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. Foreign national victims from the Caribbean, Asia, and South America are subjected to trafficking in the Dominican Republic. 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 streets, in parks, and on beaches. Government officials and NGOs report an increase in Colombian and Venezuelan women brought to the country to dance in strip clubs who are subjected to forced prostitution. Traffickers lure Dominican 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 documented cases of children forced into domestic service, street vending, begging, agricultural work, construction, and moving 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 in the abuse of people in prostitution, including in areas known for child sex trafficking.
The Government of the Dominican Republic does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In 2015, the government initiated investigations of 15 trafficking cases and prosecuted 49 alleged traffickers. The government identified 101 trafficking victims in 2015, but continued to lack specialized victim assistance. The government implemented a naturalization law by providing thousands of undocumented migrants with legal status, decreasing their vulnerability to trafficking. The government reported no new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of officials complicit in trafficking, which remained a serious concern.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC:
Vigorously prosecute and convict traffickers involved in forced labor and sex trafficking, especially complicit government employees; implement protocols for the identification and assistance of adult and child trafficking victims, including to identify 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 conduct forced labor and sex trafficking awareness campaigns in Spanish and Creole.
The government sustained law enforcement efforts by investigating, prosecuting, and convicting traffickers; however, official complicity remained a serious concern and was unaddressed. The 2003 Law on Human Smuggling and Trafficking (Law 137-03) prohibits most forms of trafficking in persons and prescribes penalties of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines—penalties sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In contrast to the international definition of trafficking in persons, however, the law requires the means of force, fraud, or coercion for sex trafficking individuals younger than 18 years of age; and defines trafficking more broadly to include forced marriage and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation. Prostitution is legal, but promoting the prostitution of others is prohibited by article 334 of the penal code, which prescribes penalties of six months’ to three years’ imprisonment and fines. Article 25 of the Child Protection Code of 2003 prohibits the offering, delivering, or accepting by any means anyone younger than 18 years of age for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labor, or any other purpose that demeans the individual, for remuneration or any other consideration, and prescribes a penalty of 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment and a fine. Officials may use these provisions to charge and prosecute sex traffickers in addition to or instead of Law 137-03. The revised penal code of 2014 would have improved definitions and increased the penalties for trafficking-related criminal offenses, which would have provided additional charges that law enforcement could use to investigate and prosecute sex traffickers, but was found unconstitutional in 2015. In 2015, the government initiated investigations of 15 trafficking cases and prosecuted 49 alleged traffickers, compared with 28 investigations and 32 prosecutions in 2014. The government convicted 20 defendants in seven cases; trafficking in persons sentences ranged from five to 30 years’ imprisonment; and commercial sexual exploitation sentences ranged from one to 20 years’ imprisonment.
The government’s law enforcement efforts were impeded by limited resources, corruption, and failures to identify trafficking victims and provide assistance. An attorney general’s office review of 2010-2014 trafficking cases, conducted during the reporting period, revealed a number of flaws in the legal system: insufficient investigation resulting in a lack of evidence; lack of efforts to secure the cooperation of victims and families; and cases prosecuted under inappropriate areas of the law. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials complicit in human trafficking offenses. As of March 31, 2014, 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, but no new information has been provided. The government cooperated with governments in the Caribbean, Europe, and South America on investigations of transnational trafficking cases. The government offered anti-trafficking courses at the National Defense Institute, School of Justice, and Judiciary School, and provided two half-days of training for police recruits.
The government sustained victim protection efforts. Authorities identified 101 trafficking victims—96 female and five male; 82 children and 19 adults—compared with 99 victims in 2014. The Attorney General’s Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU) coordinated with other government agencies, international organizations and NGOs that provided temporary accommodation in shelters, psychological assistance, legal assistance, reintegration, medical services, and support for higher education specifically to trafficking victims. The Ministry of Women through the Center for Orientation and Comprehensive Investigation provided limited legal services and psychological assistance to victims. NGOs reported that although the government provided some direct assistance to victims, it did so in an ad hoc manner. The government prepared to open a shelter for adult trafficking victims, although it had not opened by the end of the reporting period. The national anti-trafficking commission worked with an international organization to develop protocols to identify and assist adult and child trafficking victims. The government encouraged victims to participate in investigation and prosecution efforts. The ATU created a team to legally support and provide protection to trafficking victims to encourage their assistance in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking crimes, offering lodging, immigration relief for foreign victims, and police accompaniment to the court room for all victims. The ATU renovated a building for use as a trafficking victim shelter and rehabilitation center and drafted shelter operating protocols, although the shelter had not opened by the end of the reporting period. The government did not report whether any of the 101 identified trafficking victims received any of these services.
The anti-trafficking law contains victim protection provisions, including restitution; at least one trafficking victim obtained restitution of wages and 45,000 pesos ($1,000) in punitive damages during the reporting period. Authorities assisted one victim to renew her expired temporary Dominican residence permit. The government offered foreign victims identified in cases investigated during the reporting period the same services available to Dominican victims; however, these victims chose to return to their own countries and did not avail themselves of these provisions. 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 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 and began drafting an updated plan in 2015, but reported no specific progress on either. NGOs reported uncoordinated and underfunded implementation of the existing plan. In partnership with and with funding from an international organization, the government completed a baseline study of the judicial system’s handling of child sex trafficking cases, although results have not been published yet. The government did not have a nationwide anti-trafficking awareness campaign, but did conduct trainings with NGOs. The government operated a national hotline, but did not report how many trafficking calls it received in 2015.
During the reporting period, the government implemented and concluded the National Regularization Plan and issued residency status documents for 240,000 undocumented migrants, 80 percent of whom picked up those documents. In addition, the government approved 55,000 birth certificates for documented individuals born in the country to immigrant parents, and reissued 15,000 birth certificates for those individuals. The government planned to offer permanent residency to 8,755 of the individuals who had not obtained birth certificates. These actions reduced the recipients’ risk of statelessness and deportation and their vulnerability to trafficking. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for forced commercial sex by improved monitoring of brothels and tourist areas. Authorities reported arresting two European tourists for trafficking in persons and commercial sexual exploitation for sex acts with minors. Some NGOs, however, expressed concern about the government response to child sex tourism, including the lack of convictions, resources, and aftercare for victims. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.