2017 Trafficking in Persons Report: Marshall Islands
MARSHALL ISLANDS: Tier 2 Watch List
The Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government made key achievements during the reporting period; therefore, RMI was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. These achievements included drafting a new trafficking law, approval of the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking, and continued implementation of parts of the plan begun prior to its approval in 2015. The government also provided funding for victim services and targeted awareness-raising efforts conducted by the National Taskforce on Human Trafficking (NTHT), initiated two investigations into allegations of labor trafficking, and assisted in the protection and repatriation of a foreign labor trafficking victim. The government also made modest efforts to identify trafficking victims, notably among foreign men working on fishing vessels in Marshallese waters. Despite these achievements, the government did not prosecute or convict any individuals for trafficking offenses, nor did it strengthen its efforts to identify trafficking victims among foreign and local women in prostitution.
Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and sentence traffickers under amended provisions of the criminal code prescribing stringent penalties commensurate with other serious crimes; adopt proactive procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable groups, such as foreign workers and women in prostitution, and train officials on their use; strengthen efforts to implement the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons; train law enforcement and prosecution officials to implement the anti-trafficking laws; adopt comprehensive labor codes to govern workers’ rights and employers’ responsibilities; strengthen efforts to fund and administer protective services for victims, in cooperation with NGOs and international organizations; develop and conduct anti-trafficking education and awareness-raising campaigns; undertake research to study human trafficking in the country; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The government increased some of its law enforcement efforts; however, other law enforcement efforts remained inadequate. The Parliament introduced the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act in January 2017, which had not yet been promulgated at the end of the reporting period. Article 251 of the criminal code prohibited only transnational forms of trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 35 months imprisonment for the trafficking of adults, and up to 10 years imprisonment for the trafficking of children. The 2015 Child Rights Protection Act prohibited the domestic and transnational trafficking of children. The legal definition of trafficking did not include all forms of the crime. The penalties for subjecting children to trafficking were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape, but the penalties for adult trafficking were not.
The government did not prosecute or convict any individuals for trafficking offenses in 2016, but it initiated two new trafficking investigations—an increase from none in the previous reporting period. In one case, a Cambodian man was recruited to work as a translator on a ship, but upon boarding the vessel was subjected to forced labor as a fisherman. When the vessel docked in Majuro, he attempted to leave, at which point the captain told him he must pay $4,000 for his freedom. He managed to obtain an internet connection and file a report with an international organization, which notified the NTHT. The division of immigration located the individual and discussed the situation with him in a safe location, then helped him to contact his family to ensure they could receive him in Cambodia. The shipping agent agreed to fund his repatriation, but there were no reports of government efforts to secure back payment of his salary. Authorities closed the investigation after the victim chose not to press charges. In Ebeye, local law enforcement collaborated with the FBI regarding a potential trafficking case, but details were not available at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses.
The government slightly increased its efforts to identify trafficking victims and to ensure their access to protective services. Unlike the previous five years, the government identified at least one trafficking victim. Law enforcement and social services personnel did not employ systematic procedures to identify trafficking victims among women in prostitution and child sex trafficking, but did so in the fishing sector; during the reporting period, law enforcement implemented a newly formulated standard operating procedure to screen 79 crew members aboard a fishing vessel for indicators of labor trafficking. The government provided $137,000 to an NGO to support protective services for victims of gender-based violence and human trafficking—an increase from no contributions in 2015. The NGO also signed an MOU with the Marshall Islands police department on victim assistance during the reporting period.
The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The NTHT held monthly meetings with participation by the director of immigration, assistant attorney general, law enforcement authorities, NGOs, and faith-based organizations, and briefed the Office of the President and Cabinet on multiple occasions throughout the reporting period. The NTHT held 17 meetings and conducted awareness-raising sessions and training workshops for more than 2,600 individuals from schools, government, law enforcement, and civil society—an increase of more than 1,000 from the previous reporting period. Ebeye leadership also established the Kwajalein Atoll Counter Human Trafficking (KACHT) Working Group, which aimed to leverage tribal leadership to increase awareness about and prevent trafficking among vulnerable traditional communities living in a high-travel geographic region. KACHT helped to facilitate a 16-day awareness-raising campaign, educating more than 500 people on trafficking issues. During the reporting period, RMI law enforcement hosted the Guam Attorney General’s Office for discussions with the NTHT on trafficking cooperation and aimed to increase its investigative partnership with the Guam Coalition Against Human Trafficking. The RMI Cabinet endorsed the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in July 2016. Authorities enforced fishing regulations barring individuals from boarding licensed foreign fishing vessels docked in Majuro in an attempt to mitigate the potential for the commercial sexual exploitation of women and underage girls. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel, nor did it take steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The RMI is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
As reported in the last three years, RMI is a source and destination country for RMI women and children and a destination for women from East Asia subjected to sex trafficking. RMI girls are recruited by foreign business owners and are subjected to sex trafficking with crew members of foreign fishing and transshipping vessels that dock in Majuro. Some of these foreign fisherman themselves are subjected to conditions indicative of forced labor on ships in Marshallese waters. Foreign women, most of whom are long-term residents, are subjected to forced prostitution in establishments frequented by crew members of Chinese and other foreign fishing vessels; some Chinese women are recruited with the promise of other work and, after paying large recruitment fees, are forced into prostitution. Limited reports indicate some Marshallese searching for work in the United States experience indicators of trafficking, such as passport confiscation, excessive work hours, and fraudulent recruitment. Some Marshallese children are transported to the United States, where they are subjected to situations of sexual abuse with indicators of sex trafficking.