By Giff Johnson
Majuro - The Marshall Islands received its highest grade in six years from the US government's 2018 Trafficking in Persons report issued at the end of June.
The Marshall Islands was bumped up to "Tier 2" after spending the last five years either on the Tier 3 "black list" (2015 and 2016) or the Tier 2 Watch List (2013-14 and 2016).
The new US State Department report said the Marshall Islands government "does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. However, it is making significant efforts to do so".
Five other Pacific nations are ranked in the 2018 State Department report. Palau has been on Tier 2 for eight consecutive years, while the Federated States of Micronesia has been listed on Tier 2 for five years.
Fiji, meanwhile, after seven years on Tier 2, dropped to Tier 2 Watch List.
After spending four years on the Tier 2 Watch List, Solomon Islands now has two consecutive years at Tier 2.
Papua New Guinea has been on the trafficking "blacklist" for six of the past eight years, and dropped back to Tier 3 in the 2018 report after a year of improving to Tier 2 Watch List. Other nations in the South Pacific were not included in the 2018 report.
The report said the Marshall Islands "demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. Therefore, Marshall Islands was upgraded to Tier 2".
Among the improvements was passage by Nitijela (parliament) of a comprehensive trafficking law with increased penalties, implementation of a National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking, and additional training programs, the report said.
At the same time, the Marshall Islands did not meet minimum standards in certain areas. These include that the government did not report any systematic efforts to identify trafficking victims among foreign and local women in prostitution, or prosecute or convict any individuals for trafficking offences.
The State Department report said the Marshall Islands is a destination for East Asian and Marshallese girls and women subjected to sex trafficking and a transit point for foreign fishermen subjected to labor trafficking.
It stated that women and girls were recruited and transported by hotel and bar staff and family members and subjected to sex trafficking with crewmembers of foreign fishing and transshipping vessels that use port Majuro.
"Observers report sexual activity involving foreign fishermen has moved from fishing vessels to local bars and hotels," the report said.
The State Department urged the Marshall Islands to "increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers under the new law, sentencing them to penalties appropriate for the seriousness of the crime; adopt proactive procedures to identify trafficking victims among all vulnerable groups, such as children, women in prostitution and foreign fishermen; strengthen efforts to fund and administer protective services for victims in cooperation with NGOs and international organizations; develop and conduct anti-trafficking education and awareness-raising campaigns; undertake research to study human trafficking in the country; and accede to the 2000 UN Trafficking in Persons Protocol.