State Department Releases 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report

  • Posted on: 28 June 2017
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
News: 

The Government of Haiti does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government made key achievements during the reporting period; therefore, Haiti was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. These achievements included strengthening partnerships between the government’s interministerial anti-trafficking commission (TIP Commission) and international organizations; increasing investigations and prosecutions, and obtaining the first three convictions under the 2014 anti-trafficking law; creating a post-Hurricane Matthew emergency working group to address human trafficking, providing training to government officials in the three most affected departments, and opening a temporary national 24-hour hotline for trafficking victims; and committing resources for the work of the TIP Commission. Despite these achievements, Haiti’s cabinet ministers and key government ministries did not prioritize anti-trafficking efforts in Haiti; and the justice system lagged behind in prosecuting cases, which impaired efforts to prosecute traffickers and protect victims

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HAITI

  • Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including those responsible for domestic servitude and child sex trafficking; prioritize the development and implementation of a new national anti-trafficking action plan and increased ong-term funding for trafficking victim assistance;
  • Train police, prosecutors, and judges in all departments of Haiti on trafficking; in partnership with NGOs, adopt and employ formal procedures to guide officials in proactive victim identification and referral to appropriate shelters and services;
  • Implement measures to address the vulnerabilities leading to child domestic servitude, including protecting child victims of neglect, abuse, and violence;
  • draft and enact a child protection law with specific protections for child trafficking victims; and educate the Haitian public about children’s rights to education and freedom from slavery to counteract tolerance of child domestic servitude.

PROSECUTION

The government increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and secured its first three trafficking convictions during the reporting period. The 2014 anti-trafficking law (No. CL/2014- 0010) prohibits all forms of human trafficking by criminalizing sex trafficking, forced labor, and the intentional retention of identity documents or passports for the purpose of committing trafficking-related offenses. The law criminalizes those who knowingly obtain the sexual services of a trafficking victim.

The law applies to trafficking offenses committed both within and outside of Haiti. The law prescribes penalties of seven to 15 years imprisonment and a fine ranging from 200,000 to 1.5 million gourdes ($3,009 to $22,570), which is sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. It provides for increased penalties of up to life imprisonment for human trafficking committed with aggravating circumstances, such as if the victim is a child or the trafficker is a public official.

During the reporting period, the government investigated six potential new trafficking cases, initiated three new prosecutions involving 11 defendants, including a government official, and obtained three trafficking convictions, including that of a former government official. In the previous reporting period, the government reported four new investigations, two prosecutions, and no convictions. Sentences ranged from five to seven years imprisonment and fines of 82,150 to 1.2 million gourdes ($1,236 to $18,056). The government provided 946 members of the Haitian national police with three hours of human trafficking and smuggling training. However, NGOs reported government personnel in some provinces lacked training on the anti-trafficking law and its implementation, resulting in lesser charges and informal arrangements to dispose of cases.

The government cooperated with officials in The Bahamas and Chile to facilitate victim protection and prosecution of two trafficking cases involving Haitian nationals.            ,

PROTECTION

The government maintained minimal efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims. The government did not systematically track data regarding victim identification. However, reported cases suggest the government identified at least 43 potential trafficking victims during the course of six potential new investigations. An international organization reported 20 Haitian and 17 foreign victims were subjected to forced labor between 2014 and 2016. In 2016, Haitian officials removed children, including some trafficking victims, from vulnerable situations and referred them to appropriate care. The government placed child trafficking victims in shelters on a provisional basis prior to their placement in a recently developed foster care program.

One government ministry estimated it identified “hundreds” of child domestic servants in situations with trafficking indicators, but these estimates could not be correlated with existing investigations or prosecutions. The 2014 anti-trafficking law tasked the TIP Commission to develop standard operating procedures to guide officials in the identification and rehabilitation of trafficking victims; required the government to provide protection, medical, and psycho-social services to victims; and created a governmentregulated fund to assist victims. The government worked with an international organization during the reporting period to draft standard operating procedures for victim identification and referral; however, it had not finalized and implemented these procedures.

The government did not dedicate funding for victim assistance or provide any specialized services for adult or foreign victims. Government officials referred child trafficking victims to its social welfare agency, which did not have funding for their care. Instead, the agency referred child victims to government-registered residential care centers that, due to a lack of resources, provided short-term medical and counseling services, family tracing, pre-return assessments, and some support for the families receiving these victims.

The ministries of labor and social welfare lacked staff and resources to inspect worksites for indicators of forced labor. The government did not have a formal program to assist victims who returned to Haiti, but did refer victims to international and non-governmental organizations. Authorities worked closely with the U.S. Coast Guard to receive Haitian migrants who have attempted to leave by boat in an effort to reach The Bahamas or the United States, to screen unaccompanied children and to facilitate their re-integration with family members. The law provides temporary residency during legal proceedings for foreign victims of human trafficking, as well as access to legal counsel, interpretation services, and permanent residency in Haiti if the victim so chooses; however, the government has not provided these services and would be unlikely to have the financial resources to implement them. The law also protects victims from liability for crimes committed while being trafficked, but there was no information regarding whether this provision was used.

PREVENTION

The government slightly increased efforts to prevent trafficking. The Haitian president committed a small amount of resources ($140,000) for anti-trafficking efforts; however, the resources were not used for assistance to trafficking victims. International donors continued to provide the majority of funding. Donors assisted the government in making progress in the areas of prosecution, protection, and public awareness; however, coordination among donors and the government remained weak. The 2015-2017 national action plan remained in place; however, the TIP Commission no longer regarded it as a guiding document.

In early 2017, the TIP Commission engaged an international donor to assist in developing a new national action plan for 2017-2022. The TIP Commission established a post-Hurricane Matthew emergency working group to address human trafficking, trained government officials in the three most affected departments, and launched a temporary national 24-hour hotline for trafficking victims accompanied by an awareness campaign. The government also launched a campaign via television and radio called “I am better with my family” to curb the practice of child domestic servitude and encourage parents to keep their children at home. The government managed a social services hotline and received an estimated 50 calls related to children in domestic servitude; but this data could not be verified.

Since the Government of the Dominican Republic’s June 2015 deadline for registration of migrant workers in that country, the Haitian government coordinated efforts with international organizations and NGOs to receive Haitian expellees. However, the continued dysfunction of the Haitian civil registry system and weak consular capacity to provide identification documentation left many Haitians at risk of remaining undocumented in the Dominican Republic and subject to deportation—recognized risk factors for vulnerability to trafficking. The government issued regulations requiring adults with a Haitian passport to have written government authorization to cross the border with any child to prevent child trafficking; however, reports indicated many adults with children crossed with foreign passports to avoid this requirement. Haiti does not have effective laws or policies to regulate foreign labor recruiters or prevent fraudulent recruiting. The 2014 anti-trafficking law includes sanctions for individuals who knowingly procure commercial sex acts from trafficking victims, but authorities had not prosecuted anyone for this crime. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, Haiti is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Most of Haiti’s trafficking cases involve children in domestic servitude who often are physically abused, receive no payment for services rendered, and have significantly lower school enrollment rates. A December 2015 joint government and international organization report on children in domestic servitude found one in four children do not live with their biological parents and estimated 286,000 children under age 15 work in domestic servitude. The report recommended the government put measures in place to prevent exploitation, including domestic servitude; protect at-risk children and victims of neglect, abuse, violence, or exploitation, including sex trafficking and forced labor; and draft and enact a child protection law. A May 2015 UN report documented members of its peacekeeping mission in Haiti sexually exploited more than 225 Haitian women in exchange for food, medication, and household items between 2008 and 2014. A significant number of children flee employers’ homes or abusive families and become street children. Female foreign nationals, particularly citizens of the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking and forced labor in Haiti. Other vulnerable populations include children in private and NGO-sponsored residential care centers; Haitian children working in construction, agriculture, fisheries, domestic work, and street vending in Haiti and the Dominican Republic; internally displaced persons including those displaced by Hurricane Matthew and the 2010 earthquake; members of female-headed, single-parent families, and families with many children; Haitians living near the border with the Dominican Republic; Haitian migrants, including those returning from the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Mexico, the United States, or The Bahamas; and LGBTI youth often left homeless and stigmatized by their families and society. Haitian adults and children are vulnerable to fraudulent labor recruitment and are subject to forced labor, primarily in the Dominican Republic, other Caribbean countries, South America, and the United States.

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Miami Herald

12/25/2017

By Jacqueline Charles

A look at how child protection agents with the International Organization for Migration and Haiti’s child welfare agency, IBESR, are clamping down on child trafficking along the porous border between Ouanminthe in northeast Haiti and Dajabón in the Dominican Republic. jcharles@miamiherald.com

They’re abandoned and separated. This is the perilous plight of Haiti’s children

BY JACQUELINE CHARLES

Child protection specialists throw out one question after another, while offering street descriptions and city names in their quest for clues, as the soft-spoken boy sits quietly at a play table. Uncooperative and seemingly evasive, the boy, who says his name is Jefferson Joseph, rests his head between his clenched fists. After a few seconds, he finally offers up a first and last name, and then his age. But over the next few minutes, the 6-year-old provides a confusing list of nicknames for his dad, and a city name that none of the workers has heard of. “Your dad, what is his name?” asks Michelot Difficile. “Tonton? Tonton what?”

Difficile works on the Haiti-Dominican border with the International Organization for Migration, which helps Haiti’s child welfare agency, the Institut du Bien-Être Social et de Recherches, or IBESR, reunite abandoned and separated children with their families. The United Nations’ agency also monitors trafficking along the border. On this day, Difficile isn’t sure whether the youngster is intentionally stonewalling him, as traffickers often coach their young victims to do, or whether he truly can’t remember where he’s from. In July, the boy was picked up in the market in the Haitian border city of Ouanaminthe, and transported by IBESR to a safe house at the end of a winding dirt road. “He doesn’t talk,” said Judith Surlin, the social worker who runs the safe house opened by the Soeurs Saint-Jean religious order. “No one has ever come to ask for him.”

A safe house supported by the Soeurs Saint-Jean religious order in Ouanaminthe, Haiti, provides a secure, temporary space for children who have been abandoned or separated from their parents along Haiti’s porous northeast border with the Dominican Republic. Jefferson’s stay at the shelter was supposed to be temporary — 15 days at the most. But he’s been here now for six months, the longest of any of the 20 children currently under Surlin’s care. Most of the children, she said, were abandoned by their parents in Haiti. Two were separated from their parents after they were deported by the Dominican Republic, as part of its continuing effort to repatriate undocumented Haitians and Dominicans born of Haitian descent who were retroactively stripped of their citizenship after a 2013 Dominican court ruling.

In a country where thousands of children are trafficked every year, the plight of Haiti’s children along this porous border is a perilous one. There are the street children, who have nowhere to go after fleeing abuse or being abandoned by their parents. There are those who are deported to Haiti without their parents, like 6-year-old Roberto, who was sent across the bridge by Dominican officials after he was picked up. Some are outright victims of trafficking, like Guerline, a 15 year-old sitting next to Jefferson who said her brother-in-law was arrested by Haiti National Police officers as he attempted to cross with her into the Dominican Republic.

All were brought to the shelter, where they wait and hope someone comes to claim them. Sometimes, parents do come, said Surlin. But other times they don’t, leaving the children in limbo. Eventually, they are transferred to a long-term residential facility such as an orphanage until they reach 18. “Parents have given up,” Surlin said. “In the past, things were not like this. Parents would be living in a difficult situation, but they would make do and take care of their children the best way they could. That’s not what’s happening today. They are walking away.”

Along the Haiti-Dominican border in Ouanaminthe, a child protection worker with Haiti’s child welfare agency, the Institut du Bien-Être Social et de Recherches, or IBESR, questions a Haitian mother who is headed to Dajabón in the Dominican Republic. Child protection agents routinely monitor the border in an effort to clamp down on trafficking and ensure that children have legal documents to transit.

Supported by UNICEF and IOM, the safe house is in many ways a lifesaver. The children are provided with meals and a place to sleep; trundle beds are in both the girls’ room, which is painted pink, and in the boys’ quarters, painted blue. Outside, there is a garden and a large field for playing.

Yet, its cheery facade, with life-sized murals of brown children and the words, “All children should live with their families,” scribbled in Creole, can’t diminish the magnitude of the daily struggle that child protection workers face as they try to serve those most at-risk. The child protection specialists acknowledge that the temporary shelter, which can house only 30 kids, doesn’t begin to make a dent in the desperate plight of Haiti’s border children. “The work that we’re doing here isn’t easy,” Surlin said. “These are children who grew up in the streets. … There are children who come here and are victims of sexual violence.”

Efforts to do more to protect Haiti’s children were stepped up after a group of American missionaries were accused of kidnapping 33 children and trying to take them out of the country in the wake of Haiti’s devastating Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake. The arrest, which made international headlines, highlighted a broken child welfare system and the vulnerability of children, thousands of whom are forced into domestic servitude or abandoned on the streets or in unregulated orphanages.

The Ouanaminthe-Dajabón border in northeast Haiti is not only popular with vendors, but also traffickers. With its child welfare system under a cloud of international scrutiny, Haitian officials vowed to do more to protect children. Last year, the government launched its first ever foster care system, and in May, Haiti finally came into full compliance with the Hague Adoption Convention regulating international adoptions. “We recognize their effort to combat trafficking,” said Robin Diallo, interim chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Port-au-Prince. “But there is still work to do.”

Human trafficking, especially involving children along the 245-mile border dividing Haiti and the Dominican Republic, remains a daunting concern — so much so that Haiti-born actors Garcelle Beauvais and Jimmy Jean-Louis recently teamed up to star in and co-produce the film Lalo’s House, about Haiti’s child trafficking crisis. “The more people know about it, the more they will care,” Jean-Louis said from a movie set in Los Angeles. “The more we expose it, the less they will do it. You have to stop it in a progressive kind of way and I believe Lalo’s House is going to raise awareness and self guilt.”

In its 2017 Trafficking in Persons report, the U.S. State Department noted that Haiti “had slightly increased efforts to prevent trafficking.” It noted several changes, including securing three convictions during the reporting period. But with hundreds of thousands of children still being exploited as domestic servants or restaveks, and “a significant number” of children fleeing employers’ homes or abusive families for the streets, the government needs to do more, the report said.

Adding to the concern, say IOM officials, who, before funding ran out on Oct. 31, had closely monitored the four official border crossings for trafficking, are the ongoing deportations of Haitians from the Dominican Republic. Among the 229,885 individuals who registered with IOM after crossing into Haiti between July and September were thousands of children who were returned without their parents — a violation of international law and the agreement between the two countries, IOM said. “The numbers speak for themselves,” said Olivier Tenes, head of IOM’s operations in northeast Haiti. “In September, 156 minors have been repatriated.”

In all, 4,167 presumed unaccompanied and separated children were returned to Haiti from the Dominican Republic between July and September, according to IOM’s tracking data. And most of them came across the Massacre River Bridge in Ouanaminthe. On a recent market day, IOM and IBESR child protection workers stood on the bridge looking for children coming across without their parents, and those illegally headed toward Dajabón in the the Dominican Republic.

Two young boys who are illegally being taken to the Dominican Republic hold onto their father while he’s being questioned by child protection workers with the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration and Haiti’s child welfare agency, the Institut du Bien-Être Social et de Recherches or IBESR.

As pedestrians fought their way through the chaotic crowds of vendors and motorcycles and wheelbarrows laden with goods, workers dressed in identifiable child protection T-shirts and others camouflaged in regular clothing monitored the movement. Then, an IBESR worker spotted a couple walking with two boys into the crowd.

They were motioned to stop and come toward the railing where a child protection specialist sat with a notebook and Difficile, the IOM officer, monitored. The worker them proceeded to ask the adults for documents to determine whether the boys were traveling legally or being trafficked. The two boys, ages 6 and 8, grabbed onto their father while standing at a distance from the woman. When a worker questioned one of the boys, he unwittingly conceded that the woman wasn’t his mother and the name he provided did not match his name on the fake birth certificate that had been provided. “This prevention is pretty important,” Tenes said. “We have thousands of minors that are deported from the DR because they do not have papers so most of the time they are deported. … The work is to prevent and avoid that by preventing them from crossing the border illegally.”

Diallo, the U.S. diplomat, welcomes that Haiti’s child welfare agency has partnered not just with international agencies, but also with the Haiti National Police and its child brigade unit “to make that border crossing more difficult.” She also noted that the U.S. is also supportive of the new border police unit that is being championed by police chief Michel-Ange Gédéon. Gédéon will travel to Ouanaminthe on Wednesday to launch the unit, which will enlist drones and 100 police officers to fight trafficking in the border town. “We think the PNH is going to add something to border security,” said Diallo. “The Haitians are taking this very seriously.”

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