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FIJI: Tier 2

The Government of Fiji 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 Fiji was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included including investigating 10 suspected trafficking cases involving 102 potential victims, formally endorsing a national anti-trafficking strategy for 2021-2026, and creating a trafficking case management coordinator office, which was set to assume responsibility of coordinating victim support. However, the government provided services to only three victims of labor trafficking and did not provide services to any victims of sex trafficking, despite reports that Fijian children continued to be exploited in commercial sex. The government did not convict any traffickers during the reporting period and has only convicted one trafficker since 2014. Some reports suggested official complicity impeded anti-trafficking efforts.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Finalize and implement formal victim identification and referral procedures for police, immigration, customs, and labor officials. • Proactively screen groups vulnerable to trafficking, including persons in commercial sex, migrant workers, and child laborers. • Increase efforts to prosecute trafficking crimes, and convict and punish traffickers. • Amend trafficking-related provisions of the Crimes Act to criminalize all forms of trafficking. • Increase the provision of victim services, including by ensuring victims are referred to the Case Management Coordinator Office. • Seek methods to improve collaboration between police and prosecutors working trafficking cases to improve the success of prosecutions. • Deliver effective anti-trafficking training to police, prosecutors, immigration, customs, and labor officials, including on the case management mechanism. • Increase the oversight of the working conditions of foreign construction workers and increase investigation of labor violations involving children and migrant workers for forced labor. • Proactively investigate potential official complicity in trafficking-related crimes. • Enable identified foreign victims to work and earn income while assisting with investigations and provide a legal alternative to victims’ removal to countries in which they would face retribution or hardship. • Increase dissemination of labor and sex trafficking awareness campaigns, including to raise awareness of sex trafficking laws among foreign tourists.

PROSECUTION

The government modestly increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The 2009 Crimes Act criminalized some forms of labor trafficking and all forms of sex trafficking. Sections 112-117 criminalized trafficking in persons but, inconsistent with international law, required either transnational or domestic movement in order to constitute a trafficking offense. These articles prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for movement-based trafficking offenses involving adult victims, and up to 25 years’ imprisonment for those involving child victims; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Sex trafficking offenses that did not involve movement could be prosecuted under Sections 106, 107, 226, and 227 of the Crimes Act. Section 106 criminalized sexual servitude by means of force or threat and prescribed penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment if the offense involved an adult victim and up to 20 years’ imprisonment if the offense involved a child victim. Section 107 criminalized “deceptive recruiting for sexual services,” including inducing and maintaining individuals in prostitution through deceptive means, and prescribed penalties of up to seven years’ imprisonment if the offense involved an adult victim and up to nine years’ imprisonment if the offense involved a child victim. Sections 226 and 227 criminalized the buying or selling of children for “immoral purposes,” which included prostitution, and prescribed penalties of up to 12 years’ imprisonment. The penalties prescribed under these sections were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with the penalties prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. While Sections 103 and 118 criminalized slavery and debt bondage respectively, all forms of labor trafficking were not criminalized under the Crimes Act. The law prescribed penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for slavery, and penalties of up to one year imprisonment for debt bondage involving an adult victim, and up to two years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim; the penalties for slavery were sufficiently stringent, while the penalties for debt bondage were not. The government’s National Anti-Human Trafficking Sub-Committee on Legislative Desktop Review continued to review the governments trafficking legal framework.

Police initiated investigations of 10 suspected trafficking cases during the reporting period, an increase compared to two investigations in 2019. The government initiated prosecutions of two suspected sex traffickers (one prosecution in 2019) but did not convict any traffickers (one conviction in 2019). The formalization of the police’s human trafficking unit (HTU) in 2019, as well as increased information sharing between HTU and the department of immigration during the reporting period, likely contributed to the increased number of investigations, especially for suspected cases of labor trafficking among migrant workers. Nonetheless, police did not proactively investigate trafficking cases consistently and the government has only convicted one trafficker since 2014. The government reported that under Fiji’s legal system, the prosecutor’s office acted independently from law enforcement investigations, including in cases involving human trafficking, which prevented effective coordination between police and prosecutors and continued to impair the government’s pursuit of trafficking cases. Inadequate victim support, including insufficient resources, also weakened the success of prosecutions. The government hosted and funded two anti-trafficking trainings for immigration officials in March 2021.

Restrictive policies limiting law enforcement officials’ access to child victims staying in government shelters may have hindered the ability of police and prosecutors to build rapport with victims, obtain statements, and prepare victims for trials against their traffickers. HTU continued to conduct anti-trafficking trainings for police recruits; however, observers reported the one-day anti-trafficking trainings provided to police recruits were insufficient. Law enforcement were often not aware of the definition of trafficking, procedures for interviewing victims, or how to proactively identify victims. HTU began drafting formal standard operating procedures for investigating trafficking cases but these were not completed during the reporting period. The office of the director of the public prosecution continued to consider charges in a case involving leaders of a church that allegedly confiscated the passports of its members who worked in various companies owned by the church without pay. The Fiji Independent Commission Against Corruption investigated one allegation of official complicity by immigration officials in a suspected trafficking case during the reporting period. However, the government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses.

PROTECTION

The government maintained efforts to identify and protect victims. The government investigated cases involving 102 potential victims of trafficking; however, it reported only identifying and providing assistance to three victims of labor trafficking, compared with one victim identified during the previous reporting period. Authorities did not provide assistance to any victims of sex trafficking. The police anti-trafficking unit had informal guidelines in place to assist officers to identify victims, and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutors reported an informal policy that police officers must refer any identified victims to the HTU. However, government officials did not proactively screen for victims of trafficking among vulnerable populations, and the government did not have formal victim identification procedures for all relevant agencies. In addition, the government’s new anti-trafficking strategy, completed in January 2021, contained a list of trafficking indicators for officials to use for victim identification; however, authorities did not distribute these indicators or use them during the reporting period. The Ministry of Defense, National Security, and Policing created a Case Management Coordinator office (CMC), as well as a case management mechanism that created formal procedures for officials to refer victims to the CMC. The government reported the CMC would assume responsibility of coordinating victim support and overseeing the progression of investigations and prosecutions. However, the CMC did not oversee any cases or coordinate victim services during the reporting period, and the case management mechanism was not implemented in practice.

The government made available to victims accommodation, legal aid, medical care, interpreters, and allowances for basic necessities. However, observers reported that because the law did not specifically mandate the provision of services to victims of trafficking and because the government did not allocate funds specifically for trafficking victims, victims often relied on NGOs for services. The Department of Immigration operated safe houses for foreign individuals awaiting deportation, including trafficking victims. The government could place victims younger than 21 under the custody of the Department of Social Welfare, which operated four children’s homes. There were no reports the government penalized victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit; however, the absence of proactive screening meant authorities may have detained and deported some unidentified victims. The government did not offer permanent legal alternatives to foreign victims’ removal to countries in which they would face retribution or hardship but could issue renewable six-month work visas to victims assisting with investigations. However, during the reporting period the government did not permit identified foreign victims to work while authorities investigated their cases.

PREVENTION

The government modestly increased efforts to prevent trafficking. In January 2021, the Fijian Cabinet formally endorsed the national anti-trafficking strategy for 2021-2026, as well as a revised national action plan, which set annual, specific actions for the government to take to achieve the broader objectives outlined in the accompanying strategy. The Interagency Working Group on Human Trafficking, which convened for the first time in years during the previous reporting period, continued to meet. The police anti-trafficking unit continued to conduct public awareness campaigns and seminars aimed at children and young adults. It was unclear if labor officials continued to conduct awareness programs targeted at Fijians who work overseas to prevent labor exploitation. The Ministry of Employment, Productivity, and Industrial Relations employed 45 labor inspectors dedicated to identifying labor law violations, including wage violations. Inspectors reportedly did not have an adequate understanding of forced labor and the government did not provide training on the enforcement of laws related to child labor. Labor inspectors conducted 843 inspections in 2020, a significant decrease compared with 3,562 inspections in 2019, and did not identify any child labor violations (41 identified in 2019). Authorities did not adequately monitor the labor conditions of worksites, including construction sites, of companies with foreign owners or that had connections to foreign investors and employed migrant workers. The Permanent Secretary for Labor issued certificates of authorization for employment agencies, which required agencies meet standards under the Employment Relations Regulations of 2008; agencies convicted of operating without authorization could be fined 20,000 Fijian dollars ($9,980), imprisoned for up to four years, or both; however, no agencies were convicted during the reporting period. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government trained some diplomatic personnel on trafficking. With assistance from two foreign defense forces, the government incorporated training on sexual exploitation into pre-deployment training but did not provide trafficking-specific training to Fijian military personnel prior to their deployment abroad as part of international peacekeeping missions.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Fiji, and traffickers exploit victims from Fiji abroad. Family members, taxi drivers, foreign tourists, businessmen, crew on foreign fishing vessels, and other traffickers have allegedly exploited victims from Thailand and China, as well as Fijian women and children, in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit victims in illegal brothels, local hotels, private homes, and massage parlors, and traffickers sometimes utilize websites and cell phone applications to advertise victims for commercial sex. Some Fijian children are at risk of sex and labor trafficking, as families follow a traditional practice of sending them to live with relatives or families in larger cities, where they may be subjected to domestic servitude or coerced to engage in sexual activity in exchange for food, clothing, shelter, or school fees. Fijian children were at risk for forced labor in agriculture, retail, or other sectors. Rising levels of poverty also contributed to increased risks of Fijian children being exploited in commercial sex and forced labor. Economic crisis related to the pandemic, as well as weather-related natural disasters, increased the number of street children compelled to seek incomes to sustain their families; these children are at risk of being exploited in sex trafficking or forced labor. Reports indicated children as young as 12 years old were exploited in sex trafficking. Observers reported a practice where taxi drivers transported Fijian child sex trafficking victims to hotels in popular tourist areas at the request of foreign tourists seeking commercial sex acts. Foreign yacht owners and foreigners hiring locally-owned yachts dock in rural Fijian islands seek young women, usually children, for marriage; some of these women and children subsequently become at risk to forced labor or sex trafficking. However, border restrictions related to the pandemic led to a reduction of the number of foreign yachts entering Fiji, subsequently resulting in fewer reports of this practice occurring during the reporting period. Traffickers exploit Fijian and Chinese women and children in Chinese-operated massage parlors and brothels, particularly in Suva. In some cases, massage parlor owners arrange for female Fijian employees to engage in commercial sex acts with clients in local hotels and brothels. Anecdotal reports indicated traffickers transported Chinese victims into Fiji on small boats, avoiding ports.

Some Fijian men reportedly marry women from Nepal and Pakistan and subject them to domestic servitude in Fiji. Labor traffickers exploit workers from South and East Asian countries in small, informal farms and factories, and in construction. Recruitment agencies operating in victims’ home countries, vessel owners, and other crew exploit migrant fisherman from Southeast Asian countries, especially Indonesia, in forced labor on Fijian flagged fishing vessels, or foreign flagged fishing vessels (mainly China- and Taiwan-flagged) transiting Fijian ports and waters. Victims of forced labor experience threats of violence, passport confiscation, debt-based coercion, excessive working hours, and abusive living and working conditions. Reports indicated low-level official complicity impeded anti-trafficking efforts. Corruption among some officials prevented the investigation of trafficking, including in Chinese-operated brothels. In addition, immigration officials allegedly took action that indirectly facilitated or enabled human trafficking. Fijian workers in Australia and New Zealand were at risk of labor trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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