DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Tier 2
The Dominican Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Large numbers of Dominican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking throughout the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean, Europe, South and Central America, the Middle East, Asia, and the United States. Commercial sexual exploitation of local children by foreign tourists and locals persists, particularly in coastal resort areas of the Dominican Republic. NGO research indicates sex trafficking of 15- to 17-year-old girls occurs in the street, parks, and on beaches. Traffickers lure Dominican and foreign women to work in night clubs in the Middle East, the Caribbean, and Latin America and subject them to sex trafficking. Dominican officials and NGOs have documented cases of children forced into domestic service, street vending, begging, agricultural work, construction, and moving of illicit narcotics. There are reports of forced labor of adults in construction, agricultural, and service sectors. Vulnerable populations include working children and street children, migrant workers, and undocumented or stateless persons of Haitian descent. NGOs and people in prostitution report police complicity and abuse of people in prostitution, including in areas known for child sex trafficking.
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. The government prosecuted an increased number of labor and sex trafficking defendants and punished offenders with imprisonment. The government referred more victims to care in 2014 and sustained efforts aimed at preventing human trafficking. The government, however, continued to lack trafficking-specific victim assistance. The government began implementing a naturalization law that provides a path to citizenship for persons affected by the 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling, but a sizeable group may be left without legal status, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. The government reported no new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in trafficking.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC:
Vigorously prosecute trafficking offenses and convict and punish offenders involved in forced labor and sex trafficking, especially complicit government employees; continue robust victim identification efforts by working with NGOs to guide labor officials in how to identify trafficking victims (especially adult and child victims in the sex trade and in the agriculture and construction sectors) and refer them to available services; adequately fund specialized services for adult and child trafficking victims; work with NGOs to provide adequate shelter and services to adult and child victims; screen those affected by new migration policies for trafficking indicators and assist identified victims; and implement a forced labor and sex trafficking awareness campaign in Spanish and Creole.
The government sustained law enforcement efforts by investigating, prosecuting, and convicting traffickers; however, official complicity remained a serious concern. Law 137-03 of 2003 prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment with fines—penalties sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2014, the government initiated investigations of 28 new trafficking cases and prosecuted 32 alleged traffickers. Prosecutions involving 25 defendants in ongoing cases for forced labor, sex trafficking, forced begging, and practices analogous to slavery continued. In 2013, the government initiated 29 investigations and 36 prosecutions of 69 defendants. The government convicted a total of 10 traffickers in seven cases: two traffickers on forced begging charges with sentences of two years’ imprisonment; six sex traffickers with sentences ranging from two to 30 years’ imprisonment; two labor traffickers with sentences ranging from three to five years’ imprisonment; and two traffickers for forced begging with sentences of two years’ imprisonment. This is an increase from nine traffickers convicted in 2013.
The attorney general’s human trafficking office provided technical assistance to prosecutors in the effective protection of victims and witnesses. Nonetheless, police failed to recognize potential child sex trafficking victims and, in some cases, physically and sexually abused child victims during law enforcement operations. The government reported a police officer was in pre-trial detention at the end of the reporting period while awaiting trial for participating in a sex trafficking ring that involved child victims. The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. The government cooperated with governments in South America on investigations of transnational trafficking cases. Government officials provided training for judges, prosecutors, police officers, immigration officers, and military personnel on the fundamentals of human trafficking, investigating cases, and interviewing witnesses.
The government increased victim protection efforts. Authorities identified 99 trafficking victims including 63 sex trafficking victims, one forced labor victim, 29 forced begging victims, two victims of forced criminality, and three victims where the purpose of exploitation was unclear. Eighty-three victims were Dominican and 16 were foreign nationals, 73 were female and 26 male, and 81 were children and 18 adults. This is an increase from the 60 victims identified in 2013. The government issued two new government-wide protocols, one for adults and one for youth and children, aimed at helping officials identify victims and refer them to government trafficking specialists. The government reported referring 52 victims to care facilities for assistance compared with 12 victims in 2013; it was unclear why the other 47 identified victims were not referred for services. NGOs noted that although the government provided some assistance to victims, it did so in an ad hoc manner and funding for victim assistance, as well as security and staffing in shelters, was inadequate. The government provided limited legal services and psychological assistance to victims while donor-funded international organizations, faith-based groups, and NGOs provided more comprehensive services and temporary accommodation in general shelters for crime victims. The government’s national council for children, with a budget of 6.8 million Dominican pesos (RD) ($155,000), operated eight shelters for abused children that could provide care to trafficking victims; these shelters assisted 95 victims in 2014. The anti-trafficking law contains victim protection provisions, including restitution; one labor trafficking victim obtained restitution of RD 883,000 ($20,000).
The government lacked a formal policy and resources to encourage victims’ participation in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers, but provided housing, immigration relief, and accompaniment to court to at least five victims. Government policy provided temporary residency for foreign victims. Authorities granted a one-year visa to a foreign labor trafficking victim; it was not clear if the other 15 foreign victims were offered this option. The president issued a new plan, active until June 15, 2015, that gives undocumented migrants the opportunity to obtain legal status in the country. As of March 2015, an estimated 170,000 migrants had applied, but only 230 had received legal status. Concurrently, international observers, including the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, stated that a 2013 Constitutional Tribunal ruling denying Dominican nationality to anyone born to undocumented foreign nationals violated the human rights of persons born in the Dominican Republic to undocumented migrant parents, which effectively rendered thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent at risk of statelessness and subject to deportation. These conditions made them vulnerable to exploitation in forced labor and sex trafficking. Authorities, in coordination with NGOs, facilitated repatriation of at least 29 foreign trafficking victims to Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. While there were no official reports of victims being punished for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, undocumented Haitian victims faced the risk of deportation and other penalties resulting from their irregular immigration status.
The government sustained prevention efforts. Officials continued to implement the 2009-2014 national anti-trafficking action plan, held a workshop to evaluate progress, and begin drafting an updated plan. NGOs reported uncoordinated and underfunded implementation of the existing plan. In partnership with and with funding from an international organization, the government initiated a baseline study of the judicial system’s handling of child sex trafficking cases. The government did not have a nationwide anti-trafficking awareness campaign, but continued its campaign to educate Dominican nationals living abroad about trafficking by distributing brochures. The government operated a national hotline and received 232 reports of human trafficking cases and gender-based violence in 2014. Dominican officials exchanged information with foreign counterparts to assist in holding fraudulent labor recruiters accountable, including an individual apprehended upon arrival from Trinidad and Tobago. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Dominican officials, in coordination with international organizations, NGOs, and business associations, continued to engage in efforts to address commercial sex tourism. The government investigated, prosecuted, and sustained convictions in sex tourism cases; however the exact numbers were not known as the government did not provide data disaggregating cases of sex tourism from other sexual exploitation cases.