Trafficking in Persons Report 2016 - Country Narratives - Costa Rica

COSTA RICA: Tier 2 Watch List

Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Costa Rican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country, with those living in the north and central Pacific coastal zones being particularly vulnerable. Authorities have identified adults using children to transport or sell drugs; some of these children may be trafficking victims. There are a significant number of transgender Costa Ricans in the commercial sex industry who are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Costa Rican victims of sex and labor trafficking were identified in The Bahamas and Guatemala during the reporting period. Women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Traffickers use psychological coercion—often exploiting stigma associated with prostitution—to compel victims to remain in prostitution. Child sex tourism is a serious problem, with child sex tourists arriving mostly from the United States and Europe. Men and children from other Central American and Asian countries are subjected to forced labor in Costa Rica, particularly in the agriculture, construction, fishing, and commercial sectors. Nicaraguan men and women transit Costa Rica en route to Panama, where some are subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Indigenous Panamanians are also reportedly vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture in Costa Rica. One government official is currently under investigation for suspected involvement in sex trafficking. During the year, a government official was investigated for using an official vehicle for unauthorized personal use; this official was visiting an establishment where, according to media reports, sex trafficking occurred.

The Government of Costa Rica does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Costa Rica is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year. The government provided data on its anti-trafficking efforts, but it was difficult to reconcile statistics because Costa Rican law includes a definition of human trafficking that is inconsistent with international law. Authorities prosecuted three suspects and convicted one trafficker under the trafficking law and convicted eight offenders for child sex trafficking or related crimes using other laws. The government identified three sex trafficking victims during the reporting period. Separately, the government acted on evidence to raid commercial establishments where sex trafficking was suspected; 934 individuals were interviewed as a result of those raids but no trafficking victims were identified. The government did not disburse any of the $3.6 million in its National Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Fund (FONATT), though it institutionalized the FONATT and identified projects to receive funding in 2016. Despite an identified child sex tourism problem, the government did not prosecute or convict any child sex tourists or other individuals who purchased commercial sex acts from children, although the government did collaborate with international partners to restrict entry to registered sex offenders.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COSTA RICA:

Amend legislation to define human trafficking consistent with international law; intensify efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, including labor trafficking and cases not involving movement, and convict and punish traffickers; provide specialized shelter services for trafficking victims, including child sex trafficking victims, in partnership with civil society organizations and allocate government resources, such as from the FONATT, to fund them; reform victim identification procedures, with an emphasis on identifying forms of psychological coercion during interviews with potential trafficking victims, and ensure proper referral to services—even for victims whose cases do not meet the legal threshold to pursue a prosecution under Costa Rica’s trafficking law; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict child sex tourists and others who purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims; improve the efficacy and implementation of Costa Rica’s victim assistance protocol, particularly in cases occurring outside of the capital, for victims of labor trafficking, and for Costa Rican victims; conduct thorough and transparent criminal investigations and prosecutions of alleged government complicity in trafficking offenses and convict and punish complicit officials; increase anti-trafficking training for police, prosecutors, and judges; and improve data collection for law enforcement and victim protection efforts.

PROSECUTION

The government demonstrated limited efforts to prosecute and convict traffickers, although it did provide more data on its law enforcement efforts than in previous years. The 2012 anti-trafficking law, Law 9095, prescribes penalties of four to 20 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes. The definition of trafficking in the law is inconsistent with international law in that it requires displacement of the victim and also penalizes crimes such as illegal adoption, sale of organs, moving persons for the purpose of prostitution, and labor exploitation that does not amount to forced labor.

The government collected and shared data on its law enforcement efforts to combat trafficking and related criminal activity. Significant improvements to data collection were made compared to the previous reporting period. The attorney general’s office reported investigating 31 new cases of movement-based trafficking, prosecuted three defendants under its anti-trafficking law, and convicted one trafficker. In addition, the government obtained eight convictions for child sex trafficking and related crimes using other laws. In 2014, the government prosecuted three defendants and convicted none under its anti-trafficking law. Prosecutors continued to appeal three acquittals from 2014 in a case of suspected labor trafficking involving Asian fishermen on boats in Costa Rican waters. Officials often prioritized investigating migrant smuggling over human trafficking cases with the belief that doing so reduces instances of smuggling and vulnerability to trafficking. The government provided anti-trafficking training to law enforcement officials, other public employees, and civil society members. The government reported completion of initial evidence collection in the investigation of a mayor suspected of sex trafficking that was opened in 2011; the case is now awaiting a possible court date. It did not prosecute or convict any government employees complicit in human trafficking or trafficking-related offenses.

PROTECTION

The government made modest victim protection efforts. It identified three sex trafficking victims, though some NGO sources report the actual number of victims is higher. It did not make progress in ensuring identified victims received specialized services. The government did not collect comprehensive statistics on victims identified and assisted, and the data provided from different agencies could not be fully reconciled. Authorities had written procedures for identifying victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrants and individuals in prostitution, but these were not effective in identifying victims. The government’s interagency anti-trafficking body, the National Coalition against Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons (CONATT), reported identifying one Costa Rican and two Nicaraguan victims of sex trafficking through unspecified means. In comparison, the government identified 23 victims—13 of sex trafficking and ten of labor trafficking—in 2014. The government conducted 25 targeted raids of sites where sex trafficking was suspected and interviewed 934 potential victims (931 women and 3 men), but did not identify any trafficking victims among them, despite media reports that some were unpaid, deceived about the type of employment and working conditions, or compelled to remain in prostitution through threats of violence and other forms of psychological coercion. This suggests shortcomings in the methodology or implementation of the interviews. Some of these individuals may have been identified as victims of other crimes and referred to protective services.

The government updated its protocol for officials on the immediate response team responsible for certifying victims and coordinating among various agencies and NGOs to provide victim services, which could include food, lodging, and health, financial, and psychological support. The government did not report how many trafficking victims the team certified in 2015. Authorities had the discretion to refer victims to services on a case-by-case basis; not all victims received the same level of protection. Civil society organizations reported referral mechanisms were not always implemented in an effective or timely manner. The government did not allocate any of the approximately $3.6 million in its FONATT to victim services. The government reported various agencies allocated approximately 4.4 million colones ($8,300) to victim protection in 2015, including approximately 2.9 million colones ($5,500) in financial support for seven victims, two of whom were identified in previous years. Remaining services were funded and provided by NGOs. In 2015, the government wrote and adopted guidelines for the medical treatment of trafficking victims. The office of care and protection for victims of a crime reported providing unspecified assistance to six sex trafficking victims and four labor trafficking victims—all adults from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Venezuela, Panama, the Dominican Republic, and Nepal—in 2015. The National Women’s Institute reported providing unspecified assistance to two Costa Rican victims—one exploited in sex trafficking and one in forced labor. The government repatriated one Costa Rican sex trafficking victim from The Bahamas, but did not report whether it provided any additional assistance; Costa Rican consular officials in Guatemala assisted one victim of labor trafficking, but the victim did not return to Costa Rica and the government did not report providing any services. The government did not report whether it assisted or referred to NGOs any child victims. The government neither provided nor funded specialized shelters for trafficking victims. There were no shelters available to male victims. However, government authorities referred trafficking victims to relevant agencies and NGOs for non-specialized shelter services, based on gender and age. Additionally, the victims’ assistance agency had resources to pay for safe houses on a case-by-case basis. The government did not collect identification or protection statistics on victims subjected to sex or labor trafficking that did not involve movement. Police and NGOs noted victim services were virtually nonexistent outside of the capital.

The government reported granting temporary residency status, with permission to work or study, to foreign victims, but did not report how many received this benefit in 2015. The government did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking; however, ineffective screening of vulnerable populations for indicators of trafficking may have led to some victims being penalized.

PREVENTION

The government sustained prevention efforts. CONATT continued to meet quarterly and coordinate the government’s anti-trafficking activities. In 2015, the government allocated $1.7 million from the FONATT to 10 projects aimed at public awareness activities or supplementing the budget of existing enforcement authorities. Authorities distributed brochures and posters and held public events to warn about the dangers of trafficking. The government did not report punishment of any labor recruiters for illegal practices that contribute to trafficking. A quasi-governmental agency continued conducting trainings on combating child sex tourism for members of the tourism industry. The government did not extradite, prosecute, or convict any child sex tourists or other individuals for purchasing commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims in 2015. The government reported no updates on 32 such investigations from the previous year. The government and NGOs provided anti-trafficking training to 25 diplomatic personnel. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts but did not report efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. Working in collaboration with international partners, the government reported denying entry to 53 foreign registered sex offenders attempting to travel to Costa Rica as tourists.