The month of February has been declared the Anti-Human Trafficking Awareness Month in order to bring attention to human trafficking and exploitation of adults and children which “tears apart communities, fuels criminal activity and threatens national security”.

The Presidential Proclamation No. 22-316 states that it reaffirms Palau’s commitment to “protect the dignity and freedom of all people and to combat human trafficking domestically and globally.”

Palau adopted the Anti-Smuggling and Trafficking Act in 2005 that defines human trafficking (people trafficking) as “recruitment, transportation, harboring or receipt of a person for the purposes of exploitation.”

Furthermore, the law defines the offense of people trafficking as “every person who knowingly or recklessly recruits, transports, harbors or receives any person or persons for the purpose of exploitation by threat, use of force, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power or the giving or receiving of payments/benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another.”

In 2018, Palau established an Anti-Human Trafficking Office to coordinate efforts to combat human trafficking and implement the Anti-Human Trafficking Action Plan. The Office has recently been renamed the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit under the Division of Transnational Crime of the Bureau of Public Safety.

Palau has recently been placed on Tier 2 Watch List in the Human Trafficking 2021 Report issued annually by the United States Department of State, falling below its previous ranking of just Tier 2.

In the report, it cited that Palau has prosecuted fewer cases of trafficking in 2021 than it did in previous years and that public officials are complicit in the cases of human trafficking.  These and other citing pushed Palau to Watch List category.

Palau disputed the statement that public officials are complicit in the system of trafficking, saying that such incidents are isolated and some are undergoing legal prosecutions. It also justified that fewer prosecutions in 2021 are due in part to border closures and re-allocation of national resources to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Anti-Trafficking Unit had revised the Anti-Human Trafficking National Action Plan to focus on “4P Paradigm: Prevention, Protection, Prosecution and Partnership” to guide Palau’s response to combatting human trafficking.

The proclamation states, “Palau shall prioritize legislative and executive actions that would increase efforts to detect, investigate, prosecute and convict human traffickers with adequate penalties that remove fines in lieu of prison time; overcome information sharing and reporting challenges; enforce punishment of recruiters; empower agents and labor officials for illegal practices that facilitate trafficking; as well as increase resources and develop victim protection and assistance through a comprehensive Crimes Victims Act.”

President Surangel Whipps Jr. signed the proclamation on January 28, declaring the whole month of February as Anti-Human Trafficking Awareness Month.

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