Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Trafficking in Persons Report 2008 - Panama

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Publication Date 4 June 2008
Cite as United States Department of State, Trafficking in Persons Report 2008 - Panama, 4 June 2008, available at: [accessed 29 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

PANAMA (Tier 2 Watch List)

Panama is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. The majority of victims are Panamanian women and children trafficked within the country into the sex trade. Some Panamanian women are trafficked to Jamaica and Europe for sexual exploitation. Rural children in Panama may be trafficked internally to urban areas for labor exploitation. Foreign victims trafficked into Panama are from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Central America. Some Colombian women reportedly migrate to Panama, intending to work in Panama's sex industry by means of the country's alternadora visa program, which is commonly used to facilitate prostitution. However, reports indicate that some Colombian women who obtain alternadora visas are defrauded as to the actual conditions of employment and later subjected to conditions of involuntary servitude and forced prostitution.

The Government of Panama does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Panama is nonetheless placed on Tier 2 Watch List for failing to show evidence of increasing efforts to combat human trafficking, particularly with respect to prosecuting, convicting, and sentencing human traffickers for their crimes, and for failing to provide adequate victim assistance. While the government launched innovative prevention initiatives during the reporting period, the government has not taken sufficient tangible measures to bring traffickers to justice.

Recommendations for Panama: Intensify law enforcement efforts against human trafficking; consider terminating or taking other measures to curb the abuse of the alternadora visa program that is commonly used for sex trafficking; dedicate more resources for victim services; strengthen protections for foreign trafficking victims; and develop a formal system for proactively identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, particularly prostituted women and at-risk youth.


The Government of Panama sustained limited efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes during the reporting period. Panama does not prohibit all forms of trafficking, although its Law 16 criminalizes trafficking for commercial sexual exploitation, prescribing punishment from five to eight years in prison, which are sufficiently stringent penalties that are commensurate with those prescribed for rape. During the reporting period, the government investigated 13 sex trafficking cases and convicted one trafficking offender, sentencing the defendant to three years in prison. Such results are even with 2006, when the government convicted one trafficking offender. The government also investigated 184 cases of child sexual exploitation; some of these cases may meet the definition of trafficking and could be prosecuted accordingly. Lack of sufficient coordination among police, prosecutors, and immigration authorities on trafficking cases was reported during the past year. More proactive police techniques to identify locations where potential trafficking activity takes place would likely lead to greater arrests and prosecutions, as would raids and other undercover operations. The government maintained anti-trafficking training for law enforcement and co-sponsored training with international partners. The government collaborates with neighboring governments on international trafficking investigations, although such cooperation reportedly could be strengthened. No reports of official complicity with human trafficking activity have been received.


The Panamanian government continued limited efforts to assist trafficking victims during the reporting period. Most victim services were not available outside the capital. The government offered no dedicated shelter services for trafficking victims, but funded NGOs that operated two shelters accessible to trafficking victims and other victims of sexual exploitation. The government agency in charge of anti-trafficking efforts reported limited funding for anti-trafficking activities, including victim services. The government does not have a formal mechanism for proactively identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, although a new protocol on victim identification was distributed to social-service providers in the past year. Considering the high number of prostituted women in Panama's sex trade, the development of more thorough victim identification procedures could facilitate rescue of greater numbers of trafficking victims. Panamanian authorities encourage victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, and they provide legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution. However, some prosecutors indicated that foreign victims are repatriated involuntarily before they can fully assist with legal efforts in court. There were no reports of victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.


The government showed mixed progress in prevention activities during the reporting period. Despite troubling reports of exploitation of foreign women holding alternadora visas, the government increased the issuance of these visas or work permits to 600 in the past year. While many foreign women using these visas understand they will be involved in prostitution, some do not realize that once they arrive in Panama they will experience conditions of involuntary servitude, such as having to surrender their passports to their employers and not being able to quit or leave. Two Colombian women recently filed suit in Colombia against their recruiters for misrepresenting the nature of their prospective jobs. Additionally, there are no reported government efforts to reduce consumer demand for commercial sex acts in Panama.

The government launched an innovative pilot program with ILO called "Direct Action" to prevent at-risk Panamanian youth from being trafficked or re-trafficked. The program targeted nearly 100 vulnerable adolescents for specialized medical and psychological assistance, in addition to vocational training and furnishing of basic equipment to sell empanadas, tamales, and other food products to develop an alternate source of income. Social workers monitor these youths, and file charges against suspected traffickers when possible. The government also sponsored workshops for journalists on anti-trafficking reporting and how to portray trafficking victims more respectfully, and collaborated with NGOs and international organizations on additional projects.

Panama tier ranking by year

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