Kiribati is a source country for girls subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Crew members on foreign fishing vessels in Kiribati or in its territorial waters around Tarawa and Kiritimati Island allegedly exploit prostituted children, some reportedly as young as 14, in local hotels and aboard their vessels. Local I-Kiribati, sometimes family members of potential victims, but also hotel and bar workers or owners of small boats, may facilitate trafficking by transporting underage girls to the boats for the purpose of prostitution or by failing to intervene in such situations of child prostitution. The girls generally received cash, food, alcohol, or goods in exchange for sexual services. Women and underage girls in prostitution at bars and on foreign fishing vessels are collectively referred to by the term ainen matawa and are stigmatized in I-Kiribati society.
The Government of Kiribati does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, government officials acknowledged the existence and gravity of human trafficking, especially child sexual exploitation, and expressed their commitment to combating the crime. The government, however, failed to employ policies to proactively identify trafficking victims among the women and underage girls in prostitution or prosecute potential offenders. The government’s purported anti-trafficking activities were organized around thwarting the activities of women and underage girls in prostitution, but did not adequately protect and identify victims, or prosecute and punish those who exploit or facilitate the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Recommendations for Kiribati: Investigate, prosecute, and punish foreign crewmen for the commercial sexual exploitation of children; develop procedures for law enforcement officers and social service providers to interview those in vulnerable groups, such as those intercepted en route or aboard international vessels by law enforcement officers, for evidence of trafficking; establish formal procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to protective services; train front-line officers in victim identification techniques and procedures for referral to domestic violence and sexual violence officers; proactively identify and assist victims of trafficking, prioritizing establishment of a safe environment for victims and trust between victims and officers; hold parents accountable, as appropriate under I-Kiribati law, for the commercial sexual exploitation of their children; and expand efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of human trafficking, with a specific focus on increasing public recognition that children in the commercial sex trade are victims rather than juvenile delinquents.
The Government of Kiribati demonstrated no discernible progress in anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Kiribati’s 2005 Measures to Combat Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime Act, as amended in 2008, criminalizes trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of adults, and 20 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of children. These penalties are sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law’s focus is limited to the international movement of people for exploitation, a form of trafficking not known to occur in Kiribati. Government officials claimed that domestic trafficking could be prosecuted under this law, though there is no example to date to support this claim. The law’s victim protection provisions shield victims from prosecution for immigration crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked.
During the reporting period, the government reported identifying a few cases in which unauthorized I-Kiribati persons—some of whom may have been trafficking victims—were discovered on foreign fishing vessels, but lacked procedures to proactively identify victims among this vulnerable population. The government did not confirm cases of trafficking or conduct any investigations or prosecutions for trafficking offenses during the year. In February 2012, the government detained one fishing vessel for illegally harboring females and fined the boat approximately the equivalent of $29,000. In July 2012, two additional vessels were found to have unauthorized persons on board, and 16 females were removed. In the February and July cases, the females were returned to shore without being interviewed in detail to determine if any were victims of sex trafficking. The government also reported intercepting several other small boats that may have been transporting females to fishing vessels, though authorities only gave warnings to the boat owners and did not question females found on board. The government did not provide any anti-trafficking training to law enforcement on identifying trafficking victims and prosecuting trafficking offenders. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses, though no reports of such allegations surfaced during the reporting period.
The Government of Kiribati demonstrated no discernible progress in identifying or protecting trafficking victims during the reporting period. Police reported identifying, aboard international fishing vessels, several females who may have been trafficking victims, but their ages and status were not confirmed and the government did not provide them with any protective services. Law enforcement and social services personnel did not develop or implement systematic procedures for proactively identifying victims of trafficking among vulnerable persons with whom they came in contact. The government reported victims could be referred to religious organizations to access medical and psychological services on an ad hoc basis. Law enforcement efforts to combat prostitution potentially resulted in some trafficking victims being treated as law violators; individuals detained for related crimes were not screened to determine whether they were trafficking victims, and their ages were not verified. The government has not developed or implemented a referral process to transfer potential victims who are detained, arrested, or placed in protective custody by law enforcement authorities to institutions that provide short- or long-term care.
The government demonstrated moderate efforts to prevent human trafficking during the year. The Ministry of Internal and Social Affairs, in partnership with an international organization, continued to produce a weekly radio show on child protection issues, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The same ministry, with support from an international organization, conducted workshops for community leaders and in schools on issues of child protection and the sexual exploitation of children. The Police Department’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Offenses unit promoted and operated two 24-hour phone-line services aimed at preventing exploitation and abuse, though no known allegations of human trafficking were reported to the hotlines. The government continued to patrol its maritime territory with its one patrol boat and, during the year, in an effort to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts, it continued to enforce the foreign fishing license regulations that hold ship captains accountable for unauthorized persons, such as girls and women, discovered on their vessels. The Ministry of Labor claimed to review the contracts of all I-Kiribati going overseas and conduct pre-departure briefings to ensure that workers are aware of their rights and can protect themselves from potential forced labor exploitation.