hoc basis. Psychological support and legal assistance were provided in some cases through a local NGO with funding from the Ministry of Women. NGOs noted that few of the victims it referred to Dominican authorities during the reporting period received victim care services. The Dominican National Police reported identifying 77 potential trafficking victims during the reporting period, compared with 76 victims in the previous year. The labor ministry identified no human trafficking cases. CONANI reported providing services to 12 girls and nine boys who were human trafficking victims, a significant decrease from 60 child trafficking victims in the previous reporting period.
The government reportedly encouraged victims to participate in the prosecution of trafficking offenders, though there were no reports of adult trafficking victims assisting in such prosecutions during the reporting period. Dominican trafficking law protects victims from being punished for crimes committed as a direct result of their being in a human trafficking situation. The government did not provide formal long-term reintegration assistance for repatriated Dominican trafficking victims or legal alternatives to the deportation of foreign victims to countries where they would face retribution or hardship.
The government made minimal progress in human trafficking prevention during the reporting period and made no effort to address the demand for commercial sex acts. The Ministry of Labor developed a national campaign with the slogan “We Want to Play and Learn” to raise awareness for the prevention of child labor. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued its campaign designed to educate Dominican nationals living abroad of the risks and dangers of trafficking. NGOs were generally unaware of government information or education campaigns during the reporting period, though there was a national hotline to report human trafficking cases and gender-based violence. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs chaired an interagency anti-trafficking commission, which had a national action plan active through 2014. The Dominican government, with assistance from a foreign government, maintained a specialized police unit empowered to vigorously investigate and prosecute child sex tourism cases in the Dominican Republic; the government reported 10 investigations of alleged child sex tourists during the reporting period. The government did not undertake efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in the Dominican Republic’s legalized sex trade or for forced labor during the reporting period.