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Marshall Islands (Tier 2)

The Government of Marshall 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 with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Marshall Islands was upgraded to Tier 2. These efforts included establishing a specialized anti-trafficking unit within the Attorney General’s office to oversee anti-trafficking efforts and an anti-trafficking working group to implement the national action plan (NAP). The government continued an investigation into a government official allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes and conducted awareness campaigns for school-aged children and the public. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. For the fourth consecutive year, the government did not identify any confirmed trafficking victims and did not utilize proactive procedures to identify trafficking victims. The government did not conduct timely victim assessments or provide protective services to potential trafficking victims while their cases were under investigation. The government did not prosecute any traffickers and has not convicted any traffickers since 2011.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • 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 individuals in commercial sex, undocumented migrant workers, foreign fishermen, and victims of gender-based violence, 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.
  • Dedicate funding and resources to implement the NAP.
  • Eliminate recruitment or placement fees charged to workers by labor recruiters and ensure any recruitment fees are paid by employers.
  • Develop and conduct public anti-trafficking education and awareness-raising campaigns, including in outer island communities.
  • Increase access to and knowledge of protective services for outer island community residents and dedicate funding towards assisting with travel costs to receive assistance.
  • Undertake research to study human trafficking in the country and make the findings publicly available.
  • Accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

PROSECUTION

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 younger than age 18. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape.

For the second consecutive year, the government did not report any new prosecutions, and the government has not convicted any traffickers since 2011. Authorities continued the investigation, begun in 2020, of the former Director of Immigration for alleged complicity in trafficking crimes; the investigation remained ongoing. The government did not report any other investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. In connection with the above case, the government opened a potential trafficking investigation involving six alleged traffickers; the case was ongoing. Authorities did not report an update to an investigation of a suspected commercial sex establishment opened the previous year. Government officials’ limited understanding of trafficking indicators and the perceived requirement of movement for trafficking crimes hindered progress.

The government established a specialized anti-trafficking unit within the Attorney General’s office criminal division to oversee anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. The unit was composed of two full-time positions, one funded by the government and the other donor-funded; the donor- funded position remained open at the end of the reporting period. In March 2022, the government hired a new chief prosecutor to address prosecutorial gaps, such as lack of case management, strategy and policy development, and funding and resources. The government, in partnership with an international organization, trained national and local law enforcement officials on victim identification, evidence collection, and the victim identification and referral standard operating procedures (SOPs). In addition, the government provided trauma-informed response training to front-line responders, including law enforcement and health care professionals. The government reported it redirected or limited resources and institutional capacity among law enforcement and other government agencies as a result of the pandemic; this may have adversely affected the government’s ability to detect and address trafficking. The government reported a reduction in court cases heard, which may have been due to the pandemic and the adjustments of the courts to pandemic-related restrictions. The government lacked technical capacity for law enforcement to employ investigative and surveillance techniques and for prosecutors to use effective case management and court filing procedures. In addition, the government lacked sufficient institutionalized law enforcement training, recruitment of officers, law enforcement facilities, and funding to combat trafficking.

PROTECTION

The government maintained efforts to protect victims. The government did not report implementing SOPs, developed in 2016 in partnership with an international organization, for the identification and referral of victims. The government did not report identifying any trafficking victims, compared with identifying one potential trafficking victim during the previous reporting period. The government did not report conducting victim assessments during the reporting period for six potential trafficking victims involved in an ongoing trafficking investigation. Due to the requirement to be officially classified as a victim before receiving protective services and services being contingent on authorities initiating a prosecution, authorities did not provide the potential victims with protective services while it investigated their case during the reporting period. 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. Government-provided services could include counseling, legal assistance, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, and accessible services for victims with disabilities. Authorities could provide protective services only in urban centers, which hindered the ability for residents of outer island communities to receive assistance. The government maintained a memorandum of understanding with an NGO to refer 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; three social workers coordinated assistance to trafficking victims. NGOs could provide shelter for adult victims, and the victims could leave safe houses or shelters unchaperoned unless authorities determined that doing so might put them in danger. The government reported providing $125,000 of funding to an NGO to provide free legal advice and support to victims of crime, including trafficking victims, compared with $100,000 provided in the previous reporting period for such services. The government reported its ability to ensure that victims had a temporary right of stay but did not provide long-term alternatives to removal to countries where victims may face hardship or retribution. The government did not have an anti-trafficking hotline.

PREVENTION

The government increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The National Task Force on Human Trafficking (NTHT) led the government’s anti- trafficking efforts. The NTHT encompassed a wide array of voluntarily assigned government, NGO, and international organization members and reported meeting three times, compared with none reported the previous year. The government reported pandemic activities took precedent over other matters, which may have hindered prevention measures. The government continued implementation of its NAP, developed in March 2021. The NTHT created a NTHT working group, in November 2021, to ensure continual implementation of the NAP and provide quarterly implementation updates to the NTHT. In partnership with an international organization, the government held awareness campaigns and workshops targeting school-age children and the general public. The government reported conducting immigration and labor inspections. Authorities charged one employer with 14 fines for illegal employment and visa violations, compared with 22 fines the previous year. Authorities closed a labor law violation investigation and an employee-initiated civil lawsuit against an employer for passport withholding, initiated the previous year, because the employee dropped charges and departed the country; the government reported the employee and employer settled out of court.

The government continued to take measures to prevent the commercial sexual exploitation of women and girls by prohibiting unauthorized visitors onboard 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. The government, in partnership with an NGO, supported the start of a five-year research and programs project to assess and address the scope of trafficking in Marshall Islands. The government reported using a digital registry system, developed in 2018, 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 provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel. The government did not regulate recruitment fees, which continued to contribute to debt-based coercion among foreign workers. The government did not take steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. Marshall Islands was not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

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, hotels, and suspected commercial sex establishments. 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 People’s Republic of China (PRC)-affiliated and other foreign fishing vessels; some traffickers recruit PRC national women with the promise of other work and, after paying large recruitment fees, they force them into commercial sex. Marshallese residents of outer island communities may experience increased vulnerability to trafficking due to limited economic opportunities, geographic location, and the cost to travel to urban centers to seek assistance. 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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