Kiribati is a source country for girls subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Crew members, mainly South Korean men on foreign fishing vessels in Kiribati or in its territorial waters around Tarawa, exploit children. A local NGO has reported that as many as 50 I-Kiribati girls, some as young as 12, may be subjected to forced prostitution in local bars, hotels, and aboard vessels. Women and girls engaging in prostitution with foreign fishermen at bars and on foreign fishing vessels are collectively referred to by the term ainen matawa and are stigmatized in I-Kiribati society. Some I-Kiribati—including family members of potential victims, older ainen matawas, hotel and bar workers, and owners of small boats—may facilitate trafficking by transporting girls to foreign vessels for the purpose of prostitution. Others fail to assist trafficking victims or alert authorities to situations of child prostitution. These girls generally received financial support, food, alcohol, or goods in exchange for sexual services.
The Government of Kiribati 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, government officials acknowledged the existence and severity of human trafficking, especially child sexual exploitation, and expressed their commitment to combating the crime. The government also passed the Children, Young People, and Family Welfare Act that would support children at risk for exploitation, and created the Ministry of Women, Youth and Social Affairs to implement the law’s mandates. However, the government continued to fail to employ policies to proactively identify trafficking victims among women and girls in prostitution or adequately protect trafficking victims. The government did not prosecute cases against potential trafficking offenders or punish those who exploit or facilitate the commercial sexual exploitation of children.
Recommendations for Kiribati:
Investigate and prosecute potential trafficking cases and convict and punish foreign crew members for the commercial sexual exploitation of children; develop procedures for law enforcement officers and social service providers to interview those in vulnerable groups, such as ainen matawas intercepted en route or aboard international vessels or at bars and hotels, for evidence of trafficking; establish formal procedures to identify and refer trafficking victims to protective services; train front-line officers in victim identification techniques and procedures for referral to domestic violence and sexual violence officers; proactively identify and assist victims of trafficking, prioritizing establishment of a safe environment for victims and trust between victims and officers; hold parents and guardians accountable, as appropriate under I-Kiribati law—including the 2013 Children, Young People and Family Welfare Act—for the commercial sexual exploitation of children; and expand efforts to raise awareness about the dangers of human trafficking in places where trafficking victims interact with clients, with a specific focus on increasing public recognition that children in the commercial sex trade are victims rather than juvenile delinquents.
The Government of Kiribati maintained its law enforcement efforts to combat human trafficking. Kiribati’s 2005 Measures to Combat Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime Act, as amended in 2008, criminalizes certain forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of adults, and 20 years’ imprisonment for the trafficking of children. These penalties are sufficiently stringent, but not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law’s focus is limited to the international movement of people for exploitation, a form of trafficking not known to occur in Kiribati. Government officials claimed that internal trafficking could be prosecuted under this law, though there is no example to date to support this claim.
The government reported conducting two investigations involving foreign fishing vessels for the presence of girl ainen matawas onboard the vessels; one company was fined, but neither investigation resulted in prosecutions. In 2013, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Assistant Commanding Officer of the Criminal Investigations Division of the Kiribati Police Service attended a foreign government-funded regional anti-trafficking training in Fiji; upon their return to Kiribati, they conducted an anti-trafficking training for 30 law enforcement officers. The government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of government officials for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses.
The Government of Kiribati demonstrated no discernible progress in identifying or protecting trafficking victims. It did not actively identify or protect any victims of trafficking. The government had no procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and did not identify any children subjected to prostitution in well-known meeting places, such as bars and hotels in Kiribati. Police may have identified women and girl trafficking victims aboard international fishing vessels; however, the government did not confirm their status as trafficking victims nor provide them with any protective services.
The government reported victims could be referred to religious organizations to access medical and psychological services on an ad hoc basis, but did not refer any victims to these services in 2013 or 2012. The Measures to Combat Terrorism and Transnational Organised Crime Act’s victim protection provisions shield victims from prosecution for immigration crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked; however, law enforcement efforts to combat prostitution potentially resulted in some trafficking victims being treated as law violators. Individuals detained for prostitution-related crimes were not screened to determine whether they were trafficking victims, and government officials did not verify their ages. The government did not develop or implement a referral process to transfer potential victims who are detained, arrested, or placed in protective custody by law enforcement authorities to institutions that provide short- or long-term care. The Kiribati Immigration Ordinance gives the principal immigration officer the option to make exceptions or extensions to standard immigration rules in exigent circumstances, such as trafficking; given the lack of identified foreign victims, there is no precedent for implementing this provision.
The government demonstrated limited efforts to prevent human trafficking. The Ministry of Internal and Social Affairs, in partnership with an international organization, produced a radio show on child protection issues, including the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The same ministry, with support from an international organization, conducted workshops for community leaders and in schools on issues of child protection and the sexual exploitation of children. The Kiribati Police Service’s Domestic Violence and Sexual Offenses unit promoted and operated two 24-hour phone-line services for reporting exploitation and abuse, though no known allegations of human trafficking were reported to the hotlines. The Kiribati Police Force received child protection training from and worked with an international organization to develop a child-friendly community policing protocol that includes a referral and counseling program for youth. While foreign fishing license regulations hold ship captains accountable for the presence of unauthorized persons, such as girls and women, on their vessels, no prosecution of traffickers or protection of victims resulted from the enforcement of these regulations. The government failed to conduct educational or awareness campaigns in well-known meeting places of foreign crew members and children in prostitution. The government lacks a national plan of action or a coordinating government agency to combat trafficking. The Ministry of Labor reported reviewing the contracts of all I-Kiribati going overseas and conducting pre-departure briefings to ensure that workers are aware of their rights and can protect themselves from potential forced labor exploitation. The government did not take adequate measures to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or to address child sex tourism in the country.