Special Cases

HAITI (Special Case)

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.

SOMALIA (Special Case)

Somalia remains a Special Case for a seventh consecutive year due to the lack of a viable central government since 1991. Control of its geographic area is divided among the self-declared independent Republic of Somaliland, the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, and the remainder of the country, which is nominally under the control of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG). Somalia currently lacks a national governing structure that could assume responsibility for addressing the country’s human trafficking problem. During the reporting period, the TFG remained preoccupied with the task of securing government representatives and installations from attacks by extremist elements; in this perpetual state of insecurity the government was not able to address human trafficking. In addition, the TFG currently lacks the necessary means to identify, investigate, or address systemic issues in Somalia, including those related to trafficking in persons; its capacity to address human trafficking will not significantly increase without tangible progress in reestablishing governance and stability in Somalia.

Scope and Magnitude. Information regarding trafficking in Somalia remains extremely difficult to obtain or verify; however, the Somali territory is believed to be a source, transit, and perhaps destination country for trafficked men, women, and children. In Somali society, certain groups are traditionally viewed as inferior and are marginalized; Somali Bantus and Midgaan are sometimes kept in servitude to other more powerful Somali clan members as domestics, farm laborers, and herders. During the year, the widespread use of children in fighting forces in the country was noted; the extremist groups opposed to the TFG conscripted and recruited children as young as eight years of age, including girls, for use in armed conflict, including soldiering, planting bombs, carrying out assassinations, portering, and domestic servitude. There were reports that militias loyal to the TFG or associated with members of the TFG conscripted children. Armed militias also purportedly traffic Somali women and children within the country for sexual exploitation and forced labor. Because of an inability to provide care for all family members, some Somalis willingly surrender custody of their children to people with whom they share family relations and clan linkages; some of these children may become victims of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. There are anecdotal reports of children engaged in prostitution within the country, but the practice is culturally proscribed and not publicly acknowledged.

Human smuggling is widespread in Somalia and there is evidence to suggest that traffickers utilize the same networks and methods as those used by smugglers. Dubious employment agencies are involved with or serve as fronts for traffickers, especially to target individuals desiring to reach the Gulf States. Somali women are trafficked to destinations in the Middle East, including Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, as well as to South Africa, for domestic labor and, to a lesser extent, commercial sexual exploitation. Female Somali refugees residing in Yemen are trafficked by Somali men into prostitution in Aden and Lahj governorates. Somali men are trafficked into labor exploitation as herdsmen and menial workers in the Gulf States. Some Somalis transit Djibouti to reach Yemen. Somali children are reportedly trafficked to Djibouti for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, as well as to Saudi Arabia through Yemen for forced begging. Members of the Somali diaspora use fake offers of marriage to traffic unsuspecting victims, many of whom are relatives, to Europe for commercial sexual exploitation. Ethiopian women are trafficked through Somalia to Yemen and onward to other destinations in the Middle East for forced domestic labor and sexual exploitation.

Government Efforts. The respective authorities operating in Somalia’s three regions did not make significant progress in addressing human trafficking during the reporting period. Understanding of the phenomenon of human trafficking and how it is to be identified and addressed remains low among government officials and the general population. In Somaliland, laws explicitly prohibit forced labor, involuntary servitude, and slavery, which, in addition to trafficking for sexual exploitation, may be prohibited under the most widespread interpretations of Shari’a and customary law. There are no such laws that prohibit these practices in other parts of Somalia. There is neither a unified police force in the territory to enforce these laws, nor any authoritative legal system through which trafficking offenders could be prosecuted. There were no known prosecutions of human trafficking offenses during the reporting period. Most crimes, including rape, were addressed under customary law, with penalties varying among clans; most punishments involve paying animals to victims’ clan members. There were reports that government officials may be involved in trafficking; business people involved in human smuggling and trafficking in Puntland, for instance, purportedly work with the knowledge of influential officials within the administration. In February 2009, Puntland’s newly elected president, accompanied by police and other officials, raided Marero village, a major hub for human smuggling and trafficking. No arrests were made.