COLOMBIA (Tier 1)
Colombia is a major source country for women and girls trafficked to Latin America, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Asia, and North America, including the United States, for purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and involuntary servitude. Within Colombia, some men are trafficked for forced labor, but trafficking of women and children from rural to urban areas for commercial sexual exploitation remains a larger problem. Individual cases of forced marriage, domestic servitude, and forced begging have been reported. Groups at high risk for internal trafficking include displaced persons, poor women in rural areas, and relatives of members of criminal organizations. Continued armed violence in Colombia has displaced many communities, making them vulnerable to human trafficking. Guerillas and paramilitary groups forcibly recruit children as combatants; the government estimates that nearly 6,000 children may be exploited under such conditions. Members of gangs and organized criminal networks force their relatives and acquaintances, and displaced persons – typically women and children – into conditions of forced prostitution and forced labor, including work in the illegal drug trade. Colombia also is a destination for foreign child sex tourists, particularly coastal cities such as Cartagena and Barranquilla. Migrants from South America and the PRC transit Colombia en route to the United States and Europe; some may be trafficking victims.
The Government of Colombia fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons. During the reporting period, the government increased law enforcement actions against trafficking offenders, and improved coordination of anti-trafficking cases by launching an anti-trafficking operations center to direct assistance to victims and follow through with investigation of their cases.
Recommendations for Colombia: Dedicate more resources for victim services; increase efforts to encourage victims to assist with the prosecution their traffickers; expand efforts to assist and repatriate the large number of Colombians trafficked overseas; institute formal measures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; and continue to raise public awareness about the dangers of human trafficking, particularly among young women seeking jobs abroad.
The Government of Colombia increased law enforcement efforts against trafficking offenders during the reporting period. Colombia prohibits all forms of trafficking through its anti-trafficking statute, Law 985, which prescribes minimum punishments of 13 to 23 years' imprisonment. Such punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2008, Colombian authorities initiated 159 anti-trafficking investigations, 20 prosecutions, and achieved 16 convictions, sentencing trafficking offenders to periods of imprisonment ranging from 4.5 to 14 years. Such results compare to 182 investigations, 44 prosecutions, and six convictions reported for 2007. The government cooperated with foreign governments to repatriate trafficking victims and investigate trafficking cases in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago, Japan, Singapore, the Philippines, and the United States. The government received no confirmed reports of trafficking-related corruption during the reporting period.
The government improved victim protection efforts by launching an interagency anti-trafficking operations center to direct assistance to victims, coordinate and track criminal investigation and prosecution of their cases, and collect nationwide information and statistics about trafficking crimes. The government appropriated $150,000 to open the operations center in June 2008, and it assisted 58 victims between June and December 2008. However, most victims were reluctant to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers due to fear of reprisals or lack of awareness of their status as victims of a serious crime. Government-funded services for adult trafficking victims remained limited during the reporting period; NGOs and international organizations provided the bulk of victim assistance, particularly shelter services. The government did not appear to employ a formal mechanism for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations within the country, such as displaced persons or prostituted women. In conjunction with IOM, UNODC, and the anti-trafficking operations center, the government trained consular officials to recognize and assist potential Colombian trafficking victims abroad. Consular officials assisted 22 Colombians trafficked overseas during the reporting period. However, victim services overseas are limited to consular districts with at least 10,000 Colombian residents, and are not likely to be available to victims trafficked to isolated locations, such as in the Caribbean, Asia, and Europe. At home, Colombian law enforcement authorities encourage victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. There were no reports of victims being jailed or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. According to IOM, while there is no specialized legal mechanism whereby the Colombian government offers a visa or temporary residence status to foreign trafficking victims, the Ministry of Interior and Justice can provide assistance to vulnerable or threatened individuals on a case-by-case basis.
The government improved prevention efforts against human trafficking by launching a widespread education campaign entitled "The Next Victim Could Be You" in October 2008. The campaign included TV commercials, radio spots, and print advertising featuring a popular Colombian television personality. In conjunction with the anti-trafficking operations center, the government operated a national call center, which received 645 calls during the reporting period. Most calls were citizen requests for information relating to job offers overseas, though 38 suspected trafficking cases from the call center were referred to police for investigation. In an effort to reduce demand for commercial sex acts, the government in 2008 targeted and provided information to tourism industries in 23 Colombian cities to prevent commercial sexual exploitation. No other government campaigns to reduce demand for commercial sex acts were visible during the reporting period, nor were there any discernable efforts to reduce demand for forced labor.