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The Government of the Marshall Islands does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included finalizing its national action plan; continuing an investigation into a government official; hiring an additional social worker; and continuing to fund some protection services available to victims, if identified. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity. For the third consecutive year, the government did not identify any trafficking victims and continued to not utilize proactive procedures to identify trafficking victims. The government did not conduct trafficking awareness campaigns and the National Task Force on Human Trafficking (NTHT) was reportedly not as active as in previous years. The government has not convicted any traffickers since 2011. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimums standards, Marshall Islands was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3. Therefore Marshall Islands remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the third 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 public 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 maintained minimal 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 opening a sex trafficking investigation involving one potential victim and one alleged perpetrator; the investigation was closed at the end of the reporting period due to the alleged victim’s assertion that no crime was committed. The government reported three investigations into child sex trafficking initiated in prior reporting periods had concluded; one case was closed because the alleged trafficker fled the country, one case was dismissed due to insufficient evidence, and one case was dismissed due to the alleged victim’s assertion that no crime was committed. The government reported the conclusion of a sex trafficking prosecution initiated in 2019. The prosecution stemmed from a case identified during a 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. The government charged a Chinese national with promoting commercial sex and child sex trafficking in the case; however, the individual fled the country prior to prosecution, and the case was closed. Separately, authorities conducted a raid on a suspected brothel and found it was not in operation; however, authorities did report a current investigation into a different suspected brothel. The government has not convicted any traffickers since 2011.

In the previous reporting period, the government stated 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. The NTHT reported conducting a one-day training workshop focused on trafficking investigations, victim services, and international obligations; an unspecified number of law enforcement, immigration, and labor officials attended the training. Stakeholders identified a need for a dedicated role in law enforcement focused primarily on anti-trafficking efforts, and the government acknowledged a lack of 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 absence of sufficient institutionalized law enforcement training, recruitment of officers, law enforcement facilities, and funding as obstacles to combating trafficking.

The government maintained minimal efforts to protect victims. While the government had standard operating procedures for the identification of victims, the government did not report employing such procedures. The government identified one potential sex trafficking victim during the reporting period, compared with identifying zero potential trafficking victims during the previous reporting period. However, the government later closed its investigation and determined the potential victim was not a victim of a crime when the alleged victim herself asserted so. The government, in partnership with nongovernmental, faith-based, and international organizations, could provide protective services to victims; but, it did not report providing any services during the reporting period. An NGO assisted the potential sex trafficking victim during the reporting period before the investigation was closed. Government-provided services could include counseling, legal assistance, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and accessible services for victims with disabilities. The government maintained 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 hired an additional social worker, increasing the number to three social workers, whose duties included coordinating assistance to trafficking victims, among others. NGOs were able to provide shelter for adult victims, and the victims were able to leave safe houses or shelters unchaperoned unless it was determined that doing so might put them in danger; the government did not report any victims receiving this assistance during the reporting period. The government reported providing $100,000 of funding to an NGO to provide free legal advice and support to victims, including trafficking victims, the same amount provided 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.

The government decreased efforts to prevent trafficking. The NTHT 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 prior years. In March 2021, the government finalized and approved an updated national action plan for 2021; implementation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. Unlike in prior years, the government did not conduct awareness campaigns. The government reported conducting immigration and labor inspections during the reporting period. Authorities charged employers with 22 fines for illegal employment and visa violations and opened one investigation for passport withholding; the employee initiated a civil lawsuit against the employer, and the investigation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. 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; unlike prior reporting periods, the government did not issue immigration day passes for crewmembers due to pandemic restrictions. In the previous reporting period, 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 Marshall Islands is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Marshall Islands, and traffickers exploit Marshallese victims abroad. Traffickers exploit Marshallese women and girls, and may also exploit East Asian women and girls, in sex trafficking in the Marshall Islands; 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 the Marshall Islands, 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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