State Department Releases 2009 TIP Report: Haiti and the DR

  • Posted on: 22 June 2009
  • By: Bryan Schaaf
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Human trafficking is a global problem that affects every country in the world.  Last week, the U.S. State Department released its 2009 annual report on how well partner governments are preventing and responding to human trafficking. Understanding trafficking in Haiti requires understanding the situation in the Dominican Republic.  Neither country complies with minimum standards for eliminating trafficking, although both governments acknowledge the need to do more. This is an issue that clearly requires cross-border collaboration.




Haiti has had a weak government since widespread violence and political instability led to the resignation of the president in 2004. National elections in 2006 elected a president and a Parliament that replaced an appointed interim government, but the effectiveness of state institutions remained severely limited. Civil unrest in April 2008 left the country without a government for five months.


The Government of Haiti’s ability to provide basic services and security for citizens, and to control rampant crime in the capital, Port-au-Prince, continues to be compromised by limited resources, an untrained and poorly equipped police force, entrenched government corruption, and perennially weak government institutions.


The UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) continued to maintain more than 6,950 troops and 1,900 police throughout the country to provide security. Haiti remains a Special Case for the fourth consecutive year as the new government formed in September 2008 has not yet been able to address the significant challenges facing the country, including human trafficking. The U.S. government, however, notes the progress of Haiti’s government, and urges the Government of Haiti to take immediate action to address its serious trafficking-in-persons problems. The following background and recommendations are provided to guide government officials.


Scope and Magnitude: Haiti is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation. Haitian women, men, and children are trafficked into the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, the United States, Europe, Canada, and Jamaica for exploitation in domestic service, agriculture, and construction.


Trafficked Dominican women and girls are forced into prostitution. Some may be patronized by UN peacekeepers in Haiti, although MINUSTAH is implementing programs among its personnel to suppress this practice. Several NGOs noted a sharp increase in the number of Haitian children trafficked for sex and labor to the Dominican Republic and The Bahamas during 2008.


The majority of trafficking cases are found among the estimated 90,000 to 300,000 restaveks in Haiti, and the 3,000 additional restaveks who are trafficked to the Dominican Republic. Poor, mostly rural families send their children to cities to live with relatively wealthier “host” families, whom they expect to provide the children with food, shelter, and an education in exchange for domestic work.


While some restaveks are cared for and sent to school, most of these children are subjected to involuntary domestic servitude. These restaveks, 65 percent of whom are girls between the ages of six and 14, work excessive hours, receive no schooling or payment and are often physically and sexually abused. Haitian labor laws require employers to pay domestic workers over the age of 15, so many host families dismiss restaveks before they reach that age.


Dismissed and runaway restaveks make up a significant proportion of the large population of street children, who frequently are forced to work in prostitution or street crime by violent criminal gangs. Women and girls from the Dominican Republic are trafficked into Haiti for commercial sexual exploitation. Some of the Haitians who voluntarily migrate to the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas, the United States, and other Caribbean nations, subsequently face conditions of forced labor on sugar-cane plantations, and in agriculture and construction.


Government Efforts: Haitian officials recognize that human trafficking is a serious problem in the country, including the exploitation of restavek children as domestic servants. As a policy matter, however, the national police child protection unit, the Brigade for the Protection of Minors (BPM), does not pursue restavek trafficking cases because there is no statutory penalty against the practice.


Haitian law also does not specifically prohibit trafficking in persons, which limits its ability to punish traffickers and protect victims. It did shut down a number of unregistered orphanages whose residents were believed to be vulnerable to trafficking. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MAST) should make every effort to complete its revision of and resubmit to Parliament its comprehensive anti-trafficking bill; Parliament should consider it, and then pass a law prohibiting all forms of human trafficking.


Until then, authorities could begin to enforce existing criminal statutes penalizing slavery, kidnapping, forced prostitution and forced labor to prosecute trafficking offenses. Judges, police, and prosecutors throughout the country need additional anti-trafficking training before they can effectively prosecute and punish trafficking offenders.


Lacking its own resources, the government cooperates with numerous NGOs to assist victims and to train officials about trafficking issues. Haitian immigration officers working with MINUSTAH proactively identified potential child trafficking victims at airports and the border with the Dominican Republic.


The Office of National Identification, with technical assistance from the Organization of American States and the Government of Canada, began to provide national identity cards to persons who reached the legal voting age since the last election. It continued to provide birth certificates to citizens who had not previously been issued official identity documents.


The government does not follow systematic victim identification procedures, though Haitian authorities work closely with NGOs to refer identified victims -- primarily children -- and coordinate protective services as needed. Shelter services for adult trafficking victims do not exist, and the government should make every effort to open or support facilities which could provide men and women with appropriate assistance. 



The Dominican Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Dominican women are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica, the Netherlands, Panama, Slovenia, Suriname, Switzerland, Turkey, and Venezuela.


A significant number of women, boys, and girls are trafficked within the country for forced prostitution and domestic servitude. In some cases, parents push children into prostitution to help support the family. Child sex tourism is a problem, particularly in coastal resort areas, with child sex tourists arriving year-round from various countries, particularly Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada, and the United States and reportedly numbering in the thousands. Haitian nationals, including children, who voluntarily migrate illegally to the Dominican Republic may subsequently be subjected to forced labor in the service, construction, and agriculture sectors.


The Government of the Dominican Republic does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these overall significant efforts, the government did not show evidence of progress in prosecuting and punishing trafficking offenders including complicit officials; therefore, the Dominican Republic is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. The Dominican government increased its efforts to educate the public about the dangers of trafficking, improved its assistance to victims, announced a national plan to combat trafficking and took some disciplinary action against lower-level officials suspected of complicity in trafficking activity.


Recommendations for the Dominican Republic: Intensify efforts to prosecute and punish trafficking offenders, especially public officials complicit in or facilitating human trafficking; increase investigations into potential labor trafficking situations; continue to increase victim assistance and shelter services; provide greater legal protections for undocumented and foreign trafficking victims; increase prevention and demand-reduction efforts; intensify efforts to identify and care for all trafficking victims; and continue to increase anti-trafficking training for government and judicial officials.


Prosecution: The government modestly increased law-enforcement efforts against some trafficking offenders, and began to investigate and punish lower-level public officials for complicity in trafficking activity over the last year. Dominican law prohibits all forms of trafficking through its comprehensive anti-trafficking Law 137-03, which prescribes penalties of up to 20 years' imprisonment. Such penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other grave offenses, such as rape. In 2008, the government continued several trafficking investigations.


Since 2007, there have been no convictions on trafficking charges under Law 137-03, but the government made a greater effort during the year to differentiate between alien smuggling and human trafficking crimes, which are prohibited under the same law and are often confused. Although the Government initiated an investigation into press reports from 2007 that high-level officials were directly involved in the smuggling and trafficking of Chinese nationals, it demonstrated no progress on this investigation during 2008.


Lack of resources, corruption, and generally weak rule of law limit the government’s ability to address trafficking issues, and allegations of official complicity in trafficking continued. No senior officials were investigated or prosecuted; since August 2008, however, 45 inspectors from the Migration Directorate were removed from their positions for possible involvement in trafficking. Five of these former inspectors are under active investigation and two are in preventative detention.


Other lower-level officials have been suspended or disciplined. During the reporting period, the government cooperated with U.S. law enforcement agencies and contributed to an international case involving the trafficking of Dominican women to Switzerland. As many trafficking victims enter the island with legitimate documents through regular ports of entry, IOM and the Office of the Undersecretary for Consular and Migratory Affairs trained migration inspectors on detecting false and altered documents, inspection of travel documents and visas, detecting imposters, and differentiating between smuggling clients and trafficking victims.


Protection: The government improved its efforts to protect trafficking victims, although it continued to rely heavily on NGOs and international organizations for the bulk of shelter and protection services offered to victims. The Comite Inter-institucional de Proteccion a la Mujer Migrante, in cooperation with the Ministry for Women and an NGO, offered victims legal and psychological assistance.


The government contributed funds to a religious order which assisted trafficking victims at its refugee centers around the country. IOM also used these facilities to assist victims. An NGO operated El Centro de Acogida, a center for repatriated Dominican trafficked women, which provided medical and legal services, employment assistance, and continued education. Shelters for child trafficking victims were run by the Consejo Nacional para la Ninez y la Adolescencia, a government agency.


The Dominican Criminal Procedure Code contains mechanisms for the protection of witnesses and victims, though these protections were largely limited to victims who were willing to testify in court proceedings. Victims' rights were generally respected once they were recognized as victims, and they were not typically jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Dominican authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. Victims without identity documents or in illegal status generally had difficulty accessing protective services.


Out of a group of 14 trafficked Ecuadorian women, one remained in the Dominican Republic to help police with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. Victims and traffickers sometimes struck deals, usually via their attorneys, whereby victims received compensation from their traffickers in lieu of pursuing a criminal case. The government trained consular officials posted abroad to recognize and assist Dominican nationals trafficked overseas. The government did not provide foreign victims with clear legal alternatives to their removal, but even so it did not remove them to countries where they face retribution. In one case it provided long-term residency.


Prevention: The government continued to increase its prevention efforts during the year. The inter-agency National Commission Against Trafficking announced its national action plan in December 2008. The Prevention Unit of the Department of Alien Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons, working with the Ministries of Labor and Education, warned children at schools around the country of the dangers of alien smuggling, commercial sexual exploitation, and trafficking.


The Attorney General, Migration Directorate, Navy, Secretary of State for Women, and Programa Radial also ran anti-trafficking information campaigns. Notices now posted in Santo Domingo’s international airport list the penalties under Dominican law for the criminal offense of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Prostitution of adults is legal, though police raided brothels as a means to address demand for commercial sex acts with children and to look for underage girls engaging in prostitution. The government also made efforts to reduce demand for commercial sexual acts by prosecuting foreign pedophiles for sexually exploiting.

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