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Curaçao (Tier 3)

The Government of Curaçao[1] does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Curaçao was downgraded to Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including providing pre-trial support to three victims participating in legal proceedings against traffickers, awarding restitution to two sex trafficking victims, and extending the use of the national action plan (NAP) that expired in December 2021. However, the government did not convict any traffickers, it did not identify any victims, and it continued to condition foreign victims’ assistance, including residency, on cooperation with law enforcement in cases against traffickers. Lack of funding remained a primary obstacle to robust anti-trafficking efforts. Officials conflated human trafficking with migrant smuggling, hindering the effectiveness of prosecution, prevention, and protection efforts. The judiciary’s limited familiarity with trafficking contributed to frequent acquittals in trafficking cases.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • Increase efforts to identify victims, including through proactively screening vulnerable populations, such as migrants and individuals in commercial sex.
  • Provide potential victims, including those who choose not to cooperate with law enforcement in cases against traffickers, with services and legal alternatives to deportation, especially where victims face harm or abuse in their home country.
  • Routinely screen detained migrants for trafficking indicators and train detention center staff on victim identification procedures.
  • Uphold the reflection period and refer victims to protection services without requiring them first to commit to assist a criminal investigation.
  • Improve coordination and information-sharing with anti-trafficking counterparts across the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
  • Vigorously prosecute and convict traffickers, including complicit officials, sentencing them to significant prison terms.
  • Disseminate to law enforcement and detention facility staff standard operating procedures for victim identification and referral and train officials on their use.
  • Provide specialized care and assistance for trafficking victims, including male victims.
  • Allocate and disburse sufficient resources for anti-trafficking efforts, including protection services and funding for full implementation of the NAP.
  • Provide targeted resources and training for local officials to conduct outreach to vulnerable communities through awareness campaigns on workers’ rights, trafficking indicators, and available resources.

PROSECUTION

The government decreased prosecution efforts. Article 2:239 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to nine years’ imprisonment or a fifth category fine of up to $56,000 for offenses involving a victim 16 years of age or older, and up to 12 years’ imprisonment or a fine for those involving a victim younger than 16. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping.

The Curaçao Police Force’s organized crime unit (DGC) was the lead agency for law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking. Authorities initiated one investigation in 2021, compared with one in 2020 and one in 2019. The government did not report any ongoing investigations from previous years. The government prosecuted one alleged trafficker for sex and labor trafficking in 2021, compared with no prosecutions in 2020 and prosecuting four traffickers (in one case) in 2019. Judges did not convict any traffickers in 2021, compared with convicting five traffickers (three for sex trafficking and two for sex and labor trafficking) in 2020 and eight traffickers in 2019. Curaçaoan prosecutors defended the 2019 convictions of five sex traffickers in a Netherlands-based appellate court; the court ruled to reaffirm the convictions. The courts ruled to acquit six alleged traffickers of trafficking charges—four in a labor trafficking case initiated in 2017, one in a labor trafficking case initiated in 2019, and one in a sex and labor trafficking case initiated in 2021. Observers reported the judiciary’s limited familiarity with trafficking led prosecutors to charge traffickers with related crimes carrying lighter sentences—such as migrant smuggling and labor code violations—instead of trafficking to secure a conviction; courts often convicted suspected traffickers of these related crimes in lieu of trafficking, even when prosecutors levied trafficking charges. Prosecutors reported there were no ongoing trafficking prosecutions or appeals related to trafficking cases at the end of the reporting period. The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; however, appellate courts ruled in two cases involving police officers allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes. In the first case, the court acquitted the official of labor trafficking charges, instead sentencing him to a six-month suspended sentence and 240 hours of community service for facilitating migrant smuggling and violating labor regulations. In the second, the court reaffirmed the complicit official’s sex trafficking conviction.

Law enforcement suffered from budget and personnel shortages across all units. Officials typically requested funding from the central Ministry of Justice (MOJ) budget on a case-by-case basis, but the government did not fill all trafficking-related funding requests, citing funding limitations. Some officials reported the lack of funding and lengthy request process disincentivized investigation of trafficking crimes. MOJ reported it sometimes directed law enforcement officers away from routine duty, including anti-trafficking efforts, to enforce curfews and mandatory closures or cover staffing gaps attributable to the pandemic. The government did not provide trafficking-related investigative training opportunities for law enforcement. The government continued to address human trafficking and migrant smuggling with the same resources and procedures, frequently charging traffickers with smuggling crimes; officials often conflated the two crimes.

PROTECTION

The government maintained inadequate protection efforts. Authorities did not identify any victims for the second consecutive year, compared with identifying three victims in 2019 and 44 victims in 2018. Officials reported a civil society organization identified one potential sex trafficking victim, a Colombian woman; however, the government did not identify her as a trafficking victim after officials interviewed her and could not substantiate reports of her exploitation. Officials did not regularly perform proactive screenings among vulnerable groups, such as individuals in commercial sex, construction, supermarkets, and catering, despite a Kingdom-wide requirement to do so. Similarly, the government did not report screening other vulnerable groups, such as Venezuelans, for trafficking indicators.

The government provided some pre-trial support to three trafficking victims participating in ongoing prosecutions against traffickers (two sex trafficking victims and one labor trafficking victim, all identified in previous reporting periods), compared with providing shelter and healthcare services to one victim, also supporting a trafficking prosecution, in 2020 and 12 victims in 2019. In practice, assistance for victims was contingent upon cooperation with law enforcement efforts to prosecute traffickers. The government’s procedures outlined standard services for trafficking victims, including shelter, meals, medical attention, and psychological services, and assigned an agency to provide each service; however, officials did not report providing such services to any victims during the year. The agencies responsible lacked dedicated funds to furnish these services; consequently, service provision was inconsistent, and the costs often fell to the DGC or international organizations. Civil society organizations provided most requisite services, such as housing and medical care, to the three victims participating in trials against traffickers during the reporting period.

Trafficking victims willing to participate in trials against traffickers could apply for a temporary residence permit valid for six months. Officials could renew the permit if the criminal investigation or prosecution of the trafficker continued; however, authorities canceled residence permits upon the conclusion or dismissal of these criminal proceedings. In practice, funding shortfalls delayed processing of permit applications, creating uncertainty for foreign trafficking victims otherwise vulnerable to deportation. Foreign victims who did not participate in investigations against traffickers were not eligible for temporary residence permits and could not legally remain in Curaçao; due to inconsistent application of victim identification protocols and conflation between trafficking and smuggling, authorities likely deported some mis- or unidentified trafficking victims, including Venezuelan nationals. Observers reported the pandemic likely contributed to fewer deportations during the reporting period. Through a separate administrative process, victims were eligible to apply for temporary work permits; however, many victims could not afford the costs related to the application. The government reported the courts awarded 3,000 Antillean guilder ($1,690) in restitution to two sex trafficking victims in 2021; in another case, the courts referred a victim and his spouse to civil court to seek compensation after acquitting the suspected trafficker.

The government had a handbook outlining the procedure for identifying trafficking victims and referring them to services, developed in coordination with an international organization in 2020; in January 2021, the government expanded use of these procedures to assist male trafficking victims, as well as female victims. The government worked with the organization again in 2021 to train officials from the police force, Ministry of Labor, and other ministries on the handbook. The government handbook for victim identification and referral stipulated officials would refer all potential trafficking victims to the victim support bureau (SSHC) and the DGC. The government did not operate any specialized shelters for trafficking victims. The government could place some trafficking victims—adult women and their children up to 12 years of age—in an NGO shelter for victims of domestic violence that could accommodate up to eight individuals; increased domestic violence cases meant the shelter had reduced capacity to accommodate trafficking victims. The government could refer child trafficking victims to guardianship councils for placement in boarding school or foster care; the government did not assist any child trafficking victims in 2021. There were no government or NGO shelters equipped to serve male victims; authorities reported difficulty arranging housing for male trafficking victims in rented accommodations due to budget constraints. Authorities required victims to check in with shelter staff when leaving the facility. When existing shelter facilities reached maximum capacity, the government placed victims in short-term government-funded accommodations.

Under the 2017-2021 NAP, victims could reflect for 30 days before deciding to participate in the trial against the trafficker; however, the government reported it shortened the reflection period in January 2021 to 15 days. The government did not report implementing the 15-day reflection period in 2021 or the 30-day reflection period in 2020 or 2019. The government did not report any trafficking victim assistance expenditures in 2021, compared with 8,000 Antillean guilder ($4,490) in 2020. Similarly, the government did not report the operating budget for the SSHC, which supported victims of all crimes; in 2020, the SSHC operated with a budget of 307,000 guilder ($172,470). Foreign victims were entitled to similar care as domestic victims. The government’s policies included providing no-cost medical insurance, funded by the Ministry of Social Services and Labor, to foreign trafficking victims; because officials required victims to demonstrate adequate medical coverage to apply for residency, this new policy eliminated one barrier to obtaining a residence permit. Kingdom evaluators determined officials inconsistently informed victims of their rights as trafficking victims, especially foreign victims, and lacked written resources enumerating these rights in common languages.

PREVENTION

The government maintained insufficient prevention efforts. The national coordinator nominally led the interagency anti-trafficking task force and oversaw the government’s efforts to combat trafficking; however, the coordinator had other full-time duties. The government reported allocating dedicated funds, 131,500 Antillean guilder ($73,880), for anti-trafficking efforts in the national budget for the first time; however, due to government-wide austerity measures, it may not have disbursed all funds outlined in the budget. The task force met frequently in 2021, and a separate inter-ministerial group met monthly to coordinate anti- trafficking efforts across the government. The government began drafting a 2022-2026 NAP to guide anti-trafficking efforts; during the reporting period, it extended the 2017-2021 NAP to remain in effect until replaced. The national coordinator continued to participate in radio and television programming. The government launched a new trafficking-awareness website and shared awareness materials on social media. MOJ reported it allocated 91,000 Antillean guilder ($51,120) to fund the website’s upkeep and other awareness-raising efforts over three years; the Netherlands contributed an unspecified share of this funding. The SSHC operated a victim assistance hotline, which received one trafficking-related call; calls to the hotline were not toll-free. The government did not confirm whether it continued a public awareness campaign informing the public that women, especially foreign women, employed in Curaçaoan bars could be sex trafficking victims. The government did not make efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not report whether it continued to coordinate with airport administration to monitor ticketing and passenger logs for patterns indicative of human trafficking.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Curaçao. Undocumented migrants in Curaçao, especially the substantial population of Venezuelan nationals, are vulnerable to both sex and labor trafficking. In 2020, pandemic-related movement restrictions prevented migrants from departing Curaçao, creating new trafficking risks for migrants who lost work during the economic downturn associated with the pandemic; traffickers may have exploited some of these individuals, taking advantage of their vulnerable position. Officials reported traffickers’ activity increased during the pandemic, especially individual traffickers acting independently. Traffickers exploit women and girls from Curaçao, Dominican Republic, and Venezuela, among other countries, in sex trafficking. Bar owners recruit women and girls to work as waitresses or “trago girls” and subsequently force them into commercial sex. Traffickers exploit migrant workers from other Caribbean countries, South America, China, and India in domestic servitude, as well as forced labor in construction, landscaping, minimarkets, retail, and restaurants. Venezuelan migrants are vulnerable to exploitation by Spanish-speakers purporting to offer employment assistance in Curaçao. Recent research suggests traffickers in Curaçao may exploit more domestic and more male victims than previously understood.


[1] Curaçao is a semi-autonomous entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. For the purpose of this report, Curaçao is not a “country” to which the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act apply. This narrative reflects how Curaçao would be assessed if it were a separate, independent country. However, the Kingdom is an important contributor to the Government of Curaçao’s anti-trafficking efforts.

U.S. Department of State

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