Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July 2014, 17:47 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Venezuela

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Venezuela, 19 June 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4fe30c845.html [accessed 1 August 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.

VENEZUELA (Tier 2 Watch List)

Venezuela is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Venezuelan women and girls are found in conditions of sex trafficking within the country, lured from poor interior regions to urban and tourist centers, such as Caracas, Maracaibo, and Margarita Island. Victims are often recruited through false job offers. In June 2011, a Venezuelan official reported that trafficking victims from Colombia, Peru, Haiti, China, and South Africa were exploited in Venezuela, although it was unclear when these victims were identified. Some Venezuelan children are forced to work as street beggars or as domestic servants, and Ecuadorian children, often from indigenous communities, are subjected to forced labor, particularly in Caracas. Some Venezuelan women are transported from coastal areas by small boats to Caribbean islands, particularly Aruba, Curacao, and Trinidad and Tobago, where they are subjected to forced prostitution. Organized crime is widely believed to be involved in facilitating sex trafficking in Venezuela.

The Government of Venezuela does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Because the assessment of the government's significant efforts is based largely or in part on the government's commitment of future actions over the coming year, Venezuela is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. During the year, the National Assembly approved reforms that will strengthen Venezuela's legal framework against trafficking. Authorities reported convicting two traffickers and identifying and assisting 38 trafficking victims. The government also undertook public information campaigns and training of law enforcement, port and airport staff, and tourism service personnel to identify and prevent trafficking. However, prosecution and conviction efforts appeared to remain weak, and specialized victim services were lacking. The Government of Venezuela did not provide information on its efforts to combat human trafficking for this report, and there was limited public information regarding the nature of the trafficking problem or government efforts to fight it.

Recommendations for Venezuela: Amend existing trafficking laws to prohibit and adequately punish all forms of human trafficking; intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of sex trafficking and forced labor, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; fund specialized services to trafficking victims, in partnership with civil society organizations; implement formal and proactive procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution; enhance interagency cooperation, perhaps through forming a permanent anti-trafficking working group; provide publicly-available information regarding government efforts to combat human trafficking; consider strengthening the government anti-trafficking framework through enacting a national plan; and improve data collection for trafficking crimes.

Prosecution

The Government of Venezuela maintained limited anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the last year. Venezuelan law prohibits most forms of human trafficking through its 2007 Organic Law on the Right of Women to a Violence-Free Life. Article 56 of this law prohibits the trafficking of women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, irregular adoption, or organ extraction, prescribing punishments of 15 to 20 years' imprisonment. Articles 46 and 47 prohibit forced prostitution and sexual slavery, and prescribe penalties of 10 to 20 years' imprisonment. Article 16 of the Organic Law against Organized Crime, enacted in 2005, prohibits transnational sex and labor trafficking, and prescribes penalties of 10 to 18 years' imprisonment. The above penalties are sufficiently stringent, and commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape, but do not address the internal trafficking of men or boys. Although prosecutors could use Venezuela's Child Protection Act and various articles of the penal code to prosecute the internal trafficking of boys, there were no publicly available reports of convictions for this crime during the reporting period and many of these statutes prescribe inadequate penalties – typically a maximum of three months in jail or fines.

In January 2012, the National Assembly adopted a reform of the Organic Law against Organized Crime and Terrorist Financing. This reform does not limit the definition of human trafficking to women and girls and increases penalties against anyone who "promotes, encourages, facilitates, or executes" human trafficking as part of an organized crime group to 20-25 years' imprisonment or to 25-30 years in cases involving minors. A separate draft Organic Law against Trafficking in Persons, written in consultation with civil society organizations, was re-introduced to the National Assembly during the reporting period, but was not passed. In addition to increasing penalties for trafficking crimes and prohibiting the internal trafficking of men and boys, the draft law would establish provisions on victim protection and interagency coordination.

The government reportedly investigated and arrested individuals in several sex trafficking cases. In 2011, authorities initiated two prosecutions for sex trafficking crimes. During the reporting period, a Caracas court convicted two women of sex trafficking crimes; they were each sentenced to five years' imprisonment, but were granted parole, conditional on court appearance every eight days. In comparison, in 2010 there were no publicly available reports of convictions of human trafficking offenders. Authorities reported training thousands of law enforcement officers and immigration officials on how to identify and assist trafficking victims and how to investigate trafficking cases, sometimes collaborating with international organizations. There were no public allegations that Venezuelan government officials were complicit in human trafficking, and the Venezuelan government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, convictions, or sentencing of public officials.

Protection

The government sustained limited efforts to assist trafficking victims during the reporting period. There was no public information regarding the government's development or implementation of formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and referring them to victim services. The government did not operate shelters or provide other services specifically for trafficking victims, but provided limited funding to some NGOs operating shelters, and government shelters for victims of domestic violence or at-risk youth reportedly were accessible to trafficking victims. NGOs provided the majority of specialized services. Authorities reported assisting 38 trafficking victims in 2011, including three Ecuadorian girls who had been subjected to forced labor. In comparison, during the previous year the government did not publicly report on the number of victims it assisted, although the media reported on a case involving 11 girls exploited in sex trafficking. Government-provided psychological and medical examinations reportedly were available to trafficking victims, but NGOs reported that additional victim services, such as follow-up medical aid, legal assistance with filing a complaint, job training, and reintegration assistance, remained lacking.

There was no information publicly available about whether the government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. Also, there were no reports of victims being jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Foreign victims who faced retribution if returned to their country of origin could apply for refugee status; however, the government did not report whether any trafficking victims applied for or received this status over the past year. There were no publicly available reports of government assistance to repatriated Venezuelan trafficking victims during the reporting period.

Prevention

The Venezuelan government engaged in efforts to prevent human trafficking over the year by raising public awareness through anti-trafficking campaigns and by training airport and tourism service personnel in tourist destinations, including Nueva Esparta, Anzoategui, and Zulia states. Most of these efforts focused on sex trafficking and child sex tourism. The government continued to operate a national 24-hour hotline through which it received trafficking complaints; however, NGOs reported that it was of limited use. The Interior and Justice Ministry's directorate of crime prevention is responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Officials reported on anti-trafficking efforts to the media on an ad hoc basis. There were no publicly-available reports of new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for child sex tourism during the year. No specific activities to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor were reported during the year.

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