SPECIAL CASE: ST. MAARTEN‡
St. Maarten is a Special Case. In September 2017, the island experienced massive devastation by Hurricane Irma, the worst Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. The hurricane greatly impeded the government’s ability to report on efforts made prior to September and the prospects for additional progress in the remainder of the reporting period. The hurricane destroyed government buildings, hospitalized public officials, and diminished critical resources to the justice system.
St. Maarten recognized that human trafficking, including the exploitation of women in prostitution and migrants, was a problem in the country. The penal code criminalized sex and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from 12 to 24 years imprisonment or a fine. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2017, accurate information on the country’s efforts were difficult to obtain, in large part due to the absence of an operational anti-trafficking coordinator. During the reporting period, authorities conducted one investigation of trafficking, compared to three investigations involving five suspects in 2016, and one investigation involving six suspects in 2015. In 2016, the government brought charges of trafficking against six individuals from two investigations dating back to 2015; criminal proceedings were ongoing at the end of the reporting period. In 2017, the government prosecuted one trafficker, but it was unclear whether it had secured any convictions. Authorities had reported that lack of dedicated funding for anti-trafficking efforts hindered the country’s ability to address trafficking.
Information about the country’s identification and assistance efforts was not available for 2017. In 2016, the government identified 96 foreign victims, provided shelter and care for five victims, and funded the repatriation of 44 victims. While the government did not have standard operating procedures for the identification or referral of victims, informal agreements between government agencies were in place. Authorities confirmed government officials continued to use an NGO-developed checklist of trafficking indicators to screen illegal migrants for indicators of trafficking before returning them back to their country of origin. The National Reporting Bureau on Human Trafficking (NRB) continued to be responsible for coordinating the government’s efforts to combat trafficking and emergency response to cases. Before the storm, the NRB periodically conducted outreach with immigrant communities, businesses, health officials, and the tourism sector on how to identify potential victims and report trafficking crimes, and it conducted quarterly inspections of all brothels and dance clubs. The NRB could fund victim assistance on a case-by-case basis, but services available were limited. The government could provide one NGO with subsidies on an ad hoc basis to provide shelter services for victims of trafficking in a facility dedicated to victims of domestic violence. The government-subsidized NGO was not equipped to deal with large trafficking cases, and psychological assistance to trafficking victims was inadequate. The government offered a temporary residence program for victims who wish to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers; however, it was unclear if the government provided such benefits during the reporting period.
In contrast to past years and for causes attributable to the storm, the NRB did not conduct prevention or outreach campaigns. The government continued to operate a national hotline, accessible by phone and email; however, no tips were reported during the reporting period. Government policy required foreign women to apply for adult entertainment work permits on their own and submit a labor agreement with their visa application. Government policy also prevented brothel and club owners from providing adult entertainers monetary loans and from confiscating their personal documentation.
As reported over the past five years, St. Maarten is a 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 and unregulated brothels and dance clubs. Some foreign women in St. Maarten’s commercial sex industry are subjected to debt bondage. A significant number of migrant workers from Asia and the Caribbean are vulnerable to forced domestic service or forced labor in construction, Chinese-owned markets, retail shops, landscaping, and housekeeping. Cuban and Brazilian migrants transiting St. Maarten en route to the United States and Canada may also be vulnerable to trafficking. Colombian and Venezuelan women may travel to the islands under false pretenses and are subjected to trafficking. Due to the deteriorating situation in Venezuela an increased number of Venezuelan migrants transited through St. Maarten before seeking asylum in St. Martin. Some Venezuelan migrants sought employment illegally in St. Maarten, while waiting for their cases to be processed in St. Martin. Migrants transiting through and working illegally in St. Maarten may be vulnerable to trafficking.
‡ St.Maarten is an autonomous entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For the purpose of this report, St. Maarten is not a “country” to which the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act apply. This narrative reflects how St. Maarten would be assessed if it were a separate, independent country.