St. Maarten* is a source, transit, and destination for women, children, and men subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. There are indications that some foreign migrant women in St. Maarten’s sex trade are subjected to debt bondage. Women and girls from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and other countries in the region are the most vulnerable to sex trafficking. Other nationalities that are vulnerable to sex trafficking include women from Russia and Eastern Europe. Foreign women working in the regulated brothels and strip clubs on St. Maarten are typically granted short-term, temporary residence permits, usually valid for three to six months, after which they are required to leave the country. Strip club dancers and women in prostitution in St. Maarten are dependent upon strip club and brothel managers to obtain their work permits, increasing their risks of sex trafficking in these establishments. Reports indicate a significant number of 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. St. Maarten authorities report that workers from India, China, Haiti, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands are subjected to exploitive conditions involving indicators of forced labor in the country. A 2013 UN Report on St. Maarten cited a UN Committee recommendation to update data on the number of children involved in sexual exploitation, including trafficking, and on the number of children provided access to recovery and reintegration services.
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 established a national reporting bureau on human trafficking, conducted an awareness campaign, and launched an anti-trafficking hotline in 2013. While the government initiated new trafficking investigations, it did not hold any trafficking offenders accountable during the year. Officials in St. Maarten did not proactively identify trafficking victims nor refer any potential victims for care. The government’s lack of victim identification in St. Maarten—despite a very large vulnerable population of illegal migrants and foreign women in prostitution, including women employed by licensed brothels—significantly hampered the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.
Recommendations for St. Maarten:
Identify and assist potential trafficking victims by implementing formalized, proactive victim protection measures to guide officials, including health workers, on how to identify and assist victims of forced labor and sex trafficking in the regulated and unregulated sex trade; implement procedures to transport potential trafficking victims to a safe location for victim identification interviews, as victims often first appear as immigration violators and are reluctant to disclose details of their exploitation; proactively implement the anti-trafficking law by vigorously prosecuting, convicting, and sentencing trafficking offenders, including officials complicit in human trafficking; include a trained Spanish-speaking victim advocate in routine health inspections at legal brothels to ensure the rights of women in these legal brothels are protected; conduct outreach with all incoming migrants, including domestic workers and foreign women on temporary entertainment visas, to ensure they are informed of their rights, the new anti-trafficking hotline, and ways to seek help; continue to consult with the Government of the Netherlands on how it proactively identifies trafficking victims; consider establishing a stand-alone position for the national trafficking coordinator to ensure anti-trafficking responses are separate from immigration enforcement; and continue to educate the general public, public officials, and victims about trafficking in St. Maarten and its distinctions from human smuggling.
The government sustained anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. St. Maarten’s June 2012 penal code prohibits all forms of trafficking in persons through articles 2:239-245 and prescribes penalties ranging from four to 24 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and are commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The government initiated two sex trafficking investigations against suspected traffickers in 2013, the same number of investigations as in the previous year. It did not launch any new prosecutions or convict any trafficking defendants in 2013; in the previous year, a defendant was convicted for sex trafficking at a regulated brothel. According to media reports, officials granted the establishment a new operating permit despite a request by the prosecutor’s office to close down this brothel. Immigration authorities reported that the standard law enforcement response for women who escape government-licensed brothels continued to be deportation, rather than investigating the circumstances driving their escape. The government did not report any new investigations or prosecutions of government employees, including among high-level officials with alleged financial ties to brothels in the country, for alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses.
The Government of St. Maarten demonstrated uneven progress in the protection of trafficking victims in 2013. During the year, its newly established National Reporting Bureau on human smuggling and human trafficking received reports of at least seven potential labor trafficking victims, but it did not refer these potential victims to care or assistance. The government has not formally identified any trafficking victims since 2011. During the year, it improved its capacity to identify trafficking victims by distributing an NGO-developed checklist of trafficking indicators for immigration officials and other stakeholders. However, the government has yet to employ formal standard operating procedures to identify potential sex trafficking and forced labor victims and how to refer them to care. The government established an inter-disciplinary team, chaired by the director of immigration, to conduct inspections in government-licensed brothels during the year. Although the government reported conducting two immigration-related enforcement checks for safety code violations in all regulated brothels in 2013, it was unclear to what extent these inspections involved explicit screening for trafficking indicators. The government did not identify or refer to victim services any potential sex trafficking victims identified in government-licensed brothels in 2013. Furthermore, it was unclear whether weekly-required health checks of these highly vulnerable women also included a systematic assessment for indications of trafficking.
The government did not provide any funding to NGOs responsible for trafficking victim care in 2013. The government reported that foreign trafficking victims could be granted temporary residency permits; it did not issue any such permits during the year. It did not report that it had a formal policy to protect identified victims from being punished for crimes committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The lack of standard operating procedures for victim identification for front-line responders hindered the government’s ability to identify trafficking victims and likely resulted in victims’ inadvertent arrest and deportation.
The government demonstrated notable progress in its anti-trafficking prevention efforts during the year. In September 2013, it established a National Reporting Bureau, with a staff of four, as the lead agency on human smuggling and trafficking. This Bureau launched an anti-trafficking hotline and awareness campaign in October of 2013 to inform potential victims and the public about forced labor and sex trafficking. The awareness campaign included a list of common trafficking indicators that was disseminated to media outlets and posted on a government website. The campaign also included public service announcements, brochures, flyers, and posters disseminated in local businesses and other official and public venues. Observers reported that the government continues to conflate human trafficking with human smuggling as part of its anti-trafficking response. In August 2013, the government adopted a national action plan on trafficking; the plan incorporated elements of the government’s anti-trafficking memorandum of understanding with the Government of the Netherlands and contained key recommendations on victim protection from the anti-trafficking community. The government gave the Director of Immigration and Border Control the role of national anti-trafficking coordinator; the director also chairs the National Reporting Bureau. As part of the larger awareness campaign, the national coordinator conducted outreach with immigrant communities vulnerable to labor trafficking in 2013, providing them with information on how to report potential victims and trafficking crimes. The government reported that foreign women employed in the adult entertainment industry received anti-trafficking brochures and information on the new government hotline. The government did not launch any campaigns explicitly targeted at reducing the demand for forced labor or discouraging potential clients from engaging in the sex trade in St. Maarten. The government has not identified incidents of foreign child sex tourism in St. Maarten.
* St. Maarten is a semi-autonomous entity within the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The Kingdom Charter divides responsibility among the co-equal parts of the Kingdom based on jurisdiction. For the purpose of this report, St. Maarten is not a “country” to which the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act apply. This narrative reflects how St. Maarten would be assessed if it were a separate, independent country.