The government maintained its law enforcement efforts. The penal code, together with the Immigration Act, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Article 143 of the penal code criminalized child sex trafficking under its “child commercial sexual exploitation” provision and prescribed penalties of up to 15 or 20 years’ imprisonment, based on the child’s age. Article 145 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking when the offense occurred within the country. Article 145(2) applied to trafficking offenses involving an element of force, fraud, or coercion; it prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adult victims and up to 25 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving child victims. Article 145(3) prescribed penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for offenses that did not involve an element of force, fraud, or coercion. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Immigration Act criminalized other forms of trafficking, including crimes in which the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of the trafficking victim occurred outside the Solomon Islands. The Immigration Act prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 45,000 Solomon Islands dollars ($5,580), or both for the trafficking of adults; it prescribed a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 90,000 Solomon Islands dollars ($11,160), or both for the trafficking of children. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, but with respect to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, they were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses. Authorities continued to charge some trafficking cases under criminal statutes carrying lesser penalties. In coordination with a regional body, the government continued to review the Immigration Act in an effort to identify gaps in trafficking-specific provisions, among others.
The government reported opening two new trafficking investigations involving four alleged perpetrators and five potential victims during the reporting period, a decrease from six investigations in 2018. Authorities continued investigations initiated in the previous reporting period, including two sex trafficking investigations involving at least four suspects and three forced labor cases involving an unspecified number of suspects. However, at the end of the reporting period, the investigations had not led to prosecutions. Courts concluded separate prosecutions initiated in 2017 against two foreign nationals for subjecting Solomon Islander children to sex trafficking in logging camps. In June 2019, the court convicted a Japanese national under article 144(3) of the Penal Code Sexual Offences Act, 2016; the individual was deported and restricted from re-entry for 20 years. In December 2019, the court acquitted a Malaysian national of all trafficking-related charges initially filed under Section 77 of the Immigration Act due to insufficient evidence. In both cases the government also reported investigating the victims’ parents for allegedly engaging in and benefiting from their exploitation but did not advance the cases to prosecution due to concern over lack of alternative care options and services for victims. The Department of Immigration (DOI) deported two alleged Malaysian traffickers due to “character concerns,” after investigators were reportedly unable to gather sufficient evidence to initiate a formal prosecution.
The government did not include comprehensive anti-trafficking training in the curriculum for law enforcement officials, despite recommendations to do so. In partnership with an international organization, DOI conducted a joint training for an unspecified number of law enforcement and other anti-trafficking stakeholders on definitions, investigations, and psycho-social care for victims. Geographic challenges, insufficient funding of enforcement agencies, lack of technical expertise, and pervasive lack of awareness of the crime and of the relevant legislation among front-line officers, particularly in remote areas of the country, continued to exacerbate the government’s slow response to trafficking cases. In addition, observers ascribed a higher likelihood of acquittals and dismissals of such cases to backlogs in court, incomplete investigations, insufficient evidence, and safety concerns among victims and their families. Traditional justice practices referred to as “customary rule,” often involving retribution or informal restitution arrangements between victims’ families and their traffickers, continued to supplant formal law enforcement efforts and further complicated victims’ access to justice. Authorities did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any government officials for complicity in trafficking offenses.