The Marshall Islands and Papua New Guinea are the only two Pacific island nations to receive the worst ranking in the United States government's annual human trafficking report, released on Friday.
It is the second year in a row in Tier 3, the lowest ranking, for the Marshall Islands. Papua New Guinea's ranking declined from the Tier 2 watchlist last year to Tier 3 this year.
Of the eight Pacific nations evaluated by the US State Department, three dropped in ranking while five stayed the same. Fiji, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau are in Tier 2, the highest ranking for the region. Kiribati and Tonga dropped from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 watchlist (sub-group) this year, joining Solomon Islands that is in this category for the second consecutive year. Marshall Islands and PNG in Tier 3 round out the trafficking report's ranking.
"The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) is a source and destination country for RMI women and children and women from East Asia subjected to sex trafficking," said the 2016 report. "RMI girls are recruited by foreign business owners to engage in prostitution with crew members of foreign fishing and transhipping vessels that dock in Majuro. Some of these foreign fishermen may themselves be subject to conditions indicative of forced labour on ships in Marshallese waters."
The Marshall Islands "does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so," it said.
The report acknowledged efforts by the government's National Task Force on Human Trafficking (NTHT) to conduct outreach education about trafficking. But the report also noted that a national action plan submitted by the task force to the government's Cabinet last year had yet to gain endorsement.
The report outlined numerous trafficking issues in Papua New Guinea, saying the country "is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour. Foreign and local women and children are subjected to sex trafficking, domestic servitude, and forced begging or street vending. Foreign and local men are subjected to forced labour in logging and mining camps as well as on fishing vessels operating in Papua New Guinea's exclusive economic zone."
The report estimated that 19 percent of the country's labour market was comprised of child workers, "some of whom are subjected to forced labour or prostitution." The report added that NGO sources indicated the number of children exploited in prostitution increased by 30 percent in 2013.
"Government officials reportedly facilitate trafficking by accepting bribes to allow undocumented migrants to enter the country or ignore trafficking situations," said the report of Papua New Guinea.
The State Department report made numerous recommendations for all countries evaluated, including for the Marshall Islands and PNG that they ratify the 2000 United Nations Trafficking in Persons Protocol.
The Marshall Islands should "increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish traffickers, amend the criminal code to prohibit all forms of trafficking, approve a national plan of action that outlines RMI's plan to combat trafficking and has dedicated resources for implementation," said the report among a series of recommendations. It also urged the government to "prosecute public officials when they are complicit in trafficking activities."
The 2016 report on the Marshall Islands also suggested that Marshall Islanders migrating to the United States may be subject to trafficking conditions after they arrive. "Limited reports indicate some Marshallese searching for work in the United States experience indicators of trafficking, such as passport confiscation, excessive work hours, and fraudulent recruitment," said the report. "Some Marshallese children are transported to the United States where they are subjected to situations of sexual abuse with indicators of sex trafficking."