Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 20:36 GMT

2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Costa Rica

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 19 June 2012
Cite as United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report - Costa Rica, 19 June 2012, available at: [accessed 18 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.


Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Costa Rican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country, and residents of the north and central Pacific coast zones are particularly vulnerable to internal trafficking. Women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Child sex tourism is a serious problem, particularly in the provinces of Guanacaste, Limon, Puntarenas, and San Jose. Child sex tourists arrive mostly from the United States and Europe. Costa Rica is a destination from other Central American countries and from Asian countries for men subjected to conditions of forced labor, particularly in the agriculture, construction, and fishing sectors.

The Government of Costa Rica does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government achieved its first conviction under its 2009 trafficking law, increased anti-trafficking training for government officials, granted several foreign victims temporary residency status with permission to work, and strengthened prevention efforts. Although authorities provided services to trafficking victims through programs focused on general victims of crime or vulnerable children, specialized services for trafficking victims remained uneven, and the government did not fund dedicated shelters for trafficking victims. Prosecution efforts remained weak, and some officials conflated human trafficking with smuggling.

Recommendations for Costa Rica: Intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; strengthen dedicated prosecutorial and police units through increased resources and training; fund specialized services for trafficking victims, possibly through the establishment of a shelter specifically for trafficking victims or through funding NGOs to provide services; ensure that cases of trafficking not involving movement are investigated and prosecuted and that victims of these crimes receive appropriate services; continue to train officials, including labor inspectors, to identify and respond to trafficking cases; and improve data collection for law enforcement and victim protection efforts.


The Government of Costa Rica made modest improvements to its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the last year. It convicted a trafficking offender and increased anti-trafficking training for officials during the year. Costa Rican law prohibits all forms of human trafficking. Article 172 of the penal code prescribes penalties of six to 16 years' imprisonment for the movement of persons across borders and within the country for the purposes of prostitution, sexual or labor servitude, slavery, forced work or services, servile marriage, forced begging, or other forms of compelled service. This statute also prohibits illegal adoption, a crime separate from human trafficking. The penalties set forth in amended Article 172 are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 189 of the penal code prohibits holding a person in servitude, prescribing penalties of four to 12 years' imprisonment. Cases of sex trafficking or forced labor not involving movement were therefore not considered human trafficking under Costa Rican law, although they were criminalized under penal code statutes prohibiting holding a person in servitude and aggravated pimping.

The unit for "people smuggling, human trafficking, and crimes against persons" within the investigative police (OIJ) reported investigating 23 trafficking cases, 14 of which involved sex trafficking and four of which involved labor trafficking. Several law enforcement operations were conducted in partnership with NGO staff. Authorities did not report how many trafficking cases were prosecuted during the year; however, they convicted one sex trafficking offender using the 2009 trafficking law, sentencing him to 12 years' imprisonment. There was no specialized prosecutorial unit for trafficking crimes, though the Prosecutor General issued guidelines establishing that its organized crime office was responsible for prosecuting trafficking cases. However, this unit had insufficient resources. NGOs and officials noted that some police and prosecutors conflated trafficking with smuggling. Government ministries provided training to over 700 government officials often in partnership with civil society organizations. Authorities initiated the investigation of a mayor for possible trafficking crimes but did not report any prosecutions or convictions of public officials complicit in human trafficking during the year.


The Costa Rican government maintained efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims, although access to specialized services, including shelters, remained limited. The government continued to implement its "immediate attention" protocol, which defined the steps for different government institutions that compose the emergency response team to receive, identify, protect, and provide integrated assistance to victims. However, NGOs asserted that these victim identification and referral mechanisms were not always effectively implemented. Police reported identifying 39 possible trafficking victims, 31 of whom were Costa Rican. Authorities also reported assisting 75 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation and 60 child victims of labor exploitation, and it is likely that many of these were trafficking victims.

The Office for Care and Protection of Victims of Crime (OAPVD) provided emergency services as well as legal, psychological, and basic health assistance to victims of all crimes participating in the criminal process, including trafficking victims. OAPVD staff received training on human trafficking from an international organization during the year, and reported assisting seven trafficking victims in 2011. The government did not, however, provide or fund specialized shelters dedicated to human trafficking victims. Authorities maintained emergency government shelters for female victims of domestic violence and short-term shelters for at-risk youth, although it was unclear if trafficking victims received services at these shelters during the year. The government relied on NGOs and religious organizations to provide specialized care for trafficking victims and provided approximately $200,000 in funding to two NGOs to provide some services to adults and children in prostitution. NGOs noted the lack of specialized shelters for trafficking victims, particularly child sex trafficking victims, and authorities reported that the bulk of victims identified by police refused services offered to them. Authorities reportedly sheltered some victims in hotels or rented houses on a temporary basis.

The government granted temporary residency status with permission to work to eight foreign victims during the reporting period. Costa Rican authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and several victims did so during the reporting period, although others did not collaborate with investigations due to a lack of confidence in the judicial system. Funding for witness protection increased but remained limited. The government did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.


The Government of Costa Rica increased prevention efforts during the reporting year. In partnership with an international organization and with foreign government funding, Costa Rican authorities launched an extensive awareness campaign during the year. The government's anti-trafficking directorate, which coordinated the national anti-trafficking coalition, continued to lead government efforts. The coalition met six times during the year and its four committees reported meeting on a monthly basis, a significant increase from the previous year, when the coalition only met twice. During the year it drafted a new comprehensive anti-trafficking law, developed a national action plan on human trafficking and human smuggling, and educated over 2,000 students and civil society members. Authorities partnered with civil society organizations and the tourist industry to train companies to identity and report commercial sexual exploitation of children, resulting in increased reports to the tourist police during the year. However, there were no reported investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists during the reporting period. The government reported no other efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor.

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