U.S. Department of State 2004 Trafficking in Persons Report - Panama

Panama (Tier 2)

Panama is a transit and destination country for women and girls, primarily from Colombia and the Dominican Republic, trafficked for sexual exploitation. Transiting victims are bound for Costa Rica and the United States via Central America. Panamanian children are trafficked internally for sexual exploitation. The production and transmission of child pornography, which involves trafficking victims, are growing concerns, along with small but organized commercial sex operations exploiting minors. Panama has a regulated commercial sex industry in which trafficking does occur. Illegal prostitution (adult and underage) is responsible for the largest percentage of victims. There are reports that Panama is a transit country for debt-bonded illegal migrants. More complete information, pointing to a significant number of victims, has made it possible to include Panama in this report for the first time.

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. Panamanian officials acknowledge trafficking is a problem. The government has updated and enhanced an anti-trafficking statute in March 2004, but must sustain improvements in victim protection measures and increase regional and bilateral cooperation. Elimination of a visa program designed to bring prostitutes to Panama could enhance the government's anti-trafficking measures, but more effort is needed to combat abuses in the sex trade. Panama's new National Commission for the Prevention of Sexual Crime Exploitation must increase public awareness and provide support for increased prosecutions.


Panama's recently enhanced anti-trafficking law should spur an increase of investigations, arrests, and prosecutions, which up to now have only been sporadic. The Panamanian police Sex Crimes Unit made 10 arrests for trafficking-related crimes in 2003. Five of these defendants are awaiting trial. Three other high-profile traffickers had their convictions upheld by the Supreme Court (top sentence was 76 months).


Panama's updated anti-trafficking statute should help improve victim protection, which has lacked organization and resources. Victim referrals should be better organized and the referral system well publicized. The enhanced law will provide for victim compensation and foreign victims will be afforded special disposition on migration matters. Currently, there is a lack of organized data collection on victims, but the new statute requires the Commission to establish a comprehensive database. The Immigration service deported close to 400 foreign prostitutes in 2003 and officials maintain that none claimed victim status although procedures are in place for them to do so. Immigration's efforts could be enhanced by providing more transparency, for example, by ensuring that a neutral observer, such as the Ombudsman, is involved. While a number of government officials have received training on trafficking, including victim identification and protection, more training is needed at all levels.


Prevention efforts were unorganized, but recent initiatives have increased public awareness and show promise. Many high-ranking government officials have spoken out about efforts to combat trafficking. The government had lacked a formal national education campaign, but has recently improved outreach via press conferences, radio interviews, and television programs. The government provides a victim hotline.


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