DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (Tier 2 Watch List)
The Dominican Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Dominican women are trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation to Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Costa Rica, Cyprus, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica, the Netherlands, Panama, Slovenia, Suriname, Switzerland, Turkey, and Venezuela. A significant number of women, boys, and girls are trafficked within the country for forced prostitution and domestic servitude. In some cases, parents push children into prostitution to help support the family. Child sex tourism is a problem, particularly in coastal resort areas, with child sex tourists arriving year-round from various countries, particularly Spain, Italy, Germany, Canada, and the United States and reportedly numbering in the thousands . Haitian nationals, including children, who voluntarily migrate illegally to the Dominican Republic may subsequently be subjected to forced labor in the service, construction, and agriculture sectors.
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. Despite these overall significant efforts, the government did not show evidence of progress in prosecuting and punishing trafficking offenders including complicit officials; therefore, the Dominican Republic is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. The Dominican government increased its efforts to educate the public about the dangers of trafficking, improved its assistance to victims, announced a national plan to combat trafficking and took some disciplinary action against lower-level officials suspected of complicity in trafficking activity.
Recommendations for the Dominican Republic: Intensify efforts to prosecute and punish trafficking offenders, especially public officials complicit in or facilitating human trafficking; increase investigations into potential labor trafficking situations; continue to increase victim assistance and shelter services; provide greater legal protections for undocumented and foreign trafficking victims; increase prevention and demand-reduction efforts; intensify efforts to identify and care for all trafficking victims; and continue to increase anti-trafficking training for government and judicial officials.
The government modestly increased law-enforcement efforts against some trafficking offenders, and began to investigate and punish lower-level public officials for complicity in trafficking activity over the last year. Dominican law prohibits all forms of trafficking through its comprehensive anti-trafficking Law 137-03, which prescribes penalties of up to 20 years’ imprisonment. Such penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other grave offenses, such as rape. In 2008, the government continued several trafficking investigations. Since 2007, there have been no convictions on trafficking charges under Law 137-03, but the government made a greater effort during the year to differentiate between alien smuggling and human trafficking crimes, which are prohibited under the same law and are often confused. Although the Government initiated an investigation into press reports from 2007 that high-level officials were directly involved in the smuggling and trafficking of Chinese nationals, it demonstrated no progress on this investigation during 2008. Lack of resources, corruption, and generally weak rule of law limit the government’s ability to address trafficking issues, and allegations of official complicity in trafficking continued. No senior officials were investigated or prosecuted; since August 2008, however, 45 inspectors from the Migration Directorate were removed from their positions for possible involvement in trafficking. Five of these former inspectors are under active investigation and two are in preventative detention. Other lower-level officials have been suspended or disciplined. During the reporting period, the government cooperated with U.S. law enforcement agencies and contributed to an international case involving the trafficking of Dominican women to Switzerland. As many trafficking victims enter the island with legitimate documents through regular ports of entry, IOM and the Office of the Undersecretary for Consular and Migratory Affairs trained migration inspectors on detecting false and altered documents, inspection of travel documents and visas, detecting imposters, and differentiating between smuggling clients and trafficking victims.
The government improved its efforts to protect trafficking victims, although it continued to rely heavily on NGOs and international organizations for the bulk of shelter and protection services offered to victims. The Comite Inter-institucional de Proteccion a la Mujer Migrante, in cooperation with the Ministry for Women and an NGO, offered victims legal and psychological assistance. The government contributed funds to a religious order which assisted trafficking victims at its refugee centers around the country. IOM also used these facilities to assist victims. An NGO operated El Centro de Acogida, a center for repatriated Dominican trafficked women, which provided medical and legal services, employment assistance, and continued education. Shelters for child trafficking victims were run by the Consejo Nacional para la Ninez y la Adolescencia, a government agency. The Dominican Criminal Procedure Code contains mechanisms for the protection of witnesses and victims, though these protections were largely limited to victims who were willing to testify in court proceedings. Victims’ rights were generally respected once they were recognized as victims, and they were not typically jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Dominican authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. Victims without identity documents or in illegal status generally had difficulty accessing protective services. Out of a group of 14 trafficked Ecuadorian women, one remained in the Dominican Republic to help police with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. Victims and traffickers sometimes struck deals, usually via their attorneys, whereby victims received compensation from their traffickers in lieu of pursuing a criminal case. The government trained consular officials posted abroad to recognize and assist Dominican nationals trafficked overseas. The government did not provide foreign victims with clear legal alternatives to their removal, but even so it did not remove them to countries where they face retribution. In one case it provided long-term residency.
The government continued to increase its prevention efforts during the year. The inter-agency National Commission Against Trafficking announced its national action plan in December 2008. The Prevention Unit of the Department of Alien Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons, working with the Ministries of Labor and Education, warned children at schools around the country of the dangers of alien smuggling, commercial sexual exploitation, and trafficking. The Attorney General, Migration Directorate, Navy, Secretary of State for Women, and Programa Radial also ran anti-trafficking information campaigns. Notices now posted in Santo Domingo’s international airport list the penalties under Dominican law for the criminal offense of commercial sexual exploitation of children. Prostitution of adults is legal, though police raided brothels as a means to address demand for commercial sex acts with children and to look for underage girls engaging in prostitution. The government also made efforts to reduce demand for commercial sexual acts by prosecuting foreign pedophiles for sexually exploiting minors.