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The Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included initiating its first trafficking prosecution since 2011 and opening an investigation into an immigration official for alleged trafficking complicity. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. Despite reports of child sex trafficking, the government did not report efforts to identify trafficking victims and did not report providing assistance to any potential or confirmed victims during the reporting period. The government has not convicted any traffickers since 2011. Therefore the RMI remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.

Increase efforts to vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials, and sentence traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms.Disseminate and employ proactive procedures to identify trafficking victims among all vulnerable groups, such as women in commercial sex and foreign fishermen, and train officials on their use.Train law enforcement and prosecution officials to implement the anti-trafficking laws.Strengthen efforts to administer and fund protective services for victims in cooperation with NGOs and international organizations and ensure potential victims are proactively offered services while their case is investigated.Finalize and implement the revised national action plan.Develop and conduct anti-trafficking education and awareness-raising campaigns.Undertake research to study human trafficking in the country.Accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. The Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons Act of 2017 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $10,000, or both if the victim was an adult, and up to 20 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to $15,000, or both if the victim was under age 18. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. The government reported one trafficking investigation, the same number as reported during the previous reporting period. The government did not report the outcome of two investigations into child sex trafficking initiated in prior reporting periods. The government initiated one prosecution for sex trafficking in 2019—this was the government’s first trafficking prosecution since 2011. Both the investigation and prosecution stemmed from a case identified during the prior reporting period, when local media uncovered alleged child sex trafficking of Marshallese girls at a brothel near the capitol building and alleged police inaction until after the newspaper published the story. In August 2019, media continued to report the brothel was operating with child sex trafficking victims. In February 2020, the government charged a Chinese national with promoting commercial sex and child sex trafficking in the case; the case was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government has not convicted any traffickers since 2011.

In January 2020, the government reported it was investigating and had removed the Director of Immigration because of allegations of trafficking complicity; the investigation remained ongoing at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report any other investigations into official complicity or any prosecutions or convictions of allegedly complicit officials. Marshallese law enforcement officials cooperated with a foreign government on an ongoing international trafficking case. An unspecified number of law enforcement officials attended international trafficking trainings during the reporting period. Stakeholders identified the need for a dedicated role in law enforcement focused primarily on anti-trafficking efforts. The government acknowledged a need for improved technical capacity for law enforcement on investigative and surveillance techniques and for prosecutors on case management and court filing procedures. Additionally, the government noted the lack of sufficient institutionalized law enforcement training, recruitment of officers, law enforcement facilities, and funding as obstacles to combating trafficking.

The government maintained inadequate efforts to protect victims. While the government had standard operating procedures for the identification of victims, the government did not report employing such procedures or identifying any victims. The government, with non-governmental, faith-based, and international organizations, could provide protective services to victims; however, it did not provide such services to any potential or identified trafficking victims during the reporting period, despite local media reporting potential child sex trafficking victims. Government-provided services included counseling, legal assistance, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and accessible services for victims with disabilities. The government had a memorandum of understanding with an NGO to assign female victims between ages 14 and 18 to survivor support services and place them in a network of approved safe houses. The Ministry of Internal Affairs continued to assume supervision of all other child victims and continued to fund two social workers whose duties included coordinating assistance to trafficking victims, among others. Adult victims were provided shelter by NGOs and were able to leave safe houses or shelters unchaperoned unless it was determined that doing so might put them in danger. The government reported providing $100,000 of funding to an NGO to provide free legal advice and support to victims, including trafficking victims, compared with providing $93,000 in the previous reporting period for such services. The government did not provide long-term alternatives to removal to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution, although no foreign victims were identified during the year.

The government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. The National Task Force on Human Trafficking encompassed a wide array of government, NGO, and international organization members and, while it continued to lead the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, it was reportedly not as active as in previous years. The government’s national action plan expired in 2017; during the reporting period, the government continued to take steps to renew the plan but did not finalize it. The government reported conducting awareness campaigns on policies and procedures regarding adoptions and the government services available, but authorities did not report the extent to which these campaigns featured explicit trafficking-related content. The government continued to take measures to prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of vulnerable populations by prohibiting unauthorized visitors on board licensed foreign fishing vessels docked in Majuro and issuing immigration day passes for most crewmembers that mandate they return to their ship by the evening. The government created a digital registry system to track the movement of passengers from the country’s main ports increasing oversight of individuals entering and exiting the country. The government did not have an anti-trafficking hotline. The government did not take steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The RMI is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

As reported in the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the Marshall Islands, and traffickers exploit Marshallese victims abroad. Traffickers exploit East Asian and Marshallese girls and women in sex trafficking in the RMI; some of these women and girls have also been confined and subjected to forced childbearing as part of international fraudulent adoption schemes. Hotel and bar staff and family members recruit and transport women and girls and exploit them in sex trafficking with foreign construction workers and crewmembers of foreign fishing and transshipping vessels that dock in Majuro. Observers report commercial sexual activity involving foreign fishermen has increasingly moved from fishing vessels to local bars and hotels. Traffickers also exploit some of these foreign fishermen in conditions indicative of forced labor on ships in Marshallese waters. Traffickers compel foreign women, most of whom are long-term residents of RMI, into commercial sex in establishments frequented by crewmembers of Chinese and other foreign fishing vessels; some traffickers recruit Chinese women with the promise of other work and, after paying large recruitment fees, they force them into commercial sex. Some wealthier or more powerful family members use traditional cultural practices to exploit impoverished Marshallese from outer islands to serve as indentured labor on their property. 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.

U.S. Department of State

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