Joey wins trafficking award

Delap Park came alive with the Human Trafficking Video Competition last weekend. Joey Bejang, third from left, won the $2,000 first prize, posing with contest judges, from left: Chewy Lin, Claret Chong Gum, and Lometo Philippo. Photo: Goodwin Silk.

WILMER JOEL

The legend of Jebro, who defeated his 11 elder brothers in a canoe race for the title of irooj (chief) by obeying his mother’s counsel, happened simultaneously with Jerakoj Joey Bejang and five of his friends as they listened to a mother’s advice in putting together a video for the first-ever human trafficking video competition last weekend at Delap Park.

The Asia Foundation and the US Agency for International Development sponsored the event, with hosts DJ Yastamon and Jasmine Myazoe.

Five videos were submitted, but three were selected and judged by photographer Chewy Lin, Miss Marshall Islands Claret Chong Gum, and Assistant Attorney General Lometo Philippo.

Joey and his friends video came out on top, winning $2,000 and a Canon EOS Rebel T7 camera. Lieom Loeak’s video came in second, winning $1,000 and a Canon EOS Rebel T100 camera, followed by Tinong Kramer’s video, which netted him $500 and a Polaroid Now Camera.

Joey, an 11-year-old student at Majuro Cooperative School and son of Lib Senator Joe and Mary Bejang, thanked his mother and his friends for helping him with the one-day-long video.

When Mary learned that her son did not know anything about human trafficking, she assumed that not many kids did either. She recommended that Joey and his friends living in Rairok enter the competition to learn more about the issue.

Although Mary has zero experience in filmmaking, she contributed to recording and editing the video.

Mary claims that the purpose of the video was to portray human trafficking from a local viewpoint because it occurs frequently but is not recognized as such. “For example, the children we bring from the outer islands, instead of putting them to school, we put them to work; that’s why I wanted them to (label) that as human trafficking, but we Marshallese don’t recognize it.”

Mary told the Journal that the success of the video was a result of teamwork. “I am happy for my son, but it was not only him; it was a team effort, and they did a good job working together.” Joey urged children and teenagers to “take people you know, be confident in yourself, and do not doubt yourself.”

The second-place finisher, Lieom Loeak, told the Journal that her two-day-long video focused on illegal adoption in the islands. “I chose to do this because we usually hear news about Marshallese girls selling their babies.” Her advice to interested filmmakers is that if she can do it, then you can do it too.

In related trafficking in persons news:

For the fifth time in the last seven years, the RMI has been placed on the US State Department’s “Tier 2 Watch List” for trafficking in persons.

The State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons global report was issued recently, and it shows the Marshall Islands was downgraded from “Tier 2” to the “Watch List,” the ranking next to the blacklist level “Tier 3.”

In 2015 and 2016, the RMI was put on the Tier 3 blacklist, joining countries such as North Korea and Iran. But since then, sporadic activity by government to address trafficking issues and conditions has helped to improve the RMI’s ranking.

“The Government of Marshall Islands does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so,” said the latest report. “These efforts included identifying a labor trafficking victim with assistance from an NGO, conducting awareness raising activities, and continuing an investigation of a government official allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, even considering the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity. For the third consecutive year, the government did not prosecute any traffickers and has not convicted any traffickers since 2011. The government did not utilize standard operating procedures to identify trafficking victims and inappropriately penalized victims solely for immigration offenses committed as a direct result of being trafficked.”

The report said during the past year, there was no training provided to law enforcement and few resources devoted to this field. “The government did not administer anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officials, despite a limited understanding of trafficking among such officials,” it said. “The government did not provide adequate financial and technical resources for anti-trafficking efforts. Therefore Marshall Islands was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.”

This month, the RMI Attorney General’s office began advertising its plan to promulgate Standard Operating Procedures for National Law Enforcement on Victim Identification, Investigation, Protection, and Referral of Trafficking in Persons Cases 2022 — which is one of the recommendations of the new State Department report. There is a 30-day period for public comments SOP procedures.

The 2023 trafficking report includes 12 recommendations for RMI government action, including: “Investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, including those involving victims’ family members and complicit officials, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.”

The report said the RMI “decreased law enforcement efforts” in the past year. “The government initiated one labor trafficking investigation, compared with one sex trafficking investigation in the previous reporting period,” the report said. “The government continued two investigations initiated in prior years. For the third consecutive year, the government did not prosecute any traffickers.”

The government had a Human Trafficking Coordinator, located within the Attorney General’s Office, whose job was to coordinate trafficking investigations. But the position became vacant in November 2022 and remains vacant, a development that the State Department review said “hindered the government’s ability to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts.”
—Giff Johnson

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