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CURAÇAO (Tier 3)*

The Government of Curaçao 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, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Curaçao remained on Tier 3.  Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including providing shelter and other services to two trafficking victims, prosecuting two alleged traffickers, and adopting and funding a NAP to improve law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking.  However, the new NAP did not include lines of effort to protect victims or prevent the crime, courts did not convict any traffickers, and the government 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 demonstrated limited familiarity with human trafficking and conflated the crime with migrant smuggling, hindering the effectiveness of prosecution, prevention, and protection efforts.  The government’s coordination with civil society organizations and internally, across agencies, was inadequate.

  • Increase efforts to identify victims, including through proactively screening vulnerable populations, such as detained 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. 
  • Fully implement the SOP for victim identification and referral and train officials on its use. 
  • Improve coordination and information-sharing with anti-trafficking stakeholders within the government, across the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and civil society.
  • Vigorously investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes and convict traffickers, including complicit officials, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms. 
  • Increase funding for victim services, including staffing, specialized care for trafficking victims, and services accessible to male victims. 
  • Provide appropriate shelter options for trafficking victims, including male victims. 
  • Allocate and disburse sufficient resources for anti-trafficking efforts. 
  • Fully implement the current NAP and expand it to include objectives for victim protection and prevention of trafficking.

The government maintained 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 100,000 Antillean guilder ($55,550) for crimes 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 law enforcement entity responsible for anti-trafficking efforts; DGC worked closely with the public prosecutor’s office to investigate trafficking crimes.  Authorities initiated one investigation in 2022, compared with one in 2021 and one in 2020.  The government did not report any ongoing investigations from previous years.  The government prosecuted two suspected labor traffickers in 2022, compared with prosecuting one alleged trafficker for sex and labor trafficking in 2021 and no prosecutions in 2020.  In this case, which progressed from investigation to prosecution in four months, officials responded to a police report of forced labor in the cultivation of dragon fruit on a rural property; DGC arrested two suspects and charged them with human trafficking and migrant smuggling for reportedly forcing the women to perform agricultural and household labor while sexually abusing them.  Judges did not convict any traffickers in 2022, compared with no convictions in 2021 and five (three for sex trafficking and two for sex and labor trafficking) in 2020.  The government did not report any appeals cases involving trafficking charges in 2022, compared with appeals cases involving five sex traffickers in 2021.  The courts ruled to acquit one alleged trafficker of trafficking charges in 2022, compared with acquitting six alleged traffickers in 2021.  Courts often convicted suspected traffickers of related crimes – such as migrant smuggling and labor code violations – in lieu of trafficking, even when prosecutors levied trafficking charges; observers indicated the judiciary’s limited familiarity with trafficking led prosecutors to charge traffickers with these related crimes to secure conviction.  Prosecutors struggled to build cases without victim testimony.  The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes.

The DGC funded anti-trafficking activities under its transnational crime budget but, like most Curaçao Police Force (KPC) units, operated with resource and personnel shortages.  Some officials reported lack of funding and limited government resources disincentivized investigation of trafficking crimes.  Observers expressed concern nonspecialized law enforcement officials, such as patrol officers, had a limited understanding of trafficking and did not use a victim-centered approach.  The government trained 54 KPC officers on trafficking indicators and victim identification in 2022.  The public prosecutor’s office had a designated prosecutor responsible for most human trafficking cases; however, this prosecutor also managed a broader portfolio spanning several subject matter areas.  Officials reported the prosecutor’s office also suffered from capacity limitations and sometimes struggled to assign sufficient staff to major investigations.  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.

The government maintained inadequate protection efforts.  Authorities reported identifying two trafficking victims in 2022, compared with not identifying any victims in 2021 and 2020, three victims in 2019, and 44 victims in 2018.  Officials identified the victims, both Colombian women exploited in labor trafficking, during a law enforcement operation on a rural property, prompted by a police report.  Observers and officials reported a third woman worked under similar conditions at the property but could not be located; reportedly, she returned to Venezuela, her country of origin, without government support.

The DGC conducted assessments to confirm trafficking victims’ status as such.  Officials did not regularly perform proactive screenings among vulnerable groups, such as migrants or individuals in commercial sex, construction, supermarkets, and catering, despite a Kingdom-wide requirement to do so.  KPC officials utilized a standard intake form when interviewing detained migrants; the intake form included questions regarding migrants’ vulnerability to trafficking.

The government reported providing shelter, medical care, and psychological support to two trafficking victims in 2022, compared with providing some pre-trial support to three trafficking victims (two sex trafficking victims and one labor trafficking victim), in 2021.  Both victims agreed to support ongoing law enforcement proceedings and returned to their country of origin within 90 days of being identified.  In practice, assistance for victims was contingent upon cooperation with law enforcement efforts to prosecute traffickers.  The government’s procedures outlined services for trafficking victims, including shelter, meals, medical attention, and psychological services, and assigned an agency to provide each service.  The agencies responsible lacked dedicated funds to furnish these services; consequently, service provision was inconsistent and costs often fell to the DGC or international organizations.  Civil society service providers administered most of the services, such as housing and medical care, available to victims.

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, up to 18 months, 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 suggested the government’s infrequent issuance of residence permits and the absence of a long-term residency option discouraged victims and civil society organizations from reporting possible trafficking cases to government officials.  Through a separate administrative process, victims were eligible to apply for temporary work permits; however, the costs associated with the application rendered these permits inaccessible to most victims.  Observers reported victims’ inability to work legally caused them hardship and hampered efforts to hold traffickers accountable; without a work permit, some victims receiving government services sought informal work or withdrew their support for ongoing investigations and prosecutions to depart Curaçao.  The law stipulated trafficking victims could receive up to 50,000 guilder ($28,090) in restitution from traffickers.  The government could advance victims 5,000 guilder ($2,810) to facilitate victims’ timely access to court-ordered restitution; however, officials reported significant delays and a multi-year backlog in restitution payments for victims of all crimes.  Courts did not order restitution for any trafficking victims in 2022.

The government had an SOP for identifying trafficking victims and referring them to services; however, stakeholders’ use of the SOP was inconsistent.  The SOP stipulated officials should refer all potential trafficking victims, male and female, to the DGC and the victim support bureau (SSHC), which coordinated services for victims of all crimes.  The government did not operate any specialized shelters for trafficking victims.  The SSHC 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 six individuals.  High rates of domestic violence meant the shelter had limited capacity for trafficking victims.  Authorities required victims to check in with facility staff when leaving the domestic violence shelter; observers expressed concern the shelter’s safety protocols, designed to protect victims at risk of partner violence, were overly restrictive and inappropriate for 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 2022.  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.  When existing shelter facilities reached maximum capacity, the government placed victims in short-term government-funded accommodations.

The government’s victim identification SOP stipulated victims were entitled to up to 15 days’ reflection period, while receiving services, before deciding to file a police report or participate in the trial against the trafficker; however, the government had not reported implementing a reflection period for any victims identified since 2019.  The government did not report any trafficking victim assistance expenditures in 2022, compared with 8,000 guilder ($4,490) in 2020, the most recent year for which data was available.  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).  Observers reported the SSHC was understaffed and relied on volunteer workers to provide support, including psychological services, to victims.  Foreign victims participating in trials were entitled to similar care as domestic victims.  The government could provide no-cost medical insurance, funded by the Ministry of Social Services and Labor, to foreign trafficking victims.  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.

The government increased prevention efforts, which remained insufficient.  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.  In 2022, the government assigned a policy advisor to support the national coordinator part-time.  The national coordinator managed a dedicated anti-trafficking budget of 200,000 guilder ($112,360), as well as additional financial contributions from the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the government did not spend the full budget in 2022.  The task force met two times in 2022 to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts across the government.  Observers indicated neither the task force nor other government entities coordinated substantively with civil society organizations; they also noted the government’s interagency coordination on anti-trafficking efforts appeared inconsistent, despite the task force.  The government finalized and adopted the 2022-2026 NAP to guide anti-trafficking efforts, replacing the 2017-2022 NAP.  However, the new NAP was not comprehensive; it outlined efforts to hold traffickers criminally accountable but did not include objectives to protect victims or prevent the crime.  The government allocated 250,000 guilder ($140,450) for training under the NAP.  The government developed and launched a new campaign to raise awareness of labor exploitation, including forced labor, using Kingdom of the Netherlands funding.  It continued to conduct radio- and television-based awareness messaging, as well as distribute awareness materials at public events.  The government reported spending approximately 76,000 guilder ($42,697), including 39,000 guilder ($21,910) from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, on awareness-raising efforts in 2022; it did not report its spending in 2021.  The SSHC operated a generic victim assistance hotline, which did not receive any trafficking-related calls in 2022, compared with one in 2021; calls to the hotline were not toll-free.  The national coordinator reported collaborating with national anti-trafficking coordinators from Aruba, the Netherlands, and Sint Maarten to revise the MOU outlining coordinated anti-trafficking efforts across the Kingdom of the Netherlands; the governments did not finalize the draft MOU before the end of the reporting period.  The government 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.  Government officials coordinated with airport administration to monitor ticketing and passenger logs for patterns indicative of human trafficking.

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.  Women and girls working in Curaçao’s “snack bars” are vulnerable to sex trafficking; bar owners recruit victims with offers of work as waitresses or “trago girls” and subsequently force them into commercial sex.  Traffickers exploit migrant workers from other Caribbean countries, South America, the People’s Republic of 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-speaking traffickers, who may purport to offer employment assistance in Curaçao.  Recent research suggests traffickers in Curaçao may exploit more Curaçaoan and more male victims than previously understood.

* 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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