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ST. MAARTEN: Tier 2‡

The Government of St. Maarten does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore St. Maarten remained on Tier 2. These efforts included convicting a trafficker for the first time in seven years and training officials on trafficking indicators. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Officials identified fewer victims for the third consecutive year, did not report referring any victims to care, and did not prosecute any traffickers.


Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers separate from smugglers.Increase efforts to identify trafficking victims, such as by screening all migrant workers for trafficking indicators; provide adequate protection to those identified; and cease the deportation of victims.Increase the availability of protection services, including shelters, in coordination with the Kingdom of the Netherlands, NGOs, and international organizations.Train law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and judges on proactive victim identification and victim-centered approaches to trafficking cases, in partnership with the Kingdom of the Netherlands.Establish a new central reporting bureau to improve coordination of victim protection and prevention efforts.Adopt and implement formal standard operating procedures (SOPs) to guide officials, including health workers, on victim identification and referral.Increase 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.


The government increased prosecution efforts. The penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from 12 to 24 years of imprisonment or a fine, which were sufficiently stringent, and with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.

Observers noted the prosecutors, law enforcement, civil society, and media frequently conflate trafficking in persons and smuggling, hindering overall anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Authorities investigated one case of a construction company allegedly forcing 20 workers to labor on a job site (one investigation each in 2018 and 2017) but did not forward the case for prosecution due to a purported lack of evidence; the government instead fined the construction company for labor exploitation. In 2019, officials reported prosecuting one suspected trafficker for sexually exploiting a victim, compared to no prosecutions in 2018. For the first time in seven years, authorities reported convicting a trafficker in April 2019 under Article 2:239 of the penal code and sentenced the perpetrator to three years’ imprisonment for exploiting a victim in forced labor. Law enforcement officials, including police and immigration personnel, participated in an annual regional training event focused on investigations of trafficking crimes. The government reintroduced an electronic border management system and provided training to an unknown number of officials on human trafficking, smuggling, and identifying fraudulent documents.


The government decreased efforts to identify and protect victims. Authorities identified 29 potential victims in 2019, compared to 42 in 2018 and 96 in 2017, but the government did not report providing any with protection services for the second consecutive year. In 2019, post-Hurricane Irma rebuilding, as well as the September dissolution of its interim government, strained St. Maarten’s institutions and hindered the government’s ability to provide services to victims, especially shelter. Immigration officials reportedly allowed 20 potential victims, 18 from Venezuela and two from Colombia, to remain in the country while adjudicating their immigration status. While the government did not have SOPs for the identification or referral of victims, informal agreements between government agencies were in place, and immigration officials and other stakeholders continued to use an NGO-developed checklist of trafficking indicators. Police and other first responders used the Netherlands’ screening checklist (Comensha) when interviewing potential victims and suspects. Additionally, officials routinely screened for trafficking among adult entertainment workers during immigration procedures, labor inspections, and mandatory medical screenings; however, the government did not report the number of victims it identified through the screenings.

Victims received shelter through an international organization and local NGOs. The temporary residence program served to encourage victim assistance in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers; however, the government did not report granting such benefits during the year. The anti-trafficking law allowed victims to request restitution as part of criminal cases or file a civil suit against traffickers; however, the government did not report any victims pursuing this action during the reporting period.


The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. Officials did not report updating the 2013-2018 national action plan during the reporting period, although the existing border security agreement between the Netherlands, Curacao, and St. Maarten (Onderlinge Regeling Vreemdelingenketen) purportedly included trafficking; the government did not finalize draft proposals focused on addressing trafficking and smuggling. Law enforcement officials continued an anti-trafficking awareness campaign at airports and other public places encouraging the public to report trafficking cases. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand of commercial sex or forced labor. The government informed employers of migrant workers about applicable laws and made the national hotline accessible by phone and email.


As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in St. Maarten. Some regulated and unregulated brothel and dance club owners exploit women and girls from Latin America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Russia in sex trafficking. Illicit recruiters reportedly target foreign women in St. Maarten’s commercial sex industry with debt-based coercion. Government officials reported a significant number of migrant workers are vulnerable to traffickers’ coercive schemes in domestic service, construction, Chinese-owned markets, retail shops, landscaping, and housekeeping. Authorities report traffickers may coerce Asian and Caribbean workers in exploitative conditions indicative of forced labor. Criminal elements, including smugglers, subject some migrants—specifically Cuban and Brazilian nationals—transiting St. Maarten en route to the United States and Canada to forced labor or sex trafficking. There are indicators traffickers exploit Colombian and Venezuelan women travelling to the islands under false pretenses in forced labor or sex 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.

U.S. Department of State

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