Trafficking in Persons Report 2017 - Country Narratives - Bolivia

BOLIVIA: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Bolivia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by dedicating more police investigators to a provincial human trafficking crimes unit, launching several awareness campaigns in collaboration with civil society, prosecuting traffickers, and investigating a trafficking ring that resulted in the prosecution of three officials suspected of complicity. The government also launched a pilot program in the capital to improve the ability of police to detect trafficking cases. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any traffickers during the reporting period. It also did not report identifying or assisting any victims and lacked formal screening mechanisms by which to identify trafficking victims, despite efforts to develop such protocols. The government slightly decreased the funding it dedicated to anti-trafficking efforts and relied heavily on donations from NGOs and foreign donors to conduct law enforcement operations and provide victim services. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Bolivia was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3. Therefore, Bolivia remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the fourth consecutive year.


Implement established protocols for the proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, and for the referral of victims to care services; investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials; provide adequate resources to law enforcement agencies to conduct anti-trafficking operations; increase availability for specialized victim services, including long-term housing; train police, prosecutors, judges, and social workers on a victim-centered approach to investigations and prosecutions; devote resources to implement the 2016-2020 national action plan; strengthen engagement and coordination with civil society on technical, budgetary, and policy matters related to trafficking; improve data collection and sharing on anti-trafficking efforts, distinguishing human trafficking from other crimes; and expedite and fund repatriation and reintegration services to returning Bolivian trafficking victims.


The government did not report prosecution efforts and the lack of comprehensive data on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions made overall law enforcement efforts against human trafficking difficult to assess. Law 263 of 2012—the Comprehensive Law against Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons—prohibits all forms of trafficking and establishes penalties of 10 to 20 years imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Law 263 diverges from the international definition of trafficking in persons by classifying non-trafficking crimes, such as illegal adoption and the removal or sale of organs without the purpose of exploitation, as human trafficking. While law 263 creates separate criminal offenses for trafficking in persons and smuggling of persons, one government agency is responsible for both crimes, possibly leading to confusion in collection of data and in the response to perpetrators and potential victims of trafficking. Some police and prosecutors charged trafficking cases as non-trafficking crimes, such as pimping; this was sometimes due to a belief that trafficking cases were difficult to prove in court.

The government did not provide comprehensive data on the number of trafficking investigations or convictions in 2016. Trafficking and smuggling crimes reported to the Bolivian police increased to 526 in 2016, compared to 247 in 2015 and 380 in 2014. However, the government did not report any convictions during the reporting period, compared to the reported five convictions in 2015 and 12 in 2014. Media reported a government investigation of a case that resulted in the prosecution of six individuals under law 263. Three of those prosecuted were government officials—two members of the Santa Cruz state police and a municipal councilman. They were investigated in connection to an alleged trafficking ring based out of two popular nightclubs located in La Paz and Santa Cruz. At the end of the reporting period, the investigation and prosecutions were ongoing. While law 263 imposes a serious penalty for trafficking crimes, sources reported traffickers could bribe prosecutors to avoid being charged. For the fourth consecutive year, no information was available regarding any government response to a 2013 report from the ombudsman’s office that two police officers allegedly forced female inmates into prostitution. The La Paz police department’s specialized anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling unit increased the number of police investigators to 25, whereas other departments’ anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling units allotted three to five investigators. The government operated two national anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling police units, one focused on internal law enforcement efforts and the other on border security. Because of limited funding, police relied significantly on donations from NGOs and civil society to conduct operations, including anti-trafficking operations. The government and an international organization held a two-day training to familiarize public officials with the legal protocols relating to trafficking and smuggling; 120 individuals participated, including law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges.


The government did not report protection efforts. Authorities did not provide information on the total number of victims identified, referred, assisted or the kinds of services these victims received. The government approved a protocol for the proactive identification of trafficking and smuggling cases, but implementation remained pending. An international organization reported assisting with the repatriation of six Bolivian victims with minimal assistance from the government. The Ministry of Health administered periodic medical tests to individuals in the legal commercial sex trade, but did not screen for trafficking indicators. The Ministry of Labor had 12 inspectors to investigate child and forced labor. Law 263 requires the Ministry of Labor to create a national registry of employment agencies with the intent to monitor for trafficking activity; however, authorities did not establish this mechanism during the reporting period, and NGOs expressed concern the registry would not address the many employment agencies that operate transiently and informally. NGOs reported the early prevention unit of the La Paz police department began coordinating with the anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling unit to provide psychologists and social workers for the early stages of investigation to provide immediate mental health services to victims.

The government relied on foreign donors and NGOs to fund and provide most victim services. Law 263 requires regional governments to build shelters for trafficking victims in each of Bolivia’s nine departments; in 2016, there were no shelters, and only one department began construction of a shelter. Law 263 also requires the government to provide free access to services for victims, but the government did not provide adequate funding for such services. Police were often unable to secure safe accommodation for trafficking victims identified in raids and reportedly used personal funds at times to assist victims. The government did not provide any services to adult male victims. The government detained and housed boy trafficking victims with juvenile criminals due to a lack of alternative accommodations. Four departmental governments operated a total of five special victims units, which focused on providing legal and psychological services to victims of gender-based violence, but did not report whether they assisted any trafficking victims in 2016. Victims may provide written testimony rather than testifying in a court proceeding; most cases did not advance far enough for this to be an option, and the government did not report whether victims assisted in trials in 2016. Bolivian law allowed victims to seek civil damages, but there were no reports of trafficking victims doing so in 2016. The government can legally provide foreign victims with humanitarian visas to remain in Bolivia temporarily and, if granted, enable victims to apply for a work permit; authorities did not report the number of humanitarian visas granted for 2016.


The government maintained prevention efforts. During the reporting period, the government restructured its 2015-2019 smuggling and trafficking national action plan for 2016-2020, including allocating funding for this revised plan in the budget. In 2016, the government committed an estimated 14 million bolivianos ($2.0 million), a decrease from the 18 million bolivianos ($2.6 million) committed in 2015. According to the budget plan, an additional 17 million bolivianos ($2.5 million) from international partners were committed to the plan. The Plurinational Council against Human Trafficking and Smuggling published a national policy to implement law 263 that required each department to develop anti-trafficking plans; two of nine departments developed and implemented a plan, and a third began drafting during the reporting period. Two sub-ministerial units were responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts—the directorate of trafficking and smuggling in persons mandated by law 263 and the Office of Trafficking in Persons in the Ministry of Justice. Observers noted a lack of interagency coordination, in part due to overlapping mandates.

In 2016, an NGO headed the network of government officials and civil society organizations, previously organized by the human rights ombudsman, responsible for prevention efforts. The network coordinated efforts in four border cities to train municipal officials on trafficking issues and the implementation of policies to mitigate trafficking in their regions; further, it worked closely with schools to teach children how to avoid becoming victims of trafficking. Despite this platform for engagement, NGOs reported not having significant impact on policy and budgeting decisions or being involved in a significant way. Law 263 required media outlets to run public service announcements on trafficking; an estimated 38 percent of outlets complied, according to sources. The government created an observatory of trafficking crimes to collect information on trends, and law 263 mandated the Plurinational Council submit an annual report to Congress on its work; the report was not published by the end of the reporting period. Bolivia signed trilateral and bilateral agreements with Brazil and Peru on cooperation to reduce border related crimes, including trafficking. During the reporting period, Bolivia and Peru created a joint plan to advance their accord and an estimated 300 Bolivians and Peruvians officials participated in anti-trafficking training. Authorities conducted some anti-trafficking awareness events. In July, the government collaborated with an NGO to inaugurate a film festival, attended by 3,000 people, highlighting the realities of trafficking; several organized flash mobs accompanied the festival. In November, the police organized a “marathon for security” in La Paz to educate society on smuggling and trafficking. The Institute for Normalization of Quality, a semi-autonomous government agency, operated a “triple seal” certification program for sugar producers whose final products are certified to be free of child and forced labor, which could reduce the demand for forced labor. As of 2016, two companies had obtained the seal. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.


As reported over the past five years, Bolivia is principally a source country for men, women, and children exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country and abroad. To a more limited extent, women from neighboring countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Paraguay, have been subjected to sex trafficking in Bolivia. Bolivia serves as a transit and destination country for migrants from Africa, Chile, and the Caribbean, some of whom become victims of forced labor and sex trafficking. Rural and poor Bolivians, most of whom are indigenous, and LGBTI youth are particularly vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Bolivian women and girls are found in sex trafficking within Bolivia and in neighboring countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Panama, Peru, and Chile. Within the country, Bolivian men, women, and children are found in forced labor in domestic work, mining, ranching, and agriculture. Media report cases of children forced to commit crimes, such as robbery and drug production, and others exploited in forced begging. A significant number of Bolivians are subjected to forced labor in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile in sweatshops, agriculture, domestic work, textile factories, and the informal sector. Traffickers exploit the absence of a national registry of employment agencies to establish informal temporary employment agencies, through which they identify and recruit potential victims. Some suspected traffickers reportedly bribe officials to avoid facing justice.