Colombia (Tier 1)
Colombia is a major source country for women and girls subjected to sex trafficking in Latin America, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Asia, and North America, including the United States, as well as a transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor. Within Colombia, some men and children are found in conditions of forced labor in mining and agriculture, and the sex trafficking of women and children from rural areas into urban areas remains a significant problem. Some women and children are subjected to domestic servitude, and NGOs reported that forced begging was a problem in urban areas. Groups at high risk for internal trafficking include displaced persons, poor women in rural areas, indigenous communities, and relatives of members of criminal organizations. Continued armed violence in Colombia has displaced many communities, making them vulnerable to human trafficking. Some Ecuadorian children, many of them indigenous, are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in Colombia. Illegal armed groups forcibly recruit children to join their ranks; an international organization estimates that at least 10,000 children participate in illegal armed groups. Members of gangs and organized criminal networks force relatives, acquaintances, and displaced persons – typically women and children – into conditions of sex trafficking and forced labor, including in the illegal drug trade. Colombia is a destination for foreign child sex tourists from the United States and Europe, particularly to coastal cities such as Cartagena and Barranquilla. Migrants from South America, Africa, and China transit Colombia en route to the United States and Europe; some may fall victim to traffickers.
The Government of Colombia fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons. During the reporting period, the government maintained law enforcement actions against transnational sex trafficking offenders, achieved its first conviction for forced labor, and continued robust prevention efforts. The government worked with NGOs and international organizations to provide adult trafficking victims with services; however, it did not fund specialized shelters or services for trafficking victims. Authorities did not utilize formalized procedures to proactively identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations. The significant number of Colombians trafficked abroad as well as internally reflects the continued need for dedicated funding for comprehensive victim services.
Recommendations for Colombia: Ensure victim access to specialized services, including dedicated shelters for trafficking victims, in part through dedicated funding to administer these services; establish regulations for victim care to ensure victims are adequately protected during investigations and trials; create formal measures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; create formal referral mechanisms for victims to access care services; provide foreign victims with formal legal alternatives to deportation; continue efforts to identify and assist Colombian trafficking victims abroad through training and increased resources for diplomatic missions in other countries; offer anti-trafficking training for local police officers, immigration officials, prosecutors, and judges; and continue to raise public awareness about the dangers of human trafficking, particularly among young women seeking jobs abroad.
The Government of Colombia maintained law enforcement efforts in transnational human trafficking cases during the reporting period, and achieved its first labor trafficking conviction. Colombia prohibits all forms of trafficking through its anti-trafficking statute, Law 985, which prohibits the capture, transfer, or receipt of a person within the country or overseas for the purposes of exploitation. Exploitation is defined as subjecting an individual to prostitution, forced labor, slavery, servitude, begging, servile marriage, organ extraction, sex tourism, or other exploitative activities, for economic or other gain. Law 985 prescribes minimum punishments of 13 to 23 years' imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law's definition of human trafficking fails to include the element of force, fraud, or coercion.
In 2010, Colombian authorities reported investigating 144 trafficking cases involving 90 victims; the majority of the cases involved adult victims subjected to forced prostitution abroad. Authorities also investigated many cases of money laundering in relation to trafficking, identifying 46 individuals and eight organizations engaged in money laundering in connection with human trafficking offenses. To date, over 1,000 investigations of the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers are underway, some of which may have involved conscripted children. The government reported achieving 17 convictions overall in trafficking cases, sentencing trafficking offenders to periods of imprisonment ranging from seven to 23 years, and fines ranging from $65,000 to $338,000. In comparison, authorities reported 215 investigations and 14 convictions in trafficking cases for 2009. During the reporting period, the government achieved its first convictions for labor trafficking in one case involving a Colombian woman exploited within the country. A government-sponsored study released in 2010 found more than 50 fewer human trafficking convictions over the last decade than Colombian authorities have reported. The study noted that trafficking crimes are sometimes categorized under other statutes, such as those prohibiting pimping of minors or kidnapping, and most trafficking convictions and sentences in Colombia are for transnational cases of forced prostitution.
While the prosecutor general's human rights unit handles all transnational trafficking cases, there is no dedicated unit for internal cases. Rather, internal cases of trafficking are investigated by local sex crimes units. An NGO received reports that some police officers solicited bribes or sexual services in exchange for protecting brothels where trafficking victims were exploited, though many of these crimes were not reported. The government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any officials for trafficking-related offenses. NGOs expressed concern that some government officials had a limited understanding of human trafficking, and could therefore not effectively identify and assist victims. In partnership with an international organization and a foreign government, public officials received training on how to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, as well as how to assist trafficking victims. The government maintained partnerships with foreign governments to repatriate trafficking victims and investigate trafficking cases.
The Government of Colombia maintained an anti-trafficking operations center to refer victims to care providers, and the government could care for child victims through a network of centers for child victims of violence, but did not fund specialized services for adult victims. The Colombian government referred adult victims to NGOs and international organization partners, who provided the bulk of specialized victim care. The majority of victims identified by authorities were adults. The government did not report employing formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations within the country, such as displaced persons or women in prostitution. A government-sponsored study released in 2010 noted a need to improve mechanisms for identifying victims of internal trafficking. In partnership with an international organization, authorities continued to operate COAT (Operational Anti-Trafficking in Persons Center), an interagency center which referred victims to providers of protective services, coordinated and tracked criminal investigations and prosecutions, and collected nationwide information and statistics about trafficking crimes. Authorities received reports of 42 suspected trafficking cases from COAT, mostly involving adult victims.
The government did not report funding any specialized services or shelters for trafficking victims nor funding civil society organizations to provide these services. However, it referred some victims to local NGOs for care services. Authorities began designing national assistance guidelines for trafficking victims in 2009 with an international organization, outlining which government agencies are responsible for ensuring various aspects of victim care. An NGO noted that the government had not yet published the decree, required by Law 985, which would formally assign responsibility for victim services to different government agencies. The government operated 34 centers that offered comprehensive services for child victims of sexual violence, although it is unclear if any child trafficking victims received services at these centers during the year. The government maintained a reintegration program for child soldiers and during the year 338 child soldiers were referred to the government's Family Welfare Institute for care services. Authorities reported providing medical and psychological care, access to financial and employment assistance, and information and legal support for judicial processes. Officials noted that the lack of legal guidelines for the care and protection of victims remained a significant challenge. The government identified 76 victims of transnational trafficking during 2010, consisting of nearly equal numbers of victims of forced labor and forced prostitution, in addition to 15 victims who were trafficked within Colombia. Authorities did not report how many of these victims received services, either from the Government of Colombia or from NGOs.
The government encouraged victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and provided housing to victims participating in these efforts through its program for protection of witnesses. However, most victims were reluctant to testify against their traffickers due to fear of reprisals or lack of awareness of their status as victims of a serious crime. The government did not indicate how many victims participated in prosecutions during the reporting period. While there is a limited program to provide protections to victims who testify, few trafficking victims have elected to participate. There were no reports of victims being jailed or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. There was no specialized legal mechanism whereby the government offered a visa or temporary residence status to foreign trafficking victims. Authorities reported that they could provide foreign trafficking victims with temporary permission to remain in the country during the investigative process on a case-by-case basis; however, authorities did not report identifying or assisting any foreign trafficking victims in 2010. Furthermore, an NGO reported that Ecuadorian trafficking victims have allegedly been deported and not identified as victims. Colombian consular officials assisted 106 Colombians trafficked overseas during the reporting period; in comparison, Colombian consular officers abroad assisted 179 trafficking victims in 2009. The government contracted legal advisors and social workers to help support Colombians abroad in areas with large Colombian migrant populations.
The government continued prevention efforts against human trafficking. The interagency anti-trafficking committee continued to coordinate efforts and to implement the national strategy to combat trafficking, and met 10 times during the reporting period. A separate interagency committee to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers continued to implement its national strategy targeting high-risk areas. During the reporting period, 11 departments set up anti-trafficking committees, for a total of 27 committees nationwide, and government authorities provided these committees with technical assistance. NGOs noted strengthened local-level government efforts in the departments of Risaralda, Nariño, Cundinamarca, and Santander. Authorities created a human trafficking information hotline that functioned from January to April 2010; however, in April 2010, the Colombian government transferred administration of the hotline to an international organization. In partnership with an international organization, the government sponsored a university to conduct research on the magnitude of trafficking, as well as underlying risk factors in Colombia. Despite a legal requirement, the government did not establish a national information system on human trafficking. In February 2011, the Government of Colombia signed a bilateral security agreement with the Government of Panama committing to increasing efforts against human trafficking, as well as human smuggling and other crimes. Authorities conducted a wide range of awareness-raising activities, including a nationwide multimedia campaign, and partnered with international organizations as well as beauty salons and modeling agencies. The government organized anti-trafficking workshops for displaced populations in which 194 women participated. Article 219 of the Colombian criminal code prohibits organizing or facilitating sexual tourism and provides penalties of three to eight years' imprisonment, and authorities developed an outreach campaign on trafficking directed at emerging tourist destinations within the country. There were no reported investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists in Colombia. There were no reported efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.