NICARAGUA (Tier 1)
Nicaragua is principally a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Nicaraguan women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country as well as in neighboring countries, most often in other Central American states, Mexico, and the United States. Trafficking victims are recruited in rural areas for work in urban centers, particularly Managua, Granada, and San Juan del Sur, and subsequently coerced into prostitution. Nicaraguan girls are reportedly subjected to sex trafficking along the country's Atlantic Coast. To a lesser extent, adults and children are subjected to conditions of forced labor in agriculture and domestic servitude within the country and in Costa Rica, Panama, and other countries in the region. During the year, authorities reported a potential forced labor case involving 18 Nicaraguan men who were falsely recruited for work in Guatemala and were instead taken to Mexico to be trained in criminal activity by a drug trafficking organization; 10 of the men escaped and returned home. Nicaragua is a destination country for a limited number of women and children from neighboring countries exploited in sex trafficking. Managua, Granada, Esteli, and San Juan del Sur are destinations for foreign child sex tourists from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.
The Government of Nicaragua fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons. The government significantly improved its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period, specifically through an increased number of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions of traffickers. During the year, authorities opened a shelter for human trafficking victims, despite limited resources; however, victim services remained uneven across the country. The government maintained anti-trafficking prevention efforts in partnership with civil society organizations.
Recommendations for Nicaragua: Continue to investigate and prosecute all forms of human trafficking, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; institute clear, formal, and proactive procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; ensure that victims identified within the country and repatriated Nicaraguan victims are referred to appropriate services; provide adequate funding for specialized services for trafficking victims, including the new shelter, as well as for specialized anti-trafficking police units; develop a unified system for tracking trafficking law enforcement data and statistics; partner with civil society organizations to ensure that victims receive long-term care and reintegration services; provide foreign victims with legal alternatives to deportation; increase training and resources for government officials in order to identify and provide services to victims of sex trafficking and forced labor; institute efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sexual exploitation of children; continue to strengthen mechanisms at the local level to raise awareness and to identify and respond to trafficking cases; and continue to raise awareness of all forms of human trafficking through increased public awareness efforts and campaigns.
The Government of Nicaragua sustained progress in its law enforcement efforts against human trafficking during the reporting period. Nicaragua criminalizes all forms of human trafficking through Article 182 of its penal code, which prohibits trafficking in persons for the purposes of slavery, sexual exploitation, and adoption, prescribing penalties of seven to 12 years' imprisonment. In January 2012, this article was amended, increasing penalties to 10 to 14 years' imprisonment and broadening the scope of offenses that can be prosecuted as human trafficking; these reforms will come into effect in May 2012. A separate statute, Article 315, prohibits the submission, maintenance, or forced recruitment of another person into slavery, forced labor, servitude, or participation in an armed conflict; this offense carries penalties of five to eight years' imprisonment. These prescribed punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Authorities maintained anti-trafficking units in the capital, established in late 2010, within the intelligence and judicial police forces, as well as within the Women's Police Commission, with a total of 14 officers in these central offices. Additionally, a police officer was designated as an anti-trafficking point person in each of the country's 16 departments and each of the capital's 10 districts; these officers received anti-trafficking training and were appointed to work with the specialized units in investigating cases. although authorities held quarterly working meetings to develop and track case data, a lack of centralized data often resulted in conflicting data on law enforcement efforts.
During the reporting period, police investigated 26 potential trafficking cases, including two labor trafficking cases, and judicial authorities initiated 21 prosecutions, compared with 19 investigations and five prosecutions initiated during the previous reporting period. All accused trafficking offenders apprehended during the year were reported to be in preventive detention. The government convicted nine trafficking offenders during the reporting period, and sentenced them to seven to 12 years' imprisonment; in comparison, during the previous reporting period, authorities reported five convictions. Nicaraguan authorities collaborated with the governments of neighboring countries to investigate jointly trafficking cases and repatriate returning trafficking victims from abroad. In partnership with civil society organizations, authorities provided specialized training on trafficking investigative techniques to over 1,500 law enforcement officers, and the Nicaraguan foreign ministry trained its consular officials in several countries on how to identify trafficking victims. There were no reported investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for official complicity during the year.
The Government of Nicaragua significantly increased efforts to protect trafficking victims during the last year by opening a dedicated shelter in the capital and identifying a greater number of victims, although specialized services remained uneven across the country. There were no formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among high-risk populations, such as adults and children in prostitution. Police reported identifying 85 potential trafficking victims in 2011, a significant increase from 18 victims identified in 2010. It is unclear, however, how many of these victims received specialized services, though 16 were assisted at the new government-run shelter opened in Managua in 2011, which cost up to the equivalent of $100,000. During the reporting period, 16 adult women received services at the shelter, which is managed by the women's police anti-trafficking unit with a staff of five officers. Authorities were still in the process of developing protocols to govern the use of the shelter, which is designed to provide temporary lodging. The regional departments most affected by human trafficking lacked adequate services. However, NGOs operated shelters for at-risk children and female adult victims of domestic abuse in Rio San Juan, Esteli, Rivas, and Managua, and the government operated one short-term shelter for children who are victims of domestic or sexual abuse in Managua. It was unclear how many trafficking victims were assisted at these shelters during the reporting period, though one NGO reported assisting 15 child trafficking victims, 10 of whom were referred by the government. While the government did not provide funding to these NGOs, officials referred victims to them for assistance. Victims received limited medical and psychological assistance from the government, as well as education when appropriate, though longer-term care was minimal. Services and shelter for male victims remained limited.
The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, though some were reluctant to do so due to social stigma and fear of retribution from traffickers. During the year a record 44 victims testified in the prosecution of their traffickers. There were no reports of victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Although there is no trafficking-specific legal alternative to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they may face hardship or retribution, victims often were allowed to remain in the country temporarily.
The Nicaraguan government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking during the last year, mostly in partnership with civil society organizations and with foreign government funding. The government-run anti-trafficking coalition, which is composed of government and civil society actors, was responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts and implementing its strategic plan, and met every two months. The coalition continued to organize regional working groups to address trafficking at the local level in the country's 15 departments and two autonomous regions, and trained over 500 members of these groups. The regional groups varied in effectiveness, with some still in the developmental stage. Different government entities coordinated with the coalition on awareness efforts and reported reaching over 22,000 Nicaraguans with messages on general women's issues and human trafficking. There were no reported investigations of child sex tourism during the reporting period. The government reported no initiatives to reduce demand for commercial sexual acts or for forced labor.