Brothels balk at interim solution country offers

POSTED: 05/23/16 7:08 PM


Clubs are desperately low on girls

St. Maarten News – The Court in First Instance will pronounce its verdict in the dispute over work permits for prostitutes between nine brothels and the government next week Friday. After almost a month, parties have not managed to reach an agreement for an interim-solution and now Judge Katja Mans will have to cut through this Gordian knot.

In December of last year, then interim Minister of Justice Richard Gibson decided to put a full stop on work permits for prostitutes, and said that the government would devise a new policy – one that would set the government free from involvement in human trafficking. Five months down the road, that policy is still not completed, and in the meantime the government has rejected at least 63 requests for work permits; some of these requests were not handled at all.

The brothels are now in dire straits. Le Petit Chateau, normally buzzing with 35 working girls, has just six girls left and the situation at other brothels is not much brighter.

Yesterday parties met again in court. Herbert Coffie, a legal advisor to Minister of Justice Edson Kirindongo, outlined the interim solution the government has on offer.

Prospective sex workers abroad will be able to obtain the requirements for working in St. Maarten’s brothels via email. This information will be available to everybody, Coffie said, adding that the intention is to protect the privacy of applicants. The ministry would process requests for work permits within a week and then contact club owners to place the girls. In a couple of weeks the government could have a website up and running where brothels could advertise their vacancies.

In the meantime, the girls could travel to St. Maarten. In case the permit request is not handled within a week, the ministry will extend this period. “They could also come as tourists to the island and file their request here,” Coffie said.

He stressed that the safety and liberty of the girls and women is paramount. “The club owners will have to offer them a decent contract,” he said. “It has to guarantee the women’s independence.”

Attorney Jairo Bloem, who represents the nine brothels that took the country to court, wondered what the difference is with the practice that was valid until December. “The government does not want to facilitate human trafficking by issuing permits. In this proposal the contact with the women goes via the ministry of justice and not via the clubs. What is the difference?”

The government insists that the clubs no longer intervene in recruiting women abroad, but Bloem emphasized that recruiting is not punishable per se. “It is only punishable if the women are coerced. Now the women apply to the government that sees to it that they meet the requirements and then approval follows. It is all the same.”

Bloem said that the government had not been prepared to talk with the brothel owners during the past four weeks, after the first court hearing on April 25. “Now they come with beautiful words. The previous interim minister of justice has said on two occasions that the new policy was ready, but now we hear that it will take another three months.”

Bloem said that the contracts the clubs offered to the women until December was supplied to them by the government. It contained guarantees that the women were getting into the job voluntarily. “How does this new approach prevent that they come here under pressure or that they are being exploited?” the attorney asked.

Bloem said that the club owners have already given an irrevocable guarantee that they will no longer loan money to the women or pay for their airline tickets. “The clubs are prepared to pay for a psychologist to visit the clubs every week to see whether the women are still feeling alright, or for a behavioral expert to check them upon arrival,” he added.

Bloem also noted that the women who work in the local brothels are not giving all their money to the club owners. “They pay for the rent of their room, that’s all.”

The country’s attorney, Richard Gibson Jr. repeated that the position of the country is that the clubs are not allowed to be involved in recruitment. “The initiative to come here has to come from the women. They can contact the government via email and indicate where they want to work.”

Gibson said that the government considers the compulsive element irrelevant. “Our interim solution is not perfect,” he admitted. “What matters is that we want to facilitate the clubs on short notice. If the clubs do not agree, then they will have to wait until the new policy is ready.

Bloem foresees that this will take a very long time. “The policy needs approval from the parliament and on the kingdom level. The clubs are no longer allowed to recruit, but for the government there is an exception.”

Bloem furthermore alluded to the risk of corruption once there is an entity that handles the permits on behalf of the government. “My clients think they will have to pay to speed up the process. Some clubs will then get their permits faster than others.”

The attorney said that the Public Prosecutor’s Office does not want to talk with him or his clients. “Do you know what the prosecutor’s office is doing? It attempts to guarantee that the cases it won in first instance will hold up on appeal.”

Gibson clarified that the clubs are not allowed to meddle in the request for permits. “In the end, the government issues the permits,” he said. “If the clubs don’t want this then everything stops. In that case there is nothing else the country can do.”

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