Colombia (Tier 1)
Colombia is one of the Western Hemisphere's major source countries for women and girls trafficked abroad for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The government estimates that 45,000-50,000 Colombian nationals engage in prostitution overseas and that many of them have been trafficked. Colombian women and girls are trafficked to South, Central, and North America, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Japan, Hong Kong, and the Middle East. Within the country, although some Colombian men are trafficked for forced labor, trafficking by organized crime networks – some related to terrorist organizations – of women and children from rural to urban areas for sexual exploitation remains a much larger problem. Internal armed violence in Colombia has displaced many rural communities, making them more vulnerable to trafficking, and insurgent and paramilitary groups have forcibly recruited and exploited an estimated 6,000 to 11,000 children as soldiers, or in forced labor and prostitution. Child sex tourism is a problem in Cartagena and resort areas on the Caribbean coast. Some reports also suggest that Colombia is a transit point for movement of victims from other Andean countries on their way to Europe and the United States.
The Government of Colombia fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and has demonstrated the political will to improve its efforts to combat trafficking. The government demonstrated enough progress during the reporting period to meet the minimum standards, but must show appreciable progress during the next year. Prosecutions and new investigations increased and courts convicted at least two traffickers during the reporting period. The government in August 2005 enacted additional legislation to strengthen anti-trafficking efforts, particularly in respect to victim protection and prevention. The government should vigorously pursue actions that bring traffickers to justice, expand support for victim assistance, and raise awareness in vulnerable populations regarding the dangers of trafficking. It should also develop and implement the national strategy against trafficking called for in the August 2005 law.
The Government of Colombia's enforcement efforts improved in comparison with the previous reporting period. Colombia's anti-trafficking laws prohibit all forms of trafficking in persons. Penalties of up to 23 years' imprisonment are adequate to deter trafficking and equivalent to those for other serious crimes. Authorities arrested 49 trafficking suspects and prosecuted 25 trafficking cases during the reporting period. Courts confirmed two trafficking convictions during the reporting period; both traffickers received nine-year prison terms. In January 2006, police first used asset forfeiture provisions/laws to seize trafficker assets. Law 985, enacted in August 2005, strengthened anti-trafficking statutes by making a victim's consent to his or her movement irrelevant in proving whether trafficking has occurred. The government continued international cooperation efforts, working with Venezuela, El Salvador, Panama, and Japan in the investigation of trafficking networks. There were no reports of officials prosecuted for trafficking but two consular employees were investigated for arranging documents to move Chinese nationals into Colombia in a case that may have involved trafficking.
The government made modest progress in addressing victims' needs during the reporting period, but resources proved insufficient to keep pace with the demand for services. Colombian missions abroad referred 33 cases to IOM for repatriation assistance and assisted Colombian victims abroad in gaining access to host country protection and services. Police investigators set up interview facilities in Bogota's international airport to meet with returning victims, debrief them, and inform them of their rights and procedures for pressing charges. In various law enforcement operations within the country, authorities rescued more than 61 trafficking victims. There were no reports of the government arresting, deporting, or otherwise punishing foreign victims. In both domestic and international cases, the Ministry of Interior and Justice was the agency responsible for providing lodging, medical and psychological care, access to financial and employment assistance, legal support throughout the judicial case against the trafficker, and safe passage for victims returning to their home communities. However, services were insufficient to meet demand, particularly with respect to medium-term rehabilitative requirements. The government did not operate specially designated trafficking victim care or victim health care facilities. Government authorities worked closely with NGOs and international organizations that also provided services to victims. The government encouraged victims to help build cases against traffickers; however, most victims feared retaliation from trafficking networks and were reluctant to assist in prosecutions. No trafficking victims participated in the witness protection program administered by prosecutors.
The government made modest progress during the reporting year in raising public awareness, but continued to rely heavily on NGOs and international organizations to create and conduct prevention campaigns. The Ministry of Communication ran televised public service announcements to raise public awareness. Law 985 of 2005 formally charged the Inter-institutional Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons, headed by the Minister of Interior and Justice, with coordinating anti-trafficking policies and developing a comprehensive national action plan.