St. Maarten

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Report

ST. MAARTEN: Tier 1

St. Maarten is a source, transit, and destination country for women, children, and men subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Women and girls from Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Russia are the most vulnerable to sex trafficking, including women working in regulated brothels and dance clubs under temporary residence permits for three to six months. There are indications some foreign women in St. Maarten’s commercial sex industry are subjected to debt bondage. Government officials’ reports indicate a significant number of migrant workers are vulnerable to forced domestic service or forced labor in construction, Chinese-owned markets, retail shops, landscaping, and housekeeping. Government officials report workers from Asia and the Caribbean are subjected to exploitative conditions indicative of forced labor. After St. Maarten implemented a visa waiver for Colombian tourists, media reports indicated Colombian women may travel to the islands under false pretenses and be vulnerable to human trafficking.

The Government of St. Maarten fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. In 2015, the government conducted one of the largest human trafficking investigations in St. Maarten’s history, which led to the arrest of six suspects on charges of human trafficking in both St. Maarten and St. Eustatius, the suspension of the operating license of the country’s largest legal brothel, the rescue of 14 sex trafficking victims, and, following close cooperation with authorities in the Dominican Republic, identification of 35 additional victims previously employed by the brothel. Officials charged six defendants in this case—three of the six remained in custody—an unprecedented step in the St. Maarten judicial system. The appeals court upheld the conviction of a sex trafficker and a conspirator—a former government official. The government continued to implement a victim-centered approach for providing services to identified trafficking victims and made robust efforts to screen for trafficking victimization among those in the adult entertainment industry. It assisted 15 victims in 2015 and issued its first residence permit for a potential victim and his family. In December 2015, the national coordinator for human trafficking, the prosecutor’s office, and the Department of Judicial Affairs drafted an ordinance and policy guidelines for the adult entertainment industry aimed at preventing the exploitation of women in the regulated prostitution industry.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ST. MAARTEN:

Amend the anti-trafficking penal code provision to ensure penalties are sufficiently stringent; implement formal standard operating procedures to guide officials, including health workers, on how to identify and assist victims among vulnerable populations and refer them to care; continue vigorous efforts to prosecute and convict trafficking offenders; continue to conduct outreach to all incoming migrants, including domestic workers and foreign women on temporary entertainment visas, to ensure they are informed of their rights, the anti-trafficking hotline, and ways to seek assistance; raise awareness among the general public and vulnerable groups about trafficking in St. Maarten; and continue implementing the national anti-trafficking plan.

PROSECUTION

The government increased its law enforcement efforts, spearheaded the largest trafficking investigation in its history, and closed down one of the largest brothels in St. Maarten, which led to the prosecution of six suspected traffickers. A new penal code, which went into effect in June 2015, prohibits forced labor and forced prostitution, prescribing penalties ranging from 12 to 24 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, penalties are not sufficiently stringent where the provisions allow for a fine in lieu of a prison sentence. The code defines as trafficking fraudulent labor recruitment for the purpose of subjecting workers to forced labor or prostitution. The code also criminalizes unregulated prostitution in order to prevent potential exploitation and human trafficking.

In November 2015, the government’s special human trafficking investigation team, comprised of military police, local police, and immigration and border control officers, arrested six suspects on charges of human trafficking in both St. Maarten and St. Eustatius and suspended the operating license of its largest legal brothel. This inquiry was one of the largest human trafficking investigations in St. Maarten’s history. As a result of the investigation and cooperation with authorities from the Dominican Republic, the Netherlands, and St. Eustatius, six defendants were charged with sex trafficking and three defendants were placed in custody in November 2015, where they remained at the end of the reporting period—an unprecedented step in St. Maarten, which has no “bail” system. The government also initiated the investigation of one labor trafficking case. While the courts did not convict any traffickers in 2015, a decrease from three convictions in 2014, it increased the number of prosecutions initiated from two during the previous reporting period to six. The government did not report any new investigations or prosecutions of officials for complicity in trafficking. However, an appeals court affirmed the conviction and 18-month prison sentence (with six months suspended) for a former member of Parliament who accepted bribes from traffickers at a large brothel and banned him from holding office for five years. The appeals court also affirmed the conviction and subsequent 42-month term of imprisonment of a trafficker in the same case. The National Reporting Bureau on Human Trafficking (NRB), the lead agency for coordinating the government’s efforts to combat human trafficking and emergency response to cases, conducted semiannual training on human trafficking indicators for immigration officers, ambulance personnel, community police, family doctors, and hospital staff.

PROTECTION

The government identified and assisted 15 victims of both labor and sex trafficking, and identified 35 other potential victims of sex trafficking in two separate investigations. Such efforts represent an increase from 2014, when the government identified three victims but did not assist or refer any to care. In November 2015, a multidisciplinary government team rescued 14 trafficking victims from St. Maarten’s largest brothel and referred them to NRB for a full range of services. With government funding, five victims were provided lodging by an NGO and another nine were temporarily housed at a hotel during the investigation. NRB provided financial support for the repatriation of three victims, as requested by those victims. Authorities in St. Maarten worked closely with counterparts in the Dominican Republic to identify potential victims who were previously employed by the brothel, which led to the subsequent identification of 35 additional victims who provided statements to support the investigation, which remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government also identified and assisted a potential victim of labor trafficking. Immigration officials and other stakeholders used an NGO-developed checklist of trafficking indicators and officials routinely screened for trafficking victimization among adult entertainment workers during immigration procedures, labor inspections, and required medical screenings. NRB periodically conducted outreach with immigrant communities, businesses, health officials, and the tourism sector on how to report potential victims and trafficking crimes. Authorities referred potential victims to care through verbal agreements with an anti-trafficking NGO and government agencies. The government provided a wide range of services and support, through a crime victims’ compensation fund, to NGOs to provide victim services, including food, clothing, shelter, medical and psychological services, assistance in repatriation, and obtaining residence and work permits. It continued to inspect government-licensed brothels, including by screening for trafficking indicators. In December 2015, the government issued its first temporary residence permit for a labor trafficking victim and his family. The temporary residence program is designed to encourage victim assistance in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers. The government has a formal policy to protect identified victims from being punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. The anti-trafficking law allows trafficking victims to request restitution or file a civil suit against traffickers.

PREVENTION

The government increased its trafficking prevention efforts. The government sustained its ongoing campaign of publishing anti-trafficking brochures, posters, and fliers, making public service announcements, generating social media and news releases, and by participating in radio and television shows. NRB continued its prevention campaign, reaching brothels, dance clubs, work permit applicants, front-line responders, community-based organizations, and immigrant communities. Authorities implemented the 2013-2018 national action plan on trafficking, in coordination with local NGOs. The government implemented a new policy that requires foreign women to apply for adult entertainment work permits on their own, ending the practice of brothel owners applying for permits, often with misleading and fraudulent work agreements. By requiring women to apply in person, authorities can verify the terms of their work contracts and share information on human trafficking laws, workers’ rights, and information on how to contact authorities. In June 2015, St. Maarten signed a renewed memorandum of understanding to strengthen cooperation within the Kingdom of the Netherlands in preventing and combating trafficking in persons and human smuggling. The government also informed employers of migrant workers about applicable laws and the national hotline, accessible by phone and email. There were no known reports of child sex tourism in St. Maarten. The government did not have diplomatic personnel posted abroad, and thus did not provide anti-trafficking training for such personnel.