SOLOMON ISLANDS: Tier 2

The Government of Solomon Islands 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 Solomon Islands remained on Tier 2. These efforts included allocating a budget to review existing trafficking legislation and develop a comprehensive trafficking statute, as well as to accede to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC) and its supplementary Protocols, including the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. The government, in close coordination with relevant partners, conducted anti-trafficking training for government stakeholders, updated victim identification and protection standard operating procedures (SOPs), and for the first time in 25 years funded inspections and monitoring of labor laws by an interagency business committee. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. General lack of awareness of the crime and applicable laws among front-line officers, coupled with under-resourced protection services and widespread observance of informal justice models, adversely affected the government’s ability to respond effectively to trafficking cases. While the government reported identifying four potential victims, it did not report the purpose of the victims’ exploitation; it is therefore possible that the individuals were victims of other crimes. The Labor Division did not conduct systematic monitoring and inspection activities at logging operation sites or in the fishing or mining sectors. Victim protection services remained inadequate, and while the government reported closing several investigations, it did not advance any cases to prosecution or convict any traffickers.

Draft, enact, and implement a stand-alone trafficking in persons law prohibiting all forms of the crime, proscribe dissuasive penalties, and remove sentencing provisions under current legislation that allow fines in lieu of imprisonment for sex trafficking crimes occurring outside of Solomon Islands. • Investigate and prosecute both sex trafficking and labor trafficking offenses and convict and punish traffickers, including complicit officials, with significant prison sentences. • Increase efforts to identify Solomon Islander and foreign victims of sex trafficking and labor trafficking within the country, including in agriculture, the fishing, logging, and mining industries, and in relation to illicit commercial activities. • Provide comprehensive training on all relevant trafficking laws and victim identification procedures to immigration officials, law enforcement officers, and social service providers, including at the provincial level. • Increase government support for victim protection, including through the allocation of funding to shelter services with specialized trafficking knowledge and resources and benefiting both male and female victims. • Increase efforts to collect data on trafficking trends in Solomon Islands and disseminate among interagency anti-trafficking stakeholders. • Institute a campaign to raise public awareness of trafficking, including among remote logging and mining communities in all provinces. • Adopt and implement the 2020-2025 national action plan (NAP) on human trafficking and people smuggling and increase funding to relevant ministries for its implementation. • Ratify existing forestry legislation to include minimum social safeguards and child protection policies. • Accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

The government maintained its law enforcement efforts. The penal code, together with the Immigration Act, criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Article 143 of the penal code criminalized child sex trafficking under its “child commercial sexual exploitation” provision and prescribed penalties of up to 15 or 20 years’ imprisonment, based on the child’s age. Article 145 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking when the offense occurred within the country. Article 145(2) applied to trafficking offenses involving an element of force, fraud, or coercion; it prescribed penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adult victims and up to 25 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving child victims. Article 145(3) prescribed penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for offenses that did not involve an element of force, fraud, or coercion. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The Immigration Act criminalized other forms of trafficking, including crimes in which the recruitment, transportation, harboring, or receipt of the trafficking victim occurred outside Solomon Islands. The Immigration Act prescribed penalties of up to five years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 45,000 Solomon Islands dollars ($5,820), or both for the trafficking of adults; it prescribed a penalty of up to 10 years’ imprisonment, a fine of up to 90,000 Solomon Islands dollars ($11,640), or both for the trafficking of children. These penalties were sufficiently stringent, but with respect to sex trafficking, by allowing for a fine in lieu of imprisonment, they were not commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious offenses. Authorities continued to charge some trafficking cases under criminal statutes carrying lesser penalties. In coordination with a regional body, the government continued to review the Immigration Act in an effort to identify gaps in trafficking-specific provisions, among others. The government allocated 920,000 Solomon Islands dollars ($118,960) to support the development of a comprehensive trafficking in persons statute and to accede to the UNTOC and its supplementary Protocols.

The government reported opening investigations of two potential trafficking cases involving two alleged perpetrators and four potential victims during the reporting period, compared with two investigations in 2019. Similar to the previous reporting period, the government did not report initiating any new prosecutions. Authorities concluded two investigations initiated in the previous reporting period. The government did not advance the cases due to an absence of evidence and testimony, and it deported the alleged perpetrators. In addition, authorities did not advance three potential forced labor cases initiated in a prior reporting period involving an unspecified number of suspects and potential victims. The government did not report any convictions during the reporting period, a decrease from one conviction in 2019.

In partnership with an international organization, the Department of Immigration (DOI) conducted joint training for an unspecified number of law enforcement and other anti-trafficking stakeholders on definitions, investigations, and psycho-social care for victims. The government reported conducting training focused on trafficking law enforcement, investigation, prosecution, victim identification, and protection to law enforcement officers, service providers, public solicitors, and prosecutors, and it shared plans to provide similar training to judicial officials. Geographic challenges, insufficient funding of enforcement agencies, lack of technical expertise, and a lack of awareness of the crime and of the relevant laws among front-line officers, particularly in remote areas of the country, adversely affected the government’s ability to respond effectively to trafficking cases. In addition, observers ascribed a higher likelihood of acquittals and dismissals of such cases to backlogs in court, incomplete investigations, insufficient evidence or lack of testimony, and safety concerns among victims and their families. Traditional justice practices involving retribution or informal restitution arrangements between victims’ families and their traffickers, continued to supplant formal law enforcement efforts and further complicated victims’ access to justice. Authorities did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any government officials for complicity in trafficking offenses.

The government maintained efforts to protect trafficking victims. Key stakeholder agencies and protection partners relied on victim identification and referral processes that were unevenly applied to potential trafficking cases. The government, in conjunction with an international organization, undertook efforts to update and integrate among all stakeholders victim identification, referral, and protection SOPs; however, full implementation of the updated SOPs and coordination mechanisms was contingent on the future passage of the updated NAP. An international organization continued to provide training on victim identification and assistance to an unspecified number of law enforcement officials. The government reported identifying four potential trafficking victims (three overseas Solomon Islanders and one foreign national in Solomon Islands), compared to five victims in 2019 and 39 in 2018; however, the government did not report the purpose of exploitation in these cases, and some or all of them may have been other crimes. Authorities did not report identifying any cases of internal sex trafficking despite its reported prevalence throughout the country. Authorities referred the individuals to an international organization for repatriation, but pandemic mitigation measures, including the lack of commercial flights, reportedly hindered these efforts, and the government did not report whether the identified victims were repatriated.

Despite significant resource constraints due to the pandemic, the government provided its recurring budget allocation of 380,000 Solomon Islands dollars ($49,130) to fund investigations, public awareness, and victim protection and assistance from DOI’s budget, compared with 386,700 Solomon Islands dollars ($50,000) for shelter services and victim care in 2019. The government did not provide trafficking-specific services. The Royal Solomon Islands Police operated a domestic violence shelter in Honiara that could provide services to women and child sex trafficking victims; however, most trafficking victims came from the provinces, making services exclusively located in Honiara difficult to access. The government did not provide shelter for adult males or victims of labor trafficking. Observers noted these insufficiencies in protection services likely discouraged some victims from testifying in court proceedings, thereby hindering prosecutorial progress. The Immigration Act granted the government authority to provide temporary residence permits for foreign victims to assist police with investigations, and it insulated victims against prosecution for immigration-related crimes traffickers compelled them to commit. However, the government did not report providing these or other services to foreign victims identified during the reporting period, nor did it report providing services to foreign victims identified in previous years. The government did not report if it would extend these protections to victims whose cases were investigated under the penal code. The government developed a victim protection policy in connection with the proposed NAP focused on provisions to encourage victims’ voluntary participation in investigations and prosecutions; implementation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. In the absence of established systematized and evenly applied identification and referral procedures, victims were more vulnerable to penalization for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; observers reported in prior years that authorities may have arrested and prosecuted sex trafficking victims for commercial sex violations without screening to determine whether they were trafficking victims. Due to lengthy legal processes, fear of retaliation by traffickers or prosecution by police, and a lack of incentives to remain and participate in cases, it was likely some unidentified foreign victims opted to return to their home countries. The government reported trafficking victims could seek compensation from their employers through civil suits, although it reported that no victims had ever filed such suits.

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. Despite challenges and restrictions associated with the pandemic, the Anti-Human Trafficking Advisory Committee (AHTAC), which included government agencies and members of civil society, met on a regular basis. The government and its partners continued drafting the NAP against Human Trafficking and People Smuggling 2020-2025 to increase internal policy and operational coordination and to prepare the government to accede to and implement the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime and its supplementary protocols; however, the government did not formally adopt or implement the NAP by the end of the reporting period. In a nationally syndicated address about the pandemic, Prime Minister Sogavare raised concern about human trafficking in the fishing sector and committed his government to efforts, in partnership with international organizations, to develop a policy framework to eliminate modern slavery and sexual exploitation on national and foreign fishing vessels operating in Solomon Islands’ waters. The address was significant as, according to an international organization, many Solomon Islanders had not heard the term “human trafficking” before; for those that had, the newspaper was the most cited source. The government also reported completion of both its National Security Strategy and National Border Strategy. The new strategies focused on issues relevant to trafficking, including migration, transnational crime, labor, trade, employment, and investment; implementation was ongoing at the end of the reporting period. In partnership with the Solomon Islands Forestry Association, DOI reportedly continued to conduct awareness-raising campaigns targeting communities near logging and mining operations; the campaign focused on the country’s trafficking laws and the repercussions of involvement in trafficking in persons.

An international organization, in cooperation with the government, conducted a research study focused on trafficking in the fishing industry; the report was under pre-publication review at the end of the reporting period. Unlike in prior years, the Labor Division did not report conducting any monitoring and inspection activities at logging operations or in the fishing or mining sectors. Forestry officials stated a lack of industry regulation or laws outlining child protection and social safeguards prevented them from detecting and investigating potential abuses, including trafficking, related to logging operations’ impact on local communities. The government continued collaborating with a local chamber of commerce to establish a policy for discouraging abuses, including worker exploitation, in labor-intensive industries. The interagency Business Monitoring Joint Agency Committee (BMJAC) was tasked with monitoring, inspecting, and investigating breaches of labor laws. During the reporting period, the government funded BMJAC inspections and monitoring activities throughout the country for the first time in 25 years; the national inspections and monitoring focused on compliance issues, trafficking in persons, and revenue collection. The government reported inspection of 450 foreign investments in six provinces. However, the government did not report identifying any victims from the inspections, nor did it take comprehensive measures to assess or address forced labor in supply chains or enforce its law.

In a prior reporting period, the ministries of health and medical services and of home affairs jointly introduced a civil birth registration program to improve statistical recordkeeping on local populations—a step an international organization previously recommended as a way to better understand and address trafficking vulnerabilities throughout the 900 islands within the country’s diffuse maritime territory. The government established a working committee during the reporting period to review legislation and policies related to the program. Authorities reported an ongoing process to update this registration program through a centralized electronic system. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Solomon Islands was not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Solomon Islands, and traffickers exploit victims from Solomon Islands abroad. Traffickers subject local, South Asian, and Southeast Asian men and women to forced labor and sex trafficking in Solomon Islands, and local children are subjected to sex trafficking and labor trafficking. Women from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines often pay large recruitment fees for jobs in Solomon Islands and upon arrival are forced or coerced into commercial sex. Labor traffickers exploit men from Indonesia and Malaysia in the logging, fishing, palm oil, and mining industries. Fishermen from Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, North Korea, and Fiji report situations indicative of labor trafficking, including non-payment of wages, dire living conditions, violence, and limited food supply, on Taiwan-flagged fishing vessels in Solomon Islands’ territorial waters and ports. Traffickers subject Solomon Islander children to sex trafficking and forced labor within the country, sometimes in exchange for money or goods, particularly near foreign logging camps, on foreign and local commercial fishing vessels, and at hotels, casinos, nightclubs, and other entertainment establishments. The inflow of a cash economic system, coupled with the continuation of an unregulated logging industry, has increased vulnerability to trafficking in remote communities, specifically for women and children. Contacts have observed a recent increase in commercial sex—and a concomitant uptick in sex trafficking—resulting from certain economic changes. Family members are often the facilitators of such transactional agreements. Natural disasters significantly increase Solomon Islanders’ vulnerability to trafficking; Solomon Islanders affected by a cyclone in 2020 may be at higher risk of trafficking due to the economic hardships caused by the destruction. Anecdotal reporting showed an increase in the sexual exploitation of girls, some of which may have been sex trafficking, as many returned to remote villages as a result of the pandemic.

Some official corruption—especially in relation to facilitating irregular migration and involvement in the fishing and forestry sectors—may enable trafficking. Some boys, girls, and young women are recruited for domestic work and subsequently exploited in commercial sex at logging camps. Under informal or traditional justice practices, parents frequently receive payments for sending young women and girls into forced marriages with foreign workers at logging and mining companies, where many of them are exploited in domestic servitude or sex trafficking. Often these payments are rendered after the victims escape or are returned home as informal compensation brokered by local leadership. In this way, local community leaders may also benefit financially from these arrangements. Mining and logging camp leadership reportedly force boys to serve as solairs—illicit brokers procuring girls for sexual and domestic service in worker lodging facilities—and logging camp personnel force young males to work as domestic servants and cooks. Following the government’s decision to cease issuance of new logging licenses, a decline in the industry has contributed to an increase in internal economic migration of communities located in former logging areas; these displaced communities may be at higher risk of sex trafficking and forced labor. Elsewhere, Solomon Islander children may be subjected to forced labor in the agricultural sector, forced harvesting of seafood, and forced criminality in the manufacturing and transportation of drugs and in pickpocketing. Anecdotal reports show an increase in children involved in street vending, begging, and pickpocketing during the pandemic. To pay off debts, some parents reportedly sell their children to other families via “informal adoption” that often involves forced labor or sexual servitude. Traffickers also use Solomon Islands as a transit point to subject foreign individuals to trafficking in other countries.

U.S. Department of State

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