The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is a destination country for women subjected to sex trafficking. Foreign women are reportedly forced into prostitution in bars frequented by crew members of Chinese and other foreign fishing vessels; some Chinese women were recruited with the promise of legitimate work, and after having paid large sums of money in recruitment fees, forced into prostitution in the Marshall Islands. Little data on human trafficking in the Marshall Islands are available, as the government has not made efforts to identify victims proactively, especially among vulnerable populations such as foreign and local women in prostitution and foreign men on fishing vessels in Marshallese waters. The government has not conducted any inquiries, studies, or surveys on human trafficking.
The Government of the Marshall Islands does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government obtained two convictions in the country's first human trafficking cases, and it enacted legislation specifically prohibiting human trafficking. However, the government did not take steps to identify and protect victims of sex trafficking proactively or educate the public about human trafficking. The government devotes few resources to addressing human trafficking.
Recommendations for the Marshall Islands: Train law enforcement and judicial officials to implement new anti-trafficking laws; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and punish trafficking offenders and apply stringent sentences to convicted offenders; take steps to prosecute public officials when there is evidence they are complicit in trafficking activities or hindering ongoing trafficking prosecutions; work with NGOs and international organizations to provide protective services to victims; make efforts to study human trafficking in the country and identify victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution, and foreign workers, including foreign fishermen; adopt proactive procedures to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups, such as foreign workers and women in prostitution; develop and conduct anti-trafficking information and education campaigns; and accede to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
The Government of the Marshall Islands increased its efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses during the reporting period. In September 2011, the government enacted its first legislation specifically prohibiting trafficking in persons, within a package of revisions to the country's criminal code. Article 251 of the revised code, which came into effect in October 2011, defines trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 35 months' imprisonment and a $5,000 fine for the trafficking of adults and up to 10 years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine for the trafficking of children. The penalties for the trafficking of children are sufficiently stringent, but the penalties for trafficking adults are not, and neither penalty is commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. A specific section of Article 251 criminalizes the exploitation of people not legally entitled to work, including through confiscating such workers' passports or travel documents, disclosing the circumstances of their employment to any person, or interfering with workers' access to privacy and freedom of movement. Article 251 also includes updated provisions against promoting prostitution, replacing the Prostitution Act, which was used to prosecute two cases during the year. During the year, authorities initiated one new sex trafficking prosecution and concluded one which remained pending at the close of the previous year; both cases, prosecuted under the country's now-repealed anti-prostitution law, involved Chinese traffickers who lured women to the RMI from China on the promise of legitimate employment and subsequently forced them into prostitution. The government obtained convictions in both cases – the first convictions for human trafficking offenses in the RMI – despite initial concerns that senior officials might attempt to interfere in the trials. The first convicted trafficker received an insufficient sentence of a one-year house arrest and a fine; she was permitted to leave the country to visit family after submitting a bond to the government and is currently serving her sentence in the RMI. The second offender was sentenced to five years' imprisonment, the maximum allowed under the law, and a fine, but four years of the sentence were suspended; due to a lack of prison facilities for women, she is currently serving her sentence as house arrest. The government did not provide any training for law enforcement or other officials on the provisions of the new legislation or how to recognize, investigate, and prosecute instances of trafficking. The government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any public officials for trafficking or trafficking-related offenses during the reporting period. The government also did not provide training to law enforcement or court personnel on identifying trafficking victims and prosecuting trafficking offenders.
The Government of the Marshall Islands made few efforts to ensure trafficking victims' access to protective services during the year. Law enforcement and social services personnel do not have systematic procedures to identify victims of trafficking proactively among high-risk populations with whom they come in contact; this could have resulted in some victims being punished for acts committed as a result of being trafficked. No specialized services were available to trafficking victims. Two foreign victims identified themselves to authorities with complaints of mistreatment. Both victims, in addition to two victims identified during the previous year, assisted authorities in the investigation and prosecution of their cases. The government does not have any mechanisms in place to ensure that trafficking victims receive access to legal, medical, or psychological services, and it did not make efforts to identify or reach out to international organizations or community groups to provide such assistance. The government did not provide financial assistance to repatriate victims to their home countries. The government does not provide legal alternatives to the removal of victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution.
The government made negligible efforts to prevent trafficking during the year. It did not conduct any public campaigns or take other steps to raise public awareness about the dangers of trafficking. The government did not provide general human trafficking awareness training or guidelines to government employees, nor did it take steps to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The lack of explicit labor rights afforded to all workers in the Marshall Islands' labor code increases the vulnerability to forced labor. The RMI is not a party to the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
- U.S. State Department, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons