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. These efforts included identifying a child sex trafficking victim and referring the victim to protective services; for the first time in four years, the government initiated new prosecutions against four alleged traffickers. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. The government did not convict any traffickers, and it did not directly provide shelter or services to victims or support NGOs that did so. Endemic corruption and complicity among officials, particularly in the logging and fishing sectors, continued to facilitate vulnerability to sex trafficking and forced labor among foreign and local populations. Despite limited understanding of trafficking among law enforcement officials, the government did not report any anti-trafficking training activities. A 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. The government did not update existing victim identification standard operating procedures (SOPs) or allocate dedicated funding and resources to its national action plan (NAP). Therefore Papua New Guinea remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.

  • Update, disseminate, and systematically implement existing SOPs for victim identification, referral, and protection and widely train police, immigration, and customs enforcement officers on the SOPs.
  • Investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms, including victims’ family members and officials who facilitate or directly benefit from trafficking.
  • Develop and finalize an anti-trafficking NAP for 2022-2023 and allocate dedicated funding and resources to its implementation.
  • Allocate resources, including dedicated staff, to government agencies to finalize and implement SOPs.
  • Amend the criminal code to criminalize child sex trafficking without elements of force, fraud, or coercion, consistent with international law.
  • In collaboration with civil society, screen for trafficking indicators and prevent penalization for crimes committed as part of their trafficking by victims among vulnerable groups, including internally displaced persons, People’s Republic of China (PRC) nationals employed at worksites affiliated with PRC-based companies, 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.
  • 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 crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit.
  • Ensure all identified victims receive state-funded assistance, regardless of their participation in prosecution proceedings, and include long-term assistance, particularly long-term reintegration support, such as education, counseling, and job-placement.
  • Increase coordination and collaboration between Immigration and Citizenship Authority (ICA) and the Department of Justice and Attorney General (DJAG) to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases.
  • Increase oversight and regulation of the logging and fishing sectors, including by dedicating funding and resources to increasing manpower and surveillance monitoring equipment and penalizing government officials for taking bribes, which hinder anti-trafficking efforts in these sectors.
  • Increase protective services for victims of trafficking in partnership with NGOs and international organizations.
  • Educate government stakeholders on the process to designate an individual as a trafficking victim and simplify the process for doing so.
  • 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 slightly increased 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 August 2021, authorities conducted raids on seven suspected commercial sex establishments and, as a result, detained three alleged traffickers and charged them with child sex trafficking crimes under Sections 208C and 229 of the Criminal Code. The government also initiated an investigation and prosecution of one suspected trafficker in a separate case. This compared with no new investigations in the previous reporting period. For the first time in four years, the government initiated prosecutions against these four alleged traffickers. The government did not provide an update to an ongoing prosecution of an alleged trafficker begun in the previous reporting period. The government did not report any trafficking convictions, compared with one the previous year. The government did not report on sentences handed down to a trafficker convicted of six counts of trafficking and one count of rape in the previous reporting period. Authorities reported detaining 15 foreign nationals, from Bangladesh and the PRC, for allegedly owning and running commercial sex establishments; however, the government did not report conducting further investigations into the commercial sex establishments or whether their operation involved the commission of potential trafficking crimes, and it deported the foreign nationals. The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes but did investigate officials for crimes that increased foreign nationals’ vulnerability to trafficking. Authorities arrested six suspended ICA officers, three from the visa and passports division, who allegedly engaged in misconduct regarding visa applications. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Government officials reported that law enforcement accepting bribes from incoming vessels in Papua New Guinea waters and logging companies has greatly hindered anti-trafficking efforts in those industries. Logging companies bribed officials to bypass inspections and not take law enforcement action against employees accused of crimes, such as sexual abuse and exploitation. Customs officials reported that lack of manpower, monitoring and surveillance equipment, and funding impaired anti-trafficking monitoring efforts of forced labor or sex trafficking on vessels in Papua New Guinea waters.

Observers reported the government redirected resources and had reduced institutional capacity among law enforcement and other government agencies as a result of the pandemic, which may have adversely affected the government’s ability to detect and address trafficking. The government reported a reduction in the number of cases heard by the courts because of interruptions in regular operations due to the pandemic. National and provincial officials’ limited understanding of trafficking, including anti-trafficking legislation, trafficking indicators, and investigative techniques for trafficking crimes, continued to hinder effective law enforcement activity. Enforcement agencies and most government offices remained weak as a result of underfunding, corruption, cronyism, lack of accountability, and a promotion system based on patronage. Observers reported an underfunded and undertrained police force exacerbated the country’s pervasive threat of violence and lawlessness. In addition, observers 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 did not report any anti-trafficking training activities.

The government maintained inadequate efforts to protect victims. The government had SOPs for victim identification and referral and reported their modest implementation, but authorities continued to lack a written procedural guide for implementation as recommended in the NAP, and general awareness of the SOPs among front-line officers remained limited. In addition, the SOPs did not contain adequate measures to screen for trafficking indicators among LGBTQI+ individuals or adults arrested for commercial sex. The government reported movement restrictions, and the closure of government offices due to the pandemic hindered its efforts to collect victim information and conduct screening.

Authorities identified one child sex trafficking victim, compared with three potential trafficking victims in the previous reporting period. Authorities arrested a second potential trafficking victim in connection with an ongoing suspected trafficking prosecution; the government did not report conducting a victim assessment. The government did not report providing any protective services compared with providing limited medical and child protective services to three children in the previous reporting period. An NGO provided the child victim with shelter and counseling services; civil society organizations, without financial or in-kind support from the government, could provide medical and short-term shelter services to victims. 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 government did not have a structured plan to 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. ICA reported allegations of mistreatment and pay discrepancies among workers while conducting immigration enforcement spot checks at logging camps; however, the government did not report taking action against illegal logging sites or make information available on any efforts to identify sex or labor trafficking victims at such sites. In previous reporting periods, the government provided law enforcement agencies rapid screening forms and related victim identification training; the government did not report continuing this practice during the current reporting period, and police continued to rely upon foreign expert assistance to identify victims.

The government did not operate or support an anti-trafficking hotline, and reports of suspected trafficking crimes had to be made either in person at a police station or emailed to the NAHTC and the Department of Justice and Attorney General; therefore, the ability to report trafficking cases for law enforcement action was limited. The victim identification procedures included guidance for protecting foreign victims from punishment for immigration crimes the victims’ traffickers compelled them to commit; however, authorities likely punished or deported some victims for such crimes due to ineffective victim identification, poor interagency coordination, and the requirement for a court to formally determine an individual as a victim of trafficking. 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. 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. 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 2021. The law lacked provisions for victims to seek compensation through civil suits.

The government maintained inadequate efforts to prevent trafficking. In March 2022, the NAHTC met once and continued to lack sufficient resources and commitment from the government. As in past years, 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. The government reported updating the dates of its expired NAP but did not report reviewing or modifying the plan; in addition, the government did not report allocating dedicated funding or resources to its implementation. The government did not report conducting any anti-trafficking awareness campaigns.

The government continued to lack 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 continued to not take adequate steps to prevent forced labor in the logging industry. Authorities reportedly issued forestry permits in violation of preexisting land ownership rights and without further oversight, leading to the displacement and heightened vulnerability of Indigenous communities and to increased risk of labor trafficking among forestry workers. The government did not report providing anti-trafficking training to its labor inspectors. 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 provide anti-trafficking training to its troops prior to their deployment as peacekeepers. The government did not make efforts to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts. Papua New Guinea 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 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 and in 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 younger than 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. Asylum-seekers detained in Papua New Guinea for attempting to reach Australia by boat may have increased vulnerability to forced labor or sex trafficking due to displacement, economic instability, and lack of access to basic resources and community support networks. 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 PRC-based 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, People’s Republic of China (PRC), 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. Men from the PRC may have been forced to work in Papua New Guinea at projects run by PRC-based companies. Traffickers force PRC national, Malaysian, and local men to work at commercial mines and logging camps. Burmese, Cambodian, PRC national, 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 abet 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

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