Last Updated: Tuesday, 16 January 2018, 13:56 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Panama

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Panama, 27 June 2011, available at: [accessed 16 January 2018]
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 subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Although some Panamanian women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking in other countries in Latin America and in Europe, most Panamanian trafficking victims are exploited within the country. Both NGOs and government officials anecdotally reported that the commercial sexual exploitation of children was greater in rural areas, the Darien region, and in the city of Colon, than in Panama City, though NGOs report that some Panamanian children, mostly young girls, are subjected to domestic servitude. Most foreign trafficking victims are adult women from Colombia, neighboring Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic; some victims migrate voluntarily to Panama to work but are subsequently forced into prostitution or domestic servitude. During the reporting period, some Chinese citizens were smuggled into the country to work in grocery stores and laundries, apparently in situations of debt bondage. Weak controls along Panama's borders make the nation a transit point for irregular migrants, from Latin America, East Africa, and Asia, some of whom may fall victim to human trafficking en route to the United States.

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. During the reporting period authorities established a commission which drafted comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation to bring anti-trafficking laws in line with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. Authorities identified at least 43 trafficking victims and prosecuted five sex trafficking offenders, and in partnership with civil society and foreign governments, provided training to Panamanian officials. However, Panama continued to lack prohibitions against forced labor in its penal code, and authorities did not convict any trafficking offenders during the year. Specialized victim services, particularly for adult victims, remained limited, and authorities did not report using proactive procedures to identify trafficking victims among detained migrants.

Recommendations for Panama: Enact anti-trafficking laws to prohibit forced labor, including domestic servitude; intensify law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and sentence trafficking offenders; enhance training for police officers, immigration officials, social workers, and other government officials in anti-trafficking laws and victim identification and care; dedicate additional resources for victim services, including specialized services for adult victims, which could include construction of a shelter; increase staff and funding for anti-trafficking police and prosecutors, and consider establishing a dedicated prosecutorial unit; strengthen interagency coordination and referral mechanisms; and develop a formal system for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, particularly women in prostitution and irregular migrants.


The Government of Panama maintained efforts against sex trafficking crimes during the reporting period; while authorities investigated a number of cases and prosecuted five trafficking offenders, they reported no convictions for trafficking crimes during the year. Article 178 of the Panamanian penal code prohibits the internal and transnational movement of persons for the purpose of sexual servitude. The prescribed penalties for convicted offenders of this crime is four to six years' imprisonment, which is increased to six to nine years if offenders use deceit, coercion, or retention of identity documents, and further increased to 10 to 15 years' imprisonment if the victim is under 14 years of age. Article 177 prohibits sexually exploiting another person for profit. Under aggravated circumstances of threat, force, or fraud, this constitutes human trafficking, and carries a sentence of eight to 10 years. Article 180 prohibits the internal and transnational trafficking of minors for sexual servitude, prescribing prison terms of eight to 10 years' imprisonment, and Article 179 prohibits subjecting an individual to sexual servitude using threats or violence. Prosecutors may also use other statutes, such as anti-pimping laws, to prosecute sex trafficking crimes. Punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for or other serious crimes, such as rape. Panamanian law, however, does not specifically prohibit forced labor, including forced domestic service. In September 2010, a presidential decree established an interagency commission to draft a law that would bring Panama's anti-trafficking legislation in line with international standards and prohibit forced labor. The commission presented a draft law to the Minister of Security, who approved it and sent it onto the Cabinet in March 2011. The draft law would formalize the nascent national action committee, which has been working since September 2010, and contains a proposed budget for providing victim services and conducting trafficking investigations.

During the reporting period, authorities investigated a number of trafficking cases and initiated the prosecution of five trafficking offenders under sex trafficking and pimping statutes; the offenders remain incarcerated. Authorities did not report convicting any trafficking offenders during the year. In comparison, during the previous reporting period, authorities achieved one conviction under a statute prohibiting pimping. Authorities maintained a small law enforcement unit to investigate sex trafficking and related offenses, but the unit was reportedly understaffed. Authorities fired six immigration officials and initiated prosecutions for their role in smuggling Chinese citizens who were subsequently handed off to Chinese-run laundries and grocery stores to work in debt bondage, reflecting a notable commitment to address official complicity in human trafficking crimes. Officials participated in trafficking awareness training provided by NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments in collaboration with Panamanian authorities. Additionally, in partnership with an international organization, the Foreign Ministry provided training for 30 consular officials on victim identification and assistance.


The Panamanian government maintained efforts to assist trafficking victims during the reporting period, though overall victim services remained inadequate, particularly for adult victims. Authorities did not employ systematic procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as detained undocumented migrants. Panamanian law requires the National Immigration Office's trafficking victims unit to provide assistance to foreign trafficking victims. However, for the second year in a row the Immigration Office indicated that there were no foreign victims of trafficking over the past year, and the unit was reportedly not being used to identify victims. Law enforcement officials reported identifying at least 43 trafficking victims during the reporting period, including 27 Panamanian children in prostitution. The authorities collaborated with NGOs to provide victims with food, clothing, and shelter. The government continued to provide partial funding to an NGO-operated shelter with dedicated housing and social services for children subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. This shelter, another NGO shelter working with at-risk youth, and the government's network of shelters for victims of abuse and violence were equipped to provide services to child victims of trafficking. There was no shelter care available exclusively for adult victims of trafficking. The government could house adult victims in hotels on an ad hoc basis. Victims identified by law enforcement officials received a psychological evaluation, as well as medical, psychological, and legal services. Authorities reported referring victims to NGOs and other institutions providing care services on an ad hoc basis. There were no long-term services available to trafficking victims. Panamanian authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, though officials reported difficulties in obtaining victim participation in investigations. There was no information on how many victims assisted with investigations during the year. The government reported that foreign sex trafficking victims could remain in the country by judicial order during investigations and judicial proceedings, but did not report if any foreign trafficking victims did so during the reporting period. Trafficking victims were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; however, due to the lack of victim identification strategies, not all foreign victims may have been identified before deportation.


The Government of Panama maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking during the reporting period. Most of these efforts focused on the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The government is in the process of formalizing a permanent interagency mechanism to coordinate Panama's anti-trafficking efforts. Transparency in the government's anti-trafficking efforts was limited; it shared some information on anti-trafficking measures with the media and foreign governments, though it did not publish assessments of its own anti-trafficking policies or efforts during the year. In partnership with an international organization, the government launched a multimedia campaign raising awareness about the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Child sex tourism is prohibited by law, though there were no reported investigations of sex tourists during the reporting period. During the reporting period, various government agencies continued to implement the National Plan for Prevention and Elimination of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents, through working with the tourism sector to combat child sex tourism. The government undertook no initiatives to reduce demand for forced labor.

Search Refworld