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The Government of the Dominican Republic 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, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore the Dominican Republic was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included increasing efforts to investigate official complicity in trafficking crimes, paying restitution to a trafficking victim, prohibiting child marriage to reduce girls’ vulnerability to trafficking, and offering shelter and immigration relief for vulnerable Venezuelans. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not always apply minimum sentences as required by law; did not pass a revised trafficking law to remove the requirement to prove force, fraud, or coercion of sex trafficking victims younger than 18 years of age; did not effectively screen all vulnerable individuals for trafficking indicators or refer them to services; and did not report how many, if any, identified victims received care. Government services available for victims, including shelters, remained inadequate.

Increase criminal investigations and prosecutions of government officials allegedly complicit in trafficking and impose stronger sentences. • Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers involved in forced labor and sex trafficking and apply appropriate sentences as ordered by law. • Proactively screen for trafficking indicators among Venezuelans, Haitians, other undocumented or stateless persons at risk of deportation, and Cuban medical and sports professionals to identify victims, refer them to care, and prevent re-trafficking. • Amend the 2003 anti-trafficking law to remove the requirement to prove force, fraud, and coercion of sex trafficking victims younger than 18 years of age to be consistent with international law. • Adopt and fund a new national action plan. • Fully implement protocols to identify adult and child trafficking victims and refer them to protective services. • Provide a dedicated budget for trafficking victim assistance services and provide dedicated shelters for adult and child victims of trafficking. • Provide adequate human and financial resources and training to law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges to combat trafficking, particularly in areas outside of Santo Domingo. • Involve survivors when developing and implementing anti-trafficking laws, regulations, and policies.

The government increased prosecution efforts. Dominican law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The 2003 Law on Human Smuggling and Trafficking (Law 137-03) criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines. Inconsistent with international law, the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Article 25 of the Child Protection Code of 2003 criminalized the offering, delivering, or accepting, without regard to means used, anyone younger than 18 years of age for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labor, or any other purpose that demeaned the individual, for remuneration or any other consideration, and prescribed a penalty of 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment and a fine. All these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the current reporting period, the foreign ministry led a consultation process with government agencies, NGOs, international organizations, and foreign donors for the modification of the law to remove the provision requiring a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking crime; while the government completed an initial draft of the amendment, it remained pending completion and passage in the National Congress.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) reported initiating 63 investigations (59 for sex trafficking, four for labor trafficking) in 2020, compared with 26 investigations in 2019, 11 in 2018, 17 in 2017, and 25 in 2016. The police anti-trafficking unit (ATU) reported initiating 44 investigations in 2020, compared with 35 investigations in 2019, 45 investigations in 2018, and 83 in 2017. Of the 44 investigations reported by the police, 36 were co-initiated by the Special Prosecutor against Trafficking of Persons and Smuggling of Migrants’ office (PETT). An NGO reported assisting the government in the investigation of one of the cases that involved child victims. The government reported one ongoing labor trafficking investigation from a previous reporting period. The government reported initiating prosecutions of 42 defendants in 2020 (36 for sex trafficking and six for labor trafficking), compared with prosecuting 47 defendants in 2019, 14 defendants in 2018, 20 defendants in 2017, and 40 defendants in 2016. The AGO secured convictions of four traffickers, compared with five in 2019, 22 in 2018, 16 in 2017, and 13 in 2016. Courts in Santo Domingo convicted two individuals in February 2020 for trafficking in persons for the purpose of sexual exploitation, psychological abuse, and sexual assault of children; they received 25 and 20 years’ imprisonment, respectively, were fined 175 times the minimum salary (1.75 million Dominican pesos or $30,100), and forfeited property to the government. The Court of Appeals upheld a 2019 guilty verdict with a 25-year sentence in one trafficking case. In addition, a local NGO—not the PETT—brought an appeal against a trial court’s sentence in a previous reporting period of six years’ imprisonment for a sex trafficking conviction as inconsistent with Dominican law. The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the NGO and increased the sentence to 15 years’ imprisonment, in accord with the Dominican trafficking law. In cooperation with a foreign government, the ATU made three arrests as part of a joint operation in September 2020, resulting in the identification of three female sex trafficking victims. The government reported it prosecuted four cases of sex trafficking initiated in prior reporting periods as procuring or pandering cases because it determined the individuals involved in commercial sex were not trafficking victims.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year; the government increased efforts to investigate allegations of official complicity, although it did not initiate any prosecutions in these cases. The government reported opening one investigation into official complicity involving a regional employee of the AGO over allegations of leaks to suspects in a case involving sexual exploitation of children. The government reported it opened an investigation in November 2020 into two Dominican diplomats posted in Argentina accused of child sex trafficking of Dominican children in Argentina. The government reassigned the diplomats but did not report initiating prosecution in this case because no complaint was filed. The National Police opened a trafficking investigation into a member of the armed forces accused of accepting bribes at the border. The government completed two investigations initiated in the previous reporting period of three government employees assigned to the PETT. One prosecutor allegedly sexually abused an identified trafficking victim, while two police investigators allegedly provided confidential information to nightclub owners before planned raids to help them evade capture; the government suspended all three from their positions. The government did not prosecute the police officers due to lack of evidence; the government had not initiated prosecution of the public prosecutor by the end of the reporting period. The government did not report the status of a 2017 sex trafficking case involving police officers and members of the military.

The PETT and the ATU were the principal law enforcement bodies pursuing trafficking cases, with police units in Santo Domingo, Punta Cana, San Cristóbal, Puerto Plata, and Boca Chica. The PETT had established liaisons in each of the 35 district attorney’s offices nationwide. However, the government concentrated its anti-trafficking resources in Santo Domingo, resulting in a lack of institutional capacity—including resources, training, and experience—to properly investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases in areas of the country outside of the Santo Domingo metropolitan area. NGOs reported Dominican authorities often lacked the training and technology for the identification, investigation, prosecution, and sentencing of both traditional and online trafficking crimes, sometimes favoring the rights of the defendant over those of the victim. NGOs suggested evidence of corruption and misuse of victim assistance funds, as well as the departure of specialized personnel from the PETT in recent years, including the current reporting period, significantly lowered public confidence in the government’s ability to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases or protect victims effectively. NGOs stated the PETT remained the weakest link in the government’s anti-trafficking response. The government also reported a lack of understanding of the nature of human trafficking among the Dominican population hindered effective identification and investigation of the crime.

The government did not have courts specifically for trafficking cases, nor was there a separate judicial budget for trafficking. In response to the pandemic, courts closed in March 2020 and began to gradually re-open beginning in July 2020. Both the government and NGOs reported the courts created protocols for virtual and in-person hearings, but the number of cases processed by law enforcement both at the investigative level and in the courts fell. The government and local NGOs reported the pandemic may have pushed traffickers online into chat rooms and social media, which made the crime more difficult to identify. The pandemic also hindered investigators’ ability to collect evidence, and NGOs reported police attention shifted to enforcing nightly curfews and other public health-related measures. The government reported a lack of adequate personnel and equipment for the anti-trafficking police for the entire reporting period affected operations. Despite this, NGOs reported the ATU remained proactive and effective in investigating suspected trafficking cases.

The government reported training 153 defense, tourism, police, and immigration officials and civil society representatives on the detection of the crime of human trafficking and on fraudulent methods traffickers employ in cooperation with an international organization. The government also reported training 50 judges, prosecutors, and public defenders from the Supreme Court, AGO, and National Office of Public Defense on the Legal Protection Course on the rights of the child, including trafficking and child sexual exploitation, in coordination with an international organization and a foreign donor, and 80 Supreme Court and AGO judges and prosecutors on human trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in coordination with an international organization, an NGO, and a foreign donor. An NGO reported police cadets received training on human trafficking and sexual exploitation but that the training was insufficiently detailed and inaccessible to patrol officers. Authorities began a joint project with an NGO to improve the police cadet training curriculum. The government reported assisting three foreign governments with trafficking investigations, of which one resulted in a conviction for sexual exploitation of a child. An international organization reported the government participated in an INTERPOL law enforcement operation, along with 32 countries across four continents. Police authorities signed an agreement with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to expand cooperation against the sale of children, child prostitution and pornography, child trafficking, and other forms of child sexual abuse. The government continued cooperation with two foreign countries and an international organization on a 2019 prosecutor anti-trafficking training project.

The government maintained victim protection efforts. Authorities reported identifying 95 victims (82 for sex trafficking and 13 for labor trafficking), compared with 195 victims in 2019, 96 in 2018, 102 in 2017, and 157 in 2016. Of the 95 victims identified, 56 were Dominican and 39 foreigners; 54 were adults and 41 children. Of the victims of sex trafficking, 24 were girls, four were boys, and 54 were adult females. Of the labor trafficking victims, six were girls and seven were boys. However, experts questioned the number of reported sex trafficking victims identified in 2020 and 2019, since it may have included individuals in commercial sex present during raids of nightclubs that did not identify as victims, and it may not have included potential Haitian victims not screened or referred before deportation, despite the known prevalence of trafficking among Haitian migrants.

The government provided entrance and referred to care 12 adult female Venezuelan trafficking victims during the reporting period who were identified in a neighboring country. Upon arrival, the government, working with an international organization, provided shelter and 24-hour security for the victims. One victim remained in the country at the end of the reporting period and was working with an NGO to normalize her immigration status; the government collaborated with an NGO to return another victim to Venezuela at the victim’s request.

The government did not report how many of the 83 additional identified victims received services and reported a lack of resources to provide assistance for victims, including shelters. The government reported housing trafficking victims in Ministry of Women domestic violence shelters. NGOs reported child victims went to National Counsel for Children and Adolescents (CONANI) temporary homes until they were reunited with their families, whereupon the government did not offer the victims additional services. The government centers did not offer specialized, expert care, and the government reported it did not have a dedicated budget for victim services or a full-time government shelter for adult trafficking victims; temporary shelter and food were provided to victims from PETT’s budget only after raids. Observers noted the AGO had not accounted for utilization of victim assistance donations conveyed as cash transfers from international donor organizations. The government largely relied on NGOs and religious-based organizations to provide accommodations for foreign and domestic trafficking victims in addition to psychological, reintegration, repatriation, and medical assistance and medical services. These organizations were inadequate in terms of staff skills and resources, and they lacked capacity to provide for the large number of victims in country. The government reported it started discussions with local NGOs about the need for dedicated shelters for trafficking victims. The government reported implementing health protocols for victim services in response to the pandemic. NGOs reported the pandemic did not affect the already low quality of the government’s victim referral efforts although due to restrictions few, if any, victims were identified from March to May 2020.

Government officials reported having two protocols to identify and assist adult and child trafficking victims; the Ministry of Women was revising these with international technical assistance and funding. Observers noted authorities did not effectively implement the protocols, particularly with regard to detained migrants. The government worked with NGOs to screen for potential victims; although the government reported it had a process for referring victims to care with local NGOs, experts reported that it was not formal. The government had protocols to screen for trafficking victims when detaining or arresting individuals in vulnerable groups, but authorities acknowledged they had not yet applied them effectively. The government reported law enforcement conducted interviews to identify trafficking victims after raids of commercial sex establishments, but civil society representatives reported the government did not effectively implement its screening procedures. An international organization reported a joint project with the judiciary to develop an interview protocol for child victims and witnesses of crimes of sexual violence that established guidelines for abiding by applicable human rights concerns and intended to avoid re-traumatizing the victims and witnesses. The trafficking law did not provide immigration protections for trafficking victims whether or not they assisted with court cases. However, the government reported it did not detain or deport trafficking victims and if victims wished to return to their country of origin, the government would forgive the overstay fee they may have incurred. Local NGOs stated that although the government did not deport foreign trafficking victims, it also did not offer temporary residence or work permits or take constructive steps to regularize a victim’s immigration status after a short period of time. As a result, foreign victims may have found themselves without legal status, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking. The pandemic slowed the government’s efforts to repatriate foreign victims.

The government permitted victims to work and offered legal assistance, although there was no report of the government providing such assistance to victims. This included legal assistance for victims who wished to file civil suits for restitution against their traffickers; NGOs reported prosecutors did not always pursue restitution for victims. The government, working with NGOs, offered protection to trafficking victims during the legal process, including videotaped testimony. Witnesses could provide testimony despite limitations imposed as a result of the pandemic, although the government reported this was more challenging when victims opted to leave NGO shelters. The government reported 12 victims gave testimony by video or written statements during the reporting period, compared with approximately 20 in 2019. However, the court system lacked a sufficient number of specialized cameras to allow victims to be interviewed in a safe environment to avoid re-traumatization. In February 2020, a court ordered two defendants to pay a child victim 500,000 Dominican pesos ($8,600) in restitution.

The government offered diploma certificate courses to 153 National Institute of Migration (INM) employees and 45 other government employees on Trafficking in Women, Children, and Adolescents: Strategies for Protection and Assistance to Survivors, in cooperation with an international organization. The government reported pandemic response measures reduced the number of training opportunities for victim identification procedures, but these trainings resumed as the country relaxed certain restrictions and adapted the courses for virtual delivery. The government reported no Dominican victims of human trafficking were identified abroad.

The government slightly increased prevention efforts. The Inter-institutional Commission against Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (CITIM) continued to function normally during the reporting period after moving its meetings online in response to the pandemic. The pandemic caused across-the-board cuts in the government’s budget, and the government did not allocate specific funds for implementation of its national anti-trafficking plan beyond the standard operating budgets for CITIM institutions. The plan assigned goals, responsibilities, and deadlines to each of the 14 government agencies comprising the CITIM, and it was overseen by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). The MFA published on its website an annual evaluation of anti-trafficking efforts of each CITIM member institution. Authorities reported undertaking an assessment of the current plan and began development of the subsequent plan, which was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Draft anti-trafficking legislation included a proposal to earmark a portion of the existing tourism tax to fund anti-trafficking efforts, and it also included a new visa category for certain human trafficking victims. In addition, a new law prohibiting child marriage took effect in January 2021; the law aimed to prevent girls from becoming trafficking victims. Local NGOs reported traffickers used child marriage to mask child sex and labor trafficking. The government also announced it would begin to implement a program to normalize the immigration status of the estimated 115,000 Venezuelan migrants in the country, another group highly vulnerable to human trafficking. The program would initially provide a 60-day extension of stay to qualified Venezuelan migrants, who would then have the opportunity to apply for one-year, renewable, non-resident work or study visas.

The government reported it continued to disseminate material on billboards and to the local press and radio through the “Ojo Pelao” (“Eyes Peeled”) awareness and prevention campaign for potential victims, focusing particularly on commercial sex. The government instituted a state of emergency in March 2020, which reduced transit into and out of the country. However, the government reported it relaunched the national “No Hay Excusas” (“No Excuses”) campaign against child sexual exploitation, created community groups in tourist areas to raise awareness of trafficking, and worked with Haitian counterparts to address unaccompanied children crossing the border. The government reported it canceled trainings for the Specialized Tourist Security Corps between May to July 2020 and face-to-face trainings on passport security measures between March and September 2020 due to the pandemic. The government reported that in response to the pandemic, INM expanded its course offerings in 2020 and modified the courses for distance learning. The government reported training 23 senior military officers on migration and human rights; 153 government officials and civil society representatives on awareness raising in the areas of migrant smuggling and human trafficking; 153 INM employees on basic trafficking concepts, the country’s trafficking profile, and victim assistance, in cooperation with an international organization; and 330 air traffic, MFA, migration, and passport inspectors, servers, and officials linked to internal and external civil aviation on passport security measures and mechanical reading. The government also reported the MFA implemented virtual training for 170 diplomatic and consular personnel on human trafficking and human smuggling, and it offered virtual talks on human trafficking for designated Foreign Service personnel.

The national action plan delegated responsibility to conduct research on human trafficking to the INM. In 2019, with the financial support of an international organization, INM commissioned four research projects, two of which it completed and presented to a variety of stakeholders the same year and informed recommendations to the government on trafficking. Authorities were finalizing the third study addressing foreign children at risk of trafficking in the country at the end of the reporting period. The government also reported it was working with a local university to produce a study analyzing trafficking patterns of Dominican women in Spain, Switzerland, and Costa Rica.

PETT operated a dedicated 24/7 national trafficking hotline and reported it received 37 calls during the reporting period. Four other general hotlines could also receive human trafficking calls in Spanish, English, French, and Creole. In addition, CONANI established a hotline during the reporting period for referral of children without appropriate care during the pandemic. The government reported the PETT hotline referred one case to the special tourist police, who investigated in collaboration with the National Directorate of Children, Adolescents and Family. Authorities identified and removed three victims, two girls and one boy.

The labor code prohibited the charging of fees for the recruitment of workers; the recruitment of workers through fraudulent offers of employment; misrepresentation of wages, working conditions, location or nature of work; and the confiscation or denial of workers’ access to identity documents. The government worked with an international organization and a foreign donor to improve operations and capacity at the Ministry of Labor (MOL) to investigate potential labor violations. The government reported 41,953 labor inspection visits in 2020, a 45 percent decrease from 2019, due to the pandemic. Complaints about child labor could be made electronically, by telephone, or in person at any of the 40 offices of the MOL, and the government reported it had a system of referring children found during labor inspections to appropriate social services. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government continued to participate in a multi-country operation to identify and investigate individuals traveling overseas who had been convicted of sexual crimes against children and may engage in sex tourism. The government denied entry to such persons at the second highest rate in the program. In 2020, the government reported two open investigations for the sale of tourist packages to individuals in the United States, Canada, and Europe, with the apparent inclusion of sexual contact with individuals identified as children. Authorities reported increasing personnel assigned to the protection and rescue program for children and adolescents run by the specialized tourist police, who also received additional equipment and opened a new facility in a popular tourist location for this program. Laws did not provide for the prosecution of Dominican citizens who engage in child sex tourism abroad.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the Dominican Republic, and traffickers exploit victims from the Dominican Republic abroad. Dominican women and children were sex trafficking victims throughout the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean, South and Central America, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Foreign victims from Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean, Asia, and Latin America were trafficking victims in the Dominican Republic. Experts noted an increase in the number of Venezuelan trafficking victims in the Dominican Republic since the onset of Venezuela’s economic and political crisis. Cuban nationals working as doctors and baseball players may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. The Dominican Republic is a destination for sex tourists primarily from North America and Europe for child sex trafficking. Sex trafficking of 15- to 17-year-old girls occurs in streets, in parks, and on beaches. Traffickers operating in networks continue to employ methods to mask their activities, including the use of catalogs to sell victims to potential clients, using private homes, rented private apartments, or extended stay hotels to house victims. In cases of sexual exploitation of children, WhatsApp chats and social media are used to attract children and exploit them. NGOs report police complicity in areas known for child sex trafficking. Government officials and NGOs report an increase in traffickers recruiting Colombian and Venezuelan women to dance in strip clubs and later coerce them into sex trafficking. Traffickers lure Dominican women to work in nightclubs in the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America and subject them to sex trafficking. The pandemic forced many companies to idle workers at partial salaries or lay them off entirely, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. The government offered unemployment benefits, but many households sought informal labor opportunities; this, along with the fact that schools were closed entirely between April and November 2020 and did not offer an extended school day, likely increased the incidence of child labor. Dominican officials and NGOs documented cases of children forced into domestic service, street vending, begging, agricultural work, construction, and moving illicit narcotics. During the reporting period, the government described an increase in Dominican trafficking victims, specifically children brought from the interior of the country to coastal tourist areas. There are reports of forced labor of adults in construction, agricultural, and service sectors. Haitian women report smugglers often become traffickers for the purpose of sexual exploitation along the border, and observers note traffickers operate along the border with impunity and sometimes with the assistance of corrupt government officials who accept bribes to allow undocumented crossings. Unofficial border crossings remain unmonitored and porous, leaving migrants, including children, vulnerable to trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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