DOMINICAN REPUBLIC (Tier 2)
The Government of the Dominican Republic does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore the Dominican Republic remained on Tier 2. These efforts included convicting more traffickers; opening a trafficking-specific shelter; improving victim screening, referral to care, and data collection; assisting foreign governments in trafficking cases; and registering and documenting Venezuelan migrants vulnerable to trafficking. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims appeared inequitable, with the government not providing justice for or screening and assisting Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent. The government did not pass a revised trafficking law to remove the requirement to prove force, fraud, or coercion of sex trafficking victims younger than 18 years of age; did not adequately fund anti-trafficking efforts; did not provide sufficient training, resources, and technology to officials, especially outside of the capital; and did not complete a new National Action Plan (NAP). Government services available for victims, particularly male victims, remained inadequate.
PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS: Proactively and consistently screen Haitians and Dominicans of Haitian descent, particularly pregnant women, migrants, and those in the sugar industry, for trafficking indicators and refer them to care. * Develop, implement, and fund a new National Action Plan, and ensure the Inter-institutional Commission against Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants (CITIM) meets regularly to carry out its anti-trafficking functions. * Amend the 2003 anti-trafficking law to remove the requirement to prove force, fraud, and coercion of sex trafficking victims younger than 18 years of age to be consistent with international law. * Issue or re-issue identity documents to Haitians in border communities, Haitians in the country, and Dominicans of Haitian descent. * Vigorously investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, and apply appropriate sentences as ordered by law. * Provide adequate human and financial resources and training to law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges to combat trafficking, particularly in areas outside of Santo Domingo, and ensure the National Police can routinely connect with other source or destination countries, including Haiti. * Ensure potential child trafficking victims involved in gangs and drug trafficking are not penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compel them to commit, and ensure they are screened, identified, and referred to care. * Expand consistent access to care, including a dedicated shelter, for male trafficking victims. * Increase the number of translators, especially in Haitian Creole, to assist in victim identification and referral to care. * Improve legal representation for victims, including by strengthening the Service for Legal Representation of Victims’ Rights (RELEVIC). * Increase criminal investigations and prosecutions of government officials allegedly complicit in trafficking and impose stronger sentences. * Fully implement the Electronic Investigations Module as an official tool both in investigations and in official communications between the National Police and the Public Ministry.
The government increased prosecution efforts. Dominican law criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking. The 2003 Law on Human Smuggling and Trafficking (Law 137-03) criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment and fines. Inconsistent with international law, the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Article 25 of the Child Protection Code of 2003 criminalized the offering, delivering, or accepting, without regard to means used, anyone younger than 18 years of age for the purpose of sexual exploitation, forced labor, or any other purpose that demeaned the individual, for remuneration or any other consideration, and prescribed a penalty of 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment and a fine. All these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. During the previous reporting period, the government drafted legislation to remove the provision requiring a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking crime; the legislation remained pending at the end of the reporting period.
The Attorney General’s Office and the police anti-trafficking unit (ATU) reported jointly initiating 53 trafficking investigations involving 76 people (47 cases of 69 people for sex trafficking and six cases of seven people for labor trafficking). The Attorney General’s Office and the ATU reported initiating 107 investigations in 2020. The government continued investigations in 15 cases (six for sex trafficking, three for labor trafficking, and six cases for unspecified exploitation including pandering and procuring) from previous reporting periods. The government reported initiating prosecutions of 46 alleged traffickers (41 for sex trafficking and five for labor trafficking), compared with initiating prosecutions against 42 defendants in 2020 (36 for sex trafficking and six for labor trafficking). The government continued prosecutions of 52 suspects (42 for sex trafficking, four for labor trafficking, and six for pandering and procuring). Of the total prosecutions, the government prosecuted 92 alleged criminals under the anti-trafficking laws and six people under other laws. Courts convicted 10 traffickers (six for sex trafficking under the trafficking law and four for pandering and procuring under the penal code), compared with four traffickers in 2020. The government cooperated with four foreign governments on trafficking investigations. During the reporting period, 10 new or ongoing investigations and one conviction resulted from this international cooperation, as well as the identification of at least six trafficking victims. The government reported it enforced the law equitably; however, an international organization reported the government sometimes chose not to pursue cases when victims were migrants or undocumented Haitian women.
The Specialized Prosecutor’s Office against the Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons (PETT) and the ATU were the principal law enforcement bodies pursuing trafficking cases, with police units in Santo Domingo, Punta Cana, San Cristóbal, Puerto Plata, and Boca Chica. An NGO and other observers reported the ATU was fully operational until the government changed its command in November 2021, after which it slowed its anti-trafficking activities while the new staff learned their responsibilities; the national police worked with provincial police units to continue investigations. The PETT had established liaisons in each of the 35 district attorney’s offices nationwide. An NGO reported authorities almost exclusively dedicated their anti-trafficking efforts on addressing sex trafficking and the government did not make efforts or provide funding to combat labor trafficking. NGOs reported that Dominican authorities often lacked the training and technology for the identification, investigation, prosecution, and sentencing of both traditional and online trafficking crimes, sometimes favoring the rights of the defendant over those of the victim. The National Police, in cooperation with an NGO, developed an Electronic Investigation Module. The tool could expedite and improve the quality of investigations carried out by the National Police and the Attorney General, but a change in command at the Department of Investigations delayed its full implementation. An NGO reported that although the National Police and Public Ministry carried out investigations, the budget allocation for the specialized trafficking units in these institutions was insufficient, and civil society actors continued to be the primary funders of these efforts. An NGO reported the National Police largely prioritized internal trafficking cases because the police lacked the capacity and technological tools to routinely connect with other source or destination countries, including Haiti. The National Police, in cooperation with an NGO and supported by a foreign donor, carried out their Second National Operation Against Trafficking in Persons and Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), during which multiple institutions worked together in a collaborative planning process; the NGO reported that such collaborative efforts were rare. Observers noted staffing changes in the PETT reportedly caused a significant loss of institutional knowledge on trafficking during the reporting period and some loss of coordination at the working level as the new staff learned their responsibilities. However, observers reported the PETT subsequently increased its interagency collaboration on investigations. An NGO reported it was common for officials to incorrectly perceive a trafficking victim as being a voluntary participant or complicit actor in a migrant smuggling business. The government also reported a lack of understanding of the nature of trafficking among the Dominican population hindered effective identification and investigation of the crime.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government reported it filed a disciplinary action against the former head of the PETT for obstruction of justice; he was undergoing disciplinary hearings in court at the end of the reporting period. There were no other reports of official complicity during the reporting period, but an international organization noted there was limited data available on investigations and their results, particularly during the pandemic. The government did not report the status of a 2017 sex trafficking case involving police officers and members of the military. The government reported that in order to reduce official complicity, it rigorously screened and supervised security personnel providing services in border areas; it also increased salaries and training to officers. The government did not have courts specifically for trafficking cases, nor was there a separate judicial budget for trafficking. Courts used a virtual hearing system until mid-December 2021. The government also reported that experienced law enforcement personnel were insufficient at times due to COVID-19 cases and mitigation policies, which shifted personnel to enforcing curfews and other pandemic policies.
The National Migration Institute (INM) reported it trained a total of 155 people during the reporting period, including employees of the Directorate General of Migration on detecting the crime of trafficking and employees at the Ministry of Defense on the identification of fraudulent documents and imposters. An international organization funded the majority of the workshops. The National School of the Judiciary trained its personnel on trafficking. The National Police, in partnership with an NGO and an international organization, carried out training for 300 investigators including police officers, prosecutors, other public servants, as well as members of civil society on trafficking and CSEC investigations.
The government maintained victim protection efforts. Authorities reported identifying 65 victims (29 of sex trafficking, eight of labor trafficking, and 28 of unspecified exploitation including pandering), compared with 95 potential victims (82 of sex trafficking and 13 of labor trafficking) in 2020, 195 potential victims in 2019, and 96 potential victims in 2018. Of the sex trafficking victims, six were women, including four Dominicans and two Colombians, 21 were girls, including 18 Dominicans and three Haitians, and two were Dominican boys. Of the labor trafficking victims, one was a Venezuelan woman, one was a U.S. citizen man, four were Dominican girls, and two were U.S. citizen boys. Of the other victims, 11 were women, 15 were men, and two were girls, all of whom were Dominican. NGOs initially identified and referred to authorities three of the child sex trafficking victims. Observers noted data collection improved somewhat during the current reporting period as the number of reported sex trafficking victims in previous reporting periods may have included individuals in commercial sex who were not victims present during raids of nightclubs. In current and previous reporting periods, statistics may not have included potential Haitian victims not screened or referred before deportation, despite the known prevalence of trafficking among Haitian migrants. The government reported it referred all 65 victims to government or government-supported NGO services and all received services, compared with 12 confirmed victims referred to care in the previous reporting period, but it did not specify which services the victims received. Observers also noted data collection improved with respect to the government’s reporting of individuals referred to care.
The government largely relied on NGOs and religious-based organizations to provide accommodations for foreign and Dominican trafficking victims in addition to psychological, reintegration, repatriation, and medical assistance and services. These organizations had limited technical skills and resources and lacked capacity to provide for the large number of victims in country. An NGO reported the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONANI) experienced two changes in leadership during the reporting period, neither of which improved the performance of the agency, which still struggled to provide emergency care for child victims and psychotherapeutic treatment for victims. The government reported implementing health protocols for victim services in response to the pandemic. The Tourist Police identified child victims during patrols or from public calls at tourist attractions, such as parks and clandestine privately-owned hostels; other tourist areas such as beaches and spas were closed due to the pandemic. The Tourist Police provided personal protective equipment kits with gloves, masks, and hand sanitizer to child victims.
The government reported PETT’s investigations department identified victims or possible victims during operations. When carrying out an operation or investigation, the government reported using screening and referral protocols. However, government and outside observers noted authorities did not consistently or effectively implement the protocols, particularly with regard to screening detained migrants. The government reported that, when detaining or arresting individuals in commercial sex, migrants, or other at-risk groups, law enforcement, immigration, and social services personnel conducted an assessment to determine if they were trafficking victims; however, it did not identify any victims as a result of these assessment. Police may have penalized child trafficking victims, particularly those involved in robbery gangs or illicit narcotics, for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. An NGO also reported the lack of interpreters, particularly for Haitian nationals, continued to hinder victim identification efforts. With the support of an international organization and an NGO, the Directorate General of Migration, the Security Department (CSEC), and the two specialized departments of the Attorney General and the National Police signed an MOU in March 2022 to improve the airport screening process for trafficking victims. Authorities likely detained, arrested, and deported some unidentified trafficking victims, including Venezuelan migrants. The government and an international organization developed and used standard operating procedures for children recovered in international waters.
The government reported it referred all child victims to the National Directorate for Children, Adolescents, and Family to coordinate victim services. CONANI provided protection both in its shelters and in residential programs run by NGOs for as long as required. The Central Directorate of the Tourism Police arranged lodging for potential child victims in conjunction with CONANI and NGOs. The government opened a permanent shelter for trafficking victims run by the Ministry of Women in July 2021 with capacity for 24 adult victims; the government sheltered five victims there during the reporting period. The Ministry of Women reported it opened an additional 15 shelters for victims of gender-based violence including trafficking victims during the reporting period. The trafficking shelter reportedly provided psychological and legal assistance, immigration support, comprehensive health care, food, education, and job training. An NGO reported the government continued to offer victims services on a temporary basis and government funding and service quality was inadequate. RELEVIC could also provide public lawyers to represent victims. The government reported it also provided legal assistance for victims who wished to file civil suits for compensation against the traffickers; NGOs reported prosecutors did not always pursue restitution for victims and without public legal assistance victims were often unable to afford to pursue the case. The government reported the Department of Mental Health provided psychological assistance to victims. The National Health Service could conduct medical evaluations of trafficking victims at hospitals in Santo Domingo. The government reported it worked with the embassies and consulates of the country of origin of foreign victims to provide consular and repatriation services and represent their interests as necessary. The government reported it tailored services according to the victims’ needs. An international organization reported the government did not refer or provided delayed or insufficient services for female Haitian trafficking victims.
An international organization reported finalizing a joint project with the judiciary to develop an interview protocol for child victims and witnesses of crimes of sexual violence that established guidelines for abiding by applicable human rights concerns and intended to avoid re-traumatizing the victims and witnesses; the government did not report implementing the protocol by the end of the reporting period. The government reported providing support to 56 victims in the investigation or prosecution of their alleged traffickers and conducting interviews of victim-witnesses in a Gesell Chamber to avoid re-victimization of survivors. The trafficking law did not provide immigration protections for trafficking victims whether or not they assisted with court cases. However, the government reported it did not detain or deport trafficking victims and that if victims wished to return to their country of origin, the government would forgive the overstay fee they may have incurred. Local NGOs stated that although the government did not deport foreign trafficking victims, it also did not offer temporary residence or work permits or take constructive steps to regularize a victim’s immigration status after a short period of time. As a result, foreign victims may have found themselves without legal status, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking. The government permitted victims to work. An NGO reported judges could limit victims’ movement, disincentivizing their participation in judicial actions. The government reported training officials on legal support and protection systems and assistance for victims and the identification and protection of child victims. The government reported no Dominican trafficking victims were identified abroad.
The government maintained prevention efforts. CITIM, the national coordinating body responsible for efforts against trafficking chaired by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, met twice. The government reported it held six joint meetings between the National Steering Committee to Combat Child Labor and the Commission against Abuse and Commercial Sexual Exploitation. The government reported it delayed passage of the draft trafficking legislation in order to seek input from survivors in December 2021. The government did not complete its development of a new NAP to address trafficking. The government did not allocate specific funds for implementation of its existing 2018 NAP beyond the standard operating budgets for CITIM institutions. However, it allocated funds to the Ministry of Women for new shelters. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not publish on its website an annual evaluation of anti-trafficking efforts of each CITIM member institution as it had done in prior years. INM reported it implemented a research project on trafficking with funding from a foreign donor from 2018 to 2021; it studied trafficking among unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents and researched Dominican women exploited in trafficking abroad and their relationships with family members in the Dominican Republic, through case studies in Spain, Switzerland, and Costa Rica. INM shared the results of its studies with experts and made the results available to the public.
The government, in collaboration with an NGO, raised public awareness of trafficking and sexual exploitation in high tourist areas. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) carried out, in cooperation with an international organization and with funding from a foreign donor, an awareness campaign in Spanish against child labor. The government continued to disseminate material on billboards and to the local press and radio through the “Ojo Pelao” (“Eyes Peeled”) awareness and prevention campaign for potential victims, focusing particularly on those individuals in commercial sex. PETT held awareness-raising roundtables with community leaders and members in partnership with NGOs. The government promoted the opening of the trafficking shelter. The government continued the national “No Hay Excusas” (“No Excuses”) campaign against child sexual exploitation. The government conducted an awareness campaign for the Tourism Police on trafficking and child labor in coordination with an international organization and trained officials on Dominican passport security measures. The government provided teaching facilitators, transportation, facilities and equipment, and refreshments.
PETT operated a dedicated 24/7 national trafficking hotline and reported it received calls on 16 trafficking cases during the reporting period. Four other general hotlines and a new email address could also receive human trafficking calls in Spanish, English, French, and Haitian Creole. In addition, CONANI operated a hotline for the referral of children without appropriate care during the pandemic.
The government made some efforts to address vulnerabilities among migrant populations. Starting in April 2021, approximately 43,000 Venezuelans with irregular migratory status registered to normalize their status with the possibility to work or study until the Maduro regime declared an end to the current situation in the country. The government reported that although this program was not directly related to trafficking, it nonetheless provided a preventive measure for a group at high risk of trafficking. Media reported the government suspended a plan in January 2022 to provide Haitians in border areas with identification cards to facilitate commercial exchange. The Ministry of Interior also refused to process Dominican citizenship to 50 persons of Haitian descent granted via presidential decree and continued to decline to renew work permits for more than 200,000 immigrants and Dominicans of Haitian descent who obtained documentation after a 2014 law. Observers noted that barring residency permits to Haitians and their descendants – including those born in the Dominican Republic who had never been to Haiti – caused a lack of access to the formal labor sector, secondary and post-secondary education, and medical care and caused risks of deportation to Haiti at any time, leaving them vulnerable to trafficking. In spite of the government’s obligations to enforce its labor laws under the Central American Free Trade Agreement, observers noted the lack of documentation faced by most workers in the sugar industry left them at risk for abuse, including trafficking. In January 2022, the government announced a new policy for agricultural and construction companies to register undocumented workers, who were primarily Haitian, through a temporary work permit program valid for one year at a time; however, registration would begin with Haitian citizens who had a passport, a national identity card, or a birth certificate, and beneficiaries under the law would be required to have some form of valid identification.
The labor code prohibited the charging of fees for the recruitment of workers; the recruitment of workers through fraudulent offers of employment; misrepresentation of wages, working conditions, location, or nature of work; and the confiscation or denial of workers’ access to identity documents. The MOL reported working with a foreign government to review regulations on supervision and protection for workers and those seeking employment with the goal of improving the National System for the Regulation of Employment Agencies. The government drafted revised public procurement legislation that would change awards criteria from the lowest price offer to that with the highest value for money, prevent abnormally low offers from being awarded, and incorporate and implement the Regulatory Compliance Program in public procurement; the legislation remained pending at the end of the reporting period. The government reported 56,938 labor inspections, compared with 41,953 labor inspections in 2020; the government trained all labor inspectors on trafficking in September 2021. Complaints about child labor could be made electronically, by telephone, or in person at any of the 40 offices of the MOL. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex. The government carried out child sex tourism awareness-raising activities in main tourist areas. The government continued to participate in a multi-country operation to identify and investigate individuals traveling overseas who had been convicted of sexual crimes against children and may engage in sex tourism. The government reported it denied entry to more than 270 individuals during the reporting period as being potential sex tourists. Laws provided for the prosecution of Dominican citizens who engage in child sex tourism abroad; the government did not report any prosecutions for child sex tourism. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs trained diplomats through six virtual trainings. The government trained army personnel prior to their participation in overseas peacekeeping missions.
TRAFFICKING PROFILE: As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in the Dominican Republic, and traffickers exploit victims from the Dominican Republic abroad. Dominican women and children, particularly from impoverished areas, were sex trafficking victims throughout the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean, South and Central America, Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. Foreign victims especially from Haiti, and from other parts of the Caribbean, Asia, and Latin America, were trafficking victims in the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic has the largest stateless population in the Western Hemisphere; a 2014 law created a mechanism to provide citizenship papers or a naturalization process to stateless persons, but the law has not been properly implemented, leaving at least 135,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent effectively stateless and vulnerable to trafficking. Experts noted an increase in the number of Venezuelan trafficking victims in the Dominican Republic since the onset of Venezuela’s economic and political crisis. Cuban nationals working as doctors in prior reporting periods and baseball players may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. The Dominican Republic is a destination for sex tourists primarily from North America and Europe for child sex trafficking. Sex trafficking of 15- to 17-year-old girls occurs in streets, in parks, and on beaches. Traffickers operating in networks continue to employ methods to mask their activities, including the use of catalogs to sell victims to potential clients, using private homes, rented private apartments, or extended stay hotels to house victims. The government reported its research in 2021 showed that during the pandemic, traffickers increasingly used online platforms for recruitment and exploitation. In cases of sexual exploitation of children, WhatsApp chats and social media are used to attract children and exploit them. NGOs report police complicity in areas known for child sex trafficking. Government officials and NGOs report an increase in traffickers recruiting Colombian and Venezuelan women to dance in strip clubs and later coerce them into sex trafficking. Traffickers lure Dominican women to work in nightclubs in the Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America and subject them to sex trafficking. The pandemic forced many companies to idle workers at partial salaries or lay them off entirely, increasing their vulnerability to trafficking. The government offered unemployment benefits, but many households sought informal labor opportunities. The government reported an increase in child labor in 2021 due to the pandemic. Dominican officials and NGOs documented cases of children forced into domestic service, street vending, begging, agricultural work, construction, robbery gangs, and moving illicit narcotics. In 2020, the government described an increase in Dominican trafficking victims, specifically children, brought from the interior of the country to coastal tourist areas. There are reports of forced labor of adults in construction, agricultural, and service sectors. The precarious legal situation for Dominicans of Haitian descent, the fear of deportation, and the discrimination they face increases their risks for trafficking and labor abuses, including in the sugar industry. Haitian women report smugglers often become traffickers for the purpose of sexual exploitation along the border, and observers note traffickers operate along the border with impunity and sometimes with the assistance of corrupt government officials who accept bribes to allow undocumented crossings. Unofficial border crossings remain unmonitored and porous, leaving migrants, including children, vulnerable to trafficking. In December 2021, media reported statements by senators that the Haitian-Dominican border lacked official control, thereby facilitating trafficking. LGBTQI+ individuals experience high levels of violence, which may include trafficking. An increased number of unaccompanied children at risk for trafficking were interdicted and returned from the high seas surrounding Puerto Rico during the reporting period.