Human trafficking is among the “most significant criminal market” in the Marshall Islands, the 2021 Global Organised Crime Index report has indicated.
The concerning anomaly comes after the country’s five islands and 29 coral atolls that spans across 1,900,000 km2 was rated very low for criminal activity in the world behind six others including Palau, Nauru, Samoa and Vanuatu.
The report has pointed that most of the trafficking has happened internally, although cases to other nations have also been recorded.
“Foreign individuals or groups in the country drive demand for sexual exploitation, while domestic actors are involved as both victims and perpetrators,” the report said.
Children from the Marshall Islands have been trafficked and sexually exploited to the United States.
“Even though there is no indication that trafficking for adoption is a common practice, a recent case flagged the country’s vulnerability to this practice,” the report added.
The Marshall Islands has also been a destination country for victims of sexual exploitation from East Asia.
Young women, including preadolescent girls, from mainland China have been lured to the Marshall Islands and forced into prostitution.
Many impoverished nationals from the outer islands are involved in labour exploitation from some of the wealthier families under the pretext of “traditional cultural practices”, the report said.
Foreign fishermen are also exploited in practices indicative of forced labour on fishing vessels among the vast domestic waters.
While such practices of exploitation are not uncommon in the Micronesian nation, the report adds the crime is not rampant among a population of just 58,000 people.
“It appears that human smuggling does not affect the Marshall Islands on any significant scale as neither a source, transit nor destination country.”
Allegations have also indicated that foreign nationals have acquired travel or identity documents from the Marshall Islands to get access to the United States, but that practice either has “largely declined or ceased altogether”.
Other criminal activity included the trafficking of stolen firearms which is quite prominent, but the criminal market remains at the low end of the scale.
The use of cocaine has escalated in recent years, it was found.
“Instances of cocaine washing up ashore or being caught in fishing nets have also been recorded, pointing to organised seaborne trans-shipments crossing Marshallese waters.”