PAPUA NEW GUINEA: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Papua New Guinea does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government made key achievements during the reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Papua New Guinea was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. These achievements included the government convicting its first trafficker since its inclusion in the 2007 Trafficking in Persons Report, the utilization of standard operating procedures to identify and refer three potential victims for protective services, and the continued advancement of a trafficking prosecution initiated in a previous reporting period. Despite these achievements, the government did not report any new investigations and, for the fourth consecutive year, did not report any new prosecutions. Endemic corruption among officials, particularly in the logging sector, continued to facilitate vulnerability to sex trafficking and forced labor among foreign and local populations. An acute lack of financial and human resources dedicated to anti-trafficking efforts, as well as very low awareness among government officials and the public, continued to hinder progress.

Update, disseminate, and systematically implement existing standard operating procedures (SOPs) for victim identification, referral, and protection and widely train police, immigration, and customs enforcement officers on the SOPs. • Investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms, including victims’ family members and officials who facilitate or directly benefit from trafficking. • Amend the criminal code to criminalize child sex trafficking without elements of force, fraud, or coercion in accordance with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. • In collaboration with civil society, screen for trafficking indicators among vulnerable groups, including internally displaced persons, Chinese nationals on Chinese government-affiliated projects, communities located near commercial forestry operations, children in communities marked by inter-tribal conflict, and individuals—including children—apprehended for illegal fishing, desertion from foreign-registered fishing vessels, illegal logging, illegal gold panning, or immigration crimes, and ensure all identified victims are referred to appropriate services. • Increase protective services for victims of trafficking in coordination with NGOs and international organizations. • Institute a policy framework recognizing that traffickers often compel victims to commit crimes and increase intra-governmental coordination to protect victims from arrest, deportation, or other punishment for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. • Clarify who has the authority to designate an individual as a trafficking victim and simplify the process for doing so. • Allocate resources, including dedicated staff, to government agencies to finalize and implement an updated national action plan and SOPs. • Increase collaboration with civil society groups, the private sector, and religious and community leaders to raise awareness of and reduce demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor, especially of children. • Take steps to eliminate recruitment or placement fees charged to workers by labor recruiters and ensure any recruitment fees are paid by employers. • Strengthen the National Anti-Human Trafficking Committee (NAHTC) by regularizing its meetings and functions, designating senior officials to represent their agencies, increasing awareness of and participation in the committee by civil society and protection stakeholders, and allocating resources for its activities. • Accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. The Criminal Code Amendment of 2013 criminalized most forms of sex trafficking and all forms of labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. 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.

In November 2020, the government obtained its first trafficking conviction since the enactment of its 2013 law; this conviction concluded a long-running sex trafficking prosecution. The court convicted the defendant on six counts of trafficking and one count of rape. In December 2020, the court sentenced the trafficker to seven concurrent sentences (one for each count) of 20 years’ imprisonment. The trafficker was incarcerated at the end of the reporting period. The government’s prosecution of an alleged trafficker in connection with the same case remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report any new trafficking investigations, and for the fourth consecutive year, it did not report any new prosecutions. The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking and related crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year.

An international organization provided anti-trafficking training to 34 judicial officials, and the government provided some logistical support for those events. National and provincial officials’ limited understanding of trafficking continued to hinder effective law enforcement activity. Enforcement agencies and most government offices remained weak as a result of underfunding, corruption, cronyism, a lack of accountability, and a promotion system based on patronage. Observers reported resources and institutional capacity among law enforcement and other government agencies were redirected or constrained as a result of the pandemic, which may have adversely affected the government’s ability to detect and address trafficking. The government reported, due to the pandemic, a notable decrease in all criminal investigations and a reduction in the number of cases heard by the courts due to adjustments in court schedules. Observers also ascribed poor prosecutorial efforts to widespread observance of customary justice practices, fear of retribution, distrust of law enforcement among victims, and insufficient resources and political will among law enforcement to conduct investigations, particularly in rural areas.

The government maintained inadequate efforts to protect victims. The government has SOPs for victim identification and referral and reported modest implementation, but authorities continued to lack a written guide as recommended in the national action plan, and general awareness of the SOPs among front-line officers was limited. In addition, the SOPs contained inadequate or no measures to screen for trafficking indicators among adults arrested for commercial sex or among LGBTQI+ individuals. The government reported its efforts to collect victim information and conduct screening were hindered by movement restrictions and the closure of government offices due to the pandemic. During the reporting period, authorities identified three potential trafficking victims referred through the SOPs for assessment—the same number as in 2019. The government provided limited medical and child protective services to the three female child victims; all other victim protection services were provided by an NGO. The government did not report further demographic details on the victims, including nationality. The government did not have a structured plan to monitor, secure, identify, or refer victims among vulnerable communities or among communities displaced as a result of conflict or natural disasters. Logging and mining sites primarily operated in remote regions with limited or no government oversight. The government conducted some enforcement activities against illegal logging sites but did not report or make available information on any efforts to identify sex or labor trafficking victims at such sites. During the reporting period, the government seized at least one foreign fishing vessel and arrested nine crew members for illegal fishing; the crew members were deported after paying fines. The government did not report whether victim assessments had been conducted in the case. In previous reporting periods, the government provided law enforcement agencies rapid screening forms and related victim identification training; however, police continued to rely upon foreign expert assistance to identify victims. International organizations reported identifying 10 potential victims in the reporting period.

Civil society organizations provided medical and short-term shelter services to victims without financial or in-kind support from the government. Women and child victims could receive services through NGO-run gender-based violence programs; and while male victims could receive ad hoc services through NGOs, there were no government- or NGO-services specifically tailored to the needs of trafficking victims. The victim identification procedures included guidance for protecting foreign victims from punishment for immigration crimes the victims’ traffickers forced them to commit; however, authorities likely punished or deported some victims for such crimes due to ineffective victim identification, poor interagency coordination, and a lack of clarity over who had the authority to verify an individual as a victim of trafficking and put in place protections against deportation or prosecution. Observers reported that a law allowing officials to apprehend foreign fishermen for desertion in port may have dissuaded some victims of forced labor from escaping and reporting their abuses. In prior years, authorities arrested and prosecuted children who were forced to pan for gold in areas where this activity was illegal; the government last reported efforts to screen these children for trafficking indicators in 2017. The law provided legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution, but the government did not report offering this protection to any victims in 2020. The law lacked provisions for victims to seek compensation through civil suits.

The government modestly increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The NAHTC continued to lack sufficient resources and commitment from the government. The NAHTC did not meet during the reporting period, reportedly due to pandemic measures; however, the NAHTC was largely inactive prior to the pandemic. The government did not appoint specific committee members to represent relevant agencies and effectively excluded non-governmental stakeholders. Some key interagency stakeholders and responsible senior government officials were unaware of its existence. During the reporting period, the government commenced work to update its national action plan but did not provide detailed information of the status of that work or on continued efforts to implement the existing national action plan. For the first time since 2012, the government reported modest efforts to increase trafficking awareness. On the country’s national day against human trafficking, authorities sponsored an article in a national newspaper to increase general trafficking in persons awareness as part of the government’s 20 Days of Human Rights Activism campaign. After the December 2020 sentencing of the trafficker, the judge in the case made a widely reported public statement urging increased trafficking awareness among the general public. The government reported conducting its first trafficking-related research without assistance from international organizations to assess the scope of domestic servitude cases involving girls, although it did not release the findings to the public.

The government did not operate or support an anti-trafficking hotline. The government did not have effective policies to regulate foreign labor recruiters or hold them liable for fraudulent recruitment practices. With no more than two labor inspectors per province, inadequate resources, and endemic corruption, the government did not take adequate steps to prevent forced labor in the highly vulnerable logging industry. To the contrary, authorities reportedly issued forestry permits in violation of preexisting land ownership rights and without further oversight, leading to the displacement and heightened vulnerability of the land’s previous occupants and to increased risk of labor exploitation among forestry workers. Furthermore, the government did not report its regulation of recruitment fees, which continued to contribute to debt-based coercion among foreign workers. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel. The government did not make efforts to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts. Papua New Guinea 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 Papua New Guinea, and traffickers exploit victims from Papua New Guinea abroad. Traffickers use Papua New Guinea as a transit point to exploit foreign individuals in other countries. Traffickers exploit foreign and local women and children in sex trafficking, as well as forced labor in domestic service, the tourism sector, manual labor, forced begging, and street vending. According to international NGO research conducted in previous years, approximately 30 percent of Papua New Guinean sex trafficking victims are children under the age of 18, with some as young as 10 years old. Immediate family or tribe members reportedly exploit children in sex trafficking or forced labor. Some parents force children to beg or sell goods on the street, and some sell or force their daughters into marriages or child sex trafficking to settle debts, resolve disputes between communities, or support their families. The closing of traditional travel routes due to pandemic-related border control restrictions and the imposition of new and complex requirements for entry may have increased vulnerability to trafficking among foreign migrant workers. Anecdotal reports show an increase in online child sexual exploitation, some of which may be child sex trafficking, in connection with an increased use of the internet during the pandemic.

Marriages in Papua New Guinea commonly involve a “bride price” of money or chattel paid to the wife’s family by the husband’s family, who use the bride price as debt to compel the woman to remain in abusive or servile marriages. Some parents reportedly transfer their children—some as young as 12—to other families via informal paid adoption arrangements that, absent monitoring or registration practices, increase their risk of trafficking; this is particularly prevalent among girls, whom adoptive families often seek out as potential sources of future bride-price income. Young girls sold into polygamous marriages may be forced into domestic service for their husbands’ extended families or exploited in sex trafficking. Within the country, traffickers lure children and women with promises of legitimate work or education to travel to different provinces, where they are exploited in sex trafficking or domestic servitude. Men reportedly engage in transactional sex with girls as young as 15 in exchange for money, gifts, or mobile phone credits. Tribal leaders reportedly trade the exploitative labor and service of girls and women for guns, to forge political alliances, and to settle disputes with one other. Traffickers subject Papua New Guinean children to forced criminality in illegal gold panning. Boys as young as 12 reportedly experience conditions indicative of forced labor as porters. Adolescent boys are also increasingly involved in inter-tribal and intercommunal armed conflict, possibly via forcible recruitment by local leadership. Individuals—particularly women and girls—displaced as a result of frequent natural disasters and communal conflict are at higher risk of trafficking due to poor or nonexistent IDP camp security and loss of livelihoods. International observers report increasing intercommunal tensions resulting from displacement have led to more Papua New Guinean women and girls facing “sorcery” accusations from men in an attempt to psychologically coerce them into forced labor or sex trafficking.

Malaysian and Chinese logging companies arrange for some foreign women to enter the country voluntarily with fraudulently issued tourist or business visas; this practice may also be present at other internationally owned logging sites. After their arrival, many of these women—from countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, China, and the Philippines—are turned over to traffickers who transport them to logging and mining camps, fisheries, and entertainment sites and exploit them in sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Sex traffickers also reportedly exploit foreign children in Papua New Guinea. Chinese nationals working in Papua New Guinea may have been forced to work by Chinese companies, including state-owned enterprises. Traffickers force Chinese, Malaysian, and local men to work at commercial mines and logging camps. Burmese, Cambodian, Chinese, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and local men and boys seeking work on fishing vessels go into debt to pay recruitment fees, which vessel owners and senior crew manipulate to coerce them to continue working indefinitely through debt bondage in Papua New Guinea’s exclusive economic zone and in other maritime territories, particularly in tuna fishing. These fishermen may face little to no pay, contract switching, wage garnishing or withholding, harsh working and living conditions, restricted communication, and threats of physical violence as coercive tactics to retain their labor. Often with direct government support, companies reportedly compel these workers to carry out illegal logging and fishing activities, making them vulnerable to arrest. Government officials reportedly facilitate trafficking by accepting bribes to allow undocumented migrants to enter the country or ignore trafficking situations, and some may exploit sex trafficking victims or procure victims for other individuals in return for political favors or votes. Corruption among forestry officials in particular may be permissive of forced labor among loggers and sex trafficking in communities situated near logging sites; some of these officials reportedly accept bribes to issue logging permits in violation of environmental standards and land ownership rights, leading to displacement and concomitant loss of livelihood that make some communities more vulnerable to exploitation.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future