About 15,000 liable to forced labor in St. Maarten Because of human trafficking and top level officials being involved

human-trafficking-st-maarten-ilandvibez-tribune “St. Maarten is a source, transit and destination for women, children and men subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor”, the American State Department writes in its 2013 Trafficking in Persons report. “An estimated 15,000 illegal migrant workers in the country are highly vulnerable to forced domestic service and forced labor in construction, Chinese supermarkets, retail shops, security, landscaping and housekeeping.”

“There are strong indications that some of the hundreds of foreign migrant women in St. Maarten’s sex trade are subjected to debt bondage,” the report states, adding that women and girls from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and other countries in the region are ‘the most vulnerable to becoming victims of sex trafficking.

The report also mentions women from Russia and eastern Europe as potential victims. It furthermore refers to the six-month contracts for prostitutes and to the fact that the women depend on strip club and brothel owners for their work permits.

Interestingly, the report notes that St. Maarten authorities have reported “that workers from India, Haiti, Jamaica and other Caribbean islands are subjected to exploitative conditions involving indicators of forced labor.”

Even more alarming is that “local experts” report “that St. Maarten women and girls studying in the Netherlands may be vulnerable to sex trafficking by residents of the Netherlands.”

The American report is critical of St. Maarten’s efforts to combat human trafficking. “The government of St. Maarten does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated important leadership in the region by prosecuting and convicting a sex trafficking offender and holding this perpetrator accountable with jail time.”

This last remark is a clear reference to the prosecution of Angel Priest of the Border Bar who was sentenced to 54 months imprisonment (with 18 months suspended) for trafficking women. The government had little to do with this since prosecuting criminal offenders is the prerogative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The report notes that towards the end of the reporting period (towards the end of 2012) “the government launched an investigation into trafficking-related complicity involving high-level officials in the country. The government however did not prosecute any officials for trafficking-related complicity, which hampered its ability to authentically address its trafficking problem.”

The report furthermore states that “the overall lack of victim identification in St. Maarten, despite a very large vulnerable population of illegal immigrants and foreign women in prostitution, highlights the ineffectiveness of the government’s response. This lack if victim identification likely resulted in the deportation and criminalization of trafficking victims.”

The American report contains a large number of recommendations for St. Maarten. among them is this one: “Demonstrate transparency and appropriate follow-through regarding the investigation of government officials’ alleged involvement in the licensed brothels.”

Other recommendation relate to identifying and assisting potential victims of sex trafficking, the vigorous prosecution of trafficking offenders “including officials,” outreach by a Spanish speaking victim advocate, and routine health inspections at local brothels.

The report commends St. Maarten for its new penal code that contains an article that punished trafficking by 4 to 24 years of imprisonment.

But in practice, St. Maarten is dealing with potential trafficking victims in a different way. The report notes that women that escape from brothels routinely face deportation, while anti-trafficking investigations into the circumstances that inspired them to escape are not forthcoming. “The government reported that foreign trafficking victims could be granted temporary residence permits, it did not provide evidence that it issues such permits during the year. Also, the government did not report that it had a policy to protect identified victims from being punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked.”

Another point of criticism is that the government did not initiate any awareness campaigns to educate the public about sex trafficking and forced labor. The government has also not identified “incidents of foreign child sex tourism in St. Maarten,” the report concluded. – By Hilbert Haar –TSXM

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