Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Colombia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Colombia, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30cd75.html [accessed 29 December 2014]
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.

COLOMBIA (Tier 1)

Colombia is a major source country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking in Latin America, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Asia, and North America, including the United States, as well as a transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor. During the year, seven Colombian sex trafficking victims were identified in Indonesia. Within Colombia, some men and children are found in conditions of forced labor in mining and agriculture, and the sex trafficking of women and children remains a significant problem. Some women and children are subjected to domestic servitude; an international organization published a study noting that 10 percent of domestic workers interviewed in Cali experienced strong indicators of domestic servitude during their first job. NGOs indicated that forced begging was a problem in urban areas. Groups at high risk for internal trafficking include internally displaced persons, poor women in rural areas, indigenous communities, and relatives of members of criminal organizations. Some Ecuadorian children, many of them indigenous, are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in Colombia. Illegal armed groups forcibly recruit children to join their ranks; there are no recent figures to estimate the total number of child soldiers in Colombia, but authorities identified 483 cases of children recruited by armed groups in 2011. Members of gangs and organized criminal networks force relatives, acquaintances, and displaced persons – typically women and children – into conditions of sex trafficking and forced labor, including in the illegal drug trade. Colombia (particularly the northern Colombian coast and Medellin) is a destination for foreign child sex tourists from the United States, Europe, and other South American countries.

The Government of Colombia fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons. During the reporting period, the government maintained strong law enforcement actions against transnational sex trafficking offenders, continued to partner with international organizations on prevention efforts, and reactivated its inactive trafficking hotline. Efforts to investigate internal trafficking cases and forced labor crimes remained weak, however, with no reported convictions for these offenses. Authorities did not make effective use of procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, and the victim protection decree remained pending. While authorities provided services to hundreds of suspected child trafficking victims during the year, the only trafficking-specific shelter in the country, operated by an NGO, opened and shut down during the reporting period due to lack of funding. The significant number of Colombians trafficked abroad as well as internally reflects the continued need for dedicated funding for comprehensive victim services.

Recommendations for Colombia: Ensure that trafficking victims are provided access to protection and specialized services, including dedicated shelters for trafficking victims, through specific funding; work toward finalizing the pending trafficking victim assistance decree with designated funding; create formal measures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations within the country; increase efforts to proactively identify, investigate and prosecute forced labor and internal sex trafficking cases; enhance coordination between labor officials and law enforcement officials to ensure proactive identification and investigation of forced labor cases, including those involving domestic servitude; establish collaborative framework between labor inspectors and police investigators and prosecutors to work on forced labor cases; strengthen the interagency trafficking center's ability to collect accurate data and to coordinate anti-trafficking efforts; offer anti-trafficking training for local police officers, labor inspectors, immigration officials, prosecutors, and judges; provide foreign victims with formal legal alternatives to deportation; continue efforts to identify and assist Colombian trafficking victims abroad through training and increased resources for diplomatic missions in other countries; and continue to raise public awareness about the dangers of all forms of human trafficking.

Prosecution

The Government of Colombia maintained strong law enforcement efforts against transnational human trafficking during the reporting period, though its efforts to investigate and prosecute internal trafficking crimes were weak, with no reported convictions for internal trafficking. Colombia prohibits all forms of trafficking through its anti-trafficking statute, Law 985, which prohibits the capture, transfer, or receipt of a person within the country or overseas for the purposes of exploitation. Exploitation is defined as receiving a benefit, economic or otherwise, through the exploitation or the prostitution of another or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, servitude, begging, servile marriage, organ extraction, sex tourism, or other exploitative activities, for economic or other gain. Law 985 prescribes minimum punishments of 13 to 23 years' imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law's definition of human trafficking does not include the element of force, fraud, or coercion. In 2011, reforms to the penal code increased fines for trafficking of minors, as well as reforming penalties for using minors in the commission of crimes, establishing sentences of 10 to 20 years' imprisonment.

In 2011, Colombian authorities reported 72 open investigations of trafficking cases; the majority of the cases involved adult victims subjected to forced prostitution abroad, with one reported investigation of forced child labor. Authorities reported 56 new trafficking prosecutions, and convictions were obtained in 16 transnational sex trafficking cases during the year. Sentences ranged from two years' to 26 years' imprisonment, with seven convicted traffickers serving sentences under house arrest, and fines ranging from the equivalent of $47,000 to $310,000. In comparison, authorities reported 17 convictions during the previous year, including one for internal labor trafficking. Trafficking crimes are sometimes categorized under other statutes, such as those prohibiting pimping of minors or kidnapping.

While one specialized prosecutor handles all transnational trafficking cases, there were no dedicated units for cases of internal trafficking. Instead, internal cases of trafficking are investigated by local prosecutors, including sex crimes units. Officials noted efforts to investigate trafficking crimes were limited by resources, and the specialized prosecutor faced a significant number of cases. Authorities continued to operate COAT (Operational Anti-Trafficking in Persons Center), an interagency center which was supposed to coordinate and track criminal investigations and prosecutions, collect nationwide information and statistics about trafficking crimes, and refer victims to providers of protective services. A study published in 2011 highlighted the inconsistency in victim and case data from COAT from 2005 through 2010. Authorities committed to launching a new data-tracking system after failing to successfully implement two previous systems, including one developed for the government by an international organization.

NGOs and international organizations expressed concern that some government officials had a limited understanding of human trafficking, and could therefore not effectively identify and assist victims. In partnership with an international organization, public officials received training on how to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, as well as how to assist trafficking victims, including through a mock trial training program where more than 400 officials were trained in 2011. The government did not report any cooperative international trafficking investigations during the reporting period. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any public officials for trafficking-related offenses.

Protection

The Government of Colombia provided some assistance to trafficking victims: authorities identified and assisted a significant number of potential child trafficking victims through programs targeted at child victims of sexual violence and for child soldiers, but few services were available specifically for trafficking victims. The government did not report employing formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations within the country, such as displaced persons or women in prostitution. Labor inspectors did not report identifying any trafficking victims during the reporting period, and efforts to identify forced labor victims were minimal, as most inspections were carried out in the formal economy, as opposed to the informal and illicit sectors, and inspectors lacked sufficient funding for transportation.

Officials noted that the lack of legal guidelines for the care and protection of victims remained a significant challenge. A victim protection decree to formally assign responsibility for victim services and to allocate funding was required by Law 985 and was first drafted in 2008; however, it remained pending during the year. Officials and members of civil society noted that without this decree, there is no set budget for victim services, and instructions for victim identification and assistance were lacking. Some local officials noted that in the absence of this decree, they could not claim competency on the issue or include it in their budget.

The government reported identifying 21 trafficking victims in 2011; all but one victim was subjected to sex trafficking, and one victim was a child. In comparison, in 2010, authorities reported identifying 76 transnational trafficking victims and 15 victims of internal trafficking. The majority of victims identified by authorities were adults exploited in transnational sex trafficking. A study published during the year by an international organization with anti-trafficking expertise suggested that this form of trafficking is greatly under-reported and under-identified by officials. The Colombian Child Welfare Institute (ICBF) reported 589 cases of child prostitution in 2011, and it is likely that many of these cases involved trafficking victims. Colombian consular officials reported assisting nine Colombian victims trafficked overseas during the reporting period: four in Indonesia, three in China, one in Guatemala, and one in Singapore. In comparison, Colombian consular officers abroad assisted 106 trafficking victims in 2010. However, a study published during the year noted that in 70 percent of the cases of transnational trafficking registered by authorities between 2006 and 2010, there was no information regarding the form of trafficking, calling into question the accuracy of this data. One NGO in Medellin noted that the majority of the victims they assisted were internally displaced, and authorities reported rescuing 282 children from armed groups in 2011.

The majority of specialized victim services in Colombia were funded by international organizations and NGOs. The government reported providing an international organization with the equivalent of approximately $22,000 in funding for short-term victim services, to be dispersed through Colombian NGOs, as well as a separate amount of the equivalent of $28,000 for emergency assistance to transnational trafficking victims abroad. Ten victims received services through NGOs funded by this mechanism. Authorities reported following a national trafficking victim assistance plan to refer all 21 identified victims to services. Officials reported that this system worked well and noted that significant funding for victim services remained at the end of the year. However, NGOs receiving these funds asserted that the referral process did not work well in practice, and that funding was insufficient and inefficiently distributed. During the year, one NGO opened the first shelter in Colombia dedicated to assisting trafficking victims, but the shelter closed due to lack of funding. The ICBF operated 34 centers that offered comprehensive services for child victims of sexual violence, although it did not maintain statistics on how many child trafficking victims received services at these centers during the year. The government maintained a reintegration program for child soldiers found in the ranks of armed groups and during the year 835 children participated in the program. Authorities reported providing medical and psychological care, access to financial and employment assistance, and information and legal support for judicial processes; however, NGOs stated that this assistance was cursory and inadequate. An international organization noted that reintegration services and assistance beyond short-term emergency care were minimal. Services for male victims were very limited.

The government encouraged victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions. Prosecutors reported that six victims collaborated with law enforcement officials to identify traffickers in 2011. However, most victims were reluctant to testify against their traffickers due to fear of reprisals or lack of awareness of their status as victims of a serious crime. An NGO reported that the judicial process re-victimized the victims. While there is a limited program to provide protections to victims of crimes who testify, no trafficking victims participated during the year. Officials reported that five victims received monetary compensations of an undisclosed amount. There were no reports of victims being jailed or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. There was no specialized legal mechanism whereby the government offered a visa or temporary residence status to foreign trafficking victims. Authorities reported that they could provide foreign trafficking victims with temporary permission to remain in the country during the investigative process on a case-by-case basis; however, authorities did not report identifying or assisting any foreign trafficking victims in 2011.

Prevention

The government maintained prevention efforts against human trafficking in partnership with civil society organizations. The interagency anti-trafficking committee continued to coordinate efforts and to implement the national strategy to combat trafficking, and reported meeting frequently during the reporting period, although civil society actors noted that high turnover impacted its efficacy. In partnership with an international organization, all 32 departments maintained anti-trafficking committees, although they maintained varying degrees of activity and civil society actors noted that some existed in name only. In June 2011, authorities re-launched the human trafficking hotline: from April 2010 to June 2011, the hotline had ceased functioning due to insufficient funds. Between June and December 2011, the line received 8,000 calls. Authorities conducted a wide range of awareness-raising activities in partnership with international organizations, including a national information campaign on trafficking. Authorities continued to partially fund awareness workshops by an international organization that trained over 3,000 beauty salon employees during the year. Child sex tourism is not a specific crime under Colombian law; while the ICBF reported 49 cases of child sex tourism in 2011 and law enforcement investigated several child sex tourists during the year, there were no reported prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists in Colombia. There were no reported efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex from adults or any efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.

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