Trafficking in Persons Report 2018 - Country Narratives - Paraguay

PARAGUAY: Tier 2

The Government of Paraguay does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Paraguay remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increased efforts by investigating more cases under the anti-trafficking law, allowing video testimony to prevent the re-traumatization of victims, issuing strong sentences, and continuing robust cooperation with foreign governments. Despite these efforts, the government did not sufficiently fund protection services for all victims of trafficking, and authorities did not implement or train officials on victim identification and referral protocols. Cooperation with civil society was extremely limited, and the 2014-2018 national action plan was still pending final approval.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR PARAGUAY

Increase access to adequate specialized victim services, including shelter options for all victims of trafficking; increase funding and training to implement previously existing victim identification protocols and victim referral mechanisms; increase engagement with civil society actors to assist the government’s efforts to prevent trafficking and protect victims, and incorporate them as regular participants in the interagency roundtable; proactively investigate official complicity in the facilitation of trafficking; prosecute and convict traffickers, including complicit officials; obtain presidential approval for the national plan to combat trafficking and sufficiently fund its implementation; adopt reforms to eliminate situations of criadazgo and the related abusive practices and working conditions that may amount to trafficking; empower labor inspectors and law enforcement officials with the authority to be able to detect and investigate situations where trafficking is suspected; designate a government entity responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts; improve transnational cooperation with neighboring governments located in the border area to ensure law enforcement coordination, victim protection, and consular assistance; train members of the navy on victim identification and increase inspections of barges and ships traveling through the major waterways; encourage municipalities and ministries involved in issuing operational permits to businesses to certify that entities have not been involved in trafficking before issuing permits; and amend the anti-trafficking law to incorporate the definition of trafficking from international law.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained prosecution efforts. The Comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Law 4788 of 2012 criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to eight years imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, law 4788/12 established the use of force, fraud, and coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime. Articles 129b and 129c of Law 3440/08 also criminalized international trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation and forced labor, respectively.

The public ministry’s Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU) was the lead agency responsible for investigating and prosecuting traffickers. In 2017, the ATU initiated 134 trafficking investigations (54 for sex trafficking, 21 for forced labor, and 59 for child sex trafficking), an increase from 77 in 2016 and 68 in 2015. Authorities reported 53 prosecutions for trafficking offenses (71 in 2016 and 17 in 2015). Authorities often charged traffickers with lesser crimes, such as pimping or soliciting. In 2017, authorities reported 17 convictions, 10 for trafficking crimes and seven for other trafficking related offenses. It was unclear how many of the seven convictions were for forced labor or sex trafficking. In 2017, sentences for trafficking offenses averaged five years, compared with an average of two years imprisonment in 2016. In a high-profile case, the government allowed several victims to testify against their traffickers using video-conferencing technology; in this case, three traffickers received sentences from 10 to 12 years in prison. During the reporting period, the ATU cooperated with Argentina, Bolivia, France, Spain, EUROPOL, and INTERPOL on the investigation of several cases. In coordination with a foreign government, the ATU conducted four training sessions on labor trafficking reaching 400 government officials, including judges, prosecutors, investigators, labor inspectors, and immigration officials. Although the government did not report investigating any cases of official complicity, several observers alleged police involvement in trafficking activities, including reports of local police chiefs who received bribes from massage parlors and brothels under their jurisdiction to allow the exploitation of trafficking victims. During the reporting period, new anecdotal allegations surfaced in which police facilitated sex trafficking of women and girls on barges operating along the Paraguay River.

PROTECTION

The government maintained protection efforts. In 2017, the Ministry of Women Affairs (MWA) identified 90 women victims of trafficking, compared with 82 in 2016. Authorities did not report how many victims were identified by other government agencies. In 2016, with the assistance of an international organization, the government developed a formal victim identification protocol and national referral guide for prosecutors, police, labor inspectors, and border officials. However, the government did not widely distribute these tools to first responders. In practice, the government used an ad hoc process for victim identification and referral. The government made insufficient efforts to protect victims and lack of cooperation with civil society actors limited the provision of wholesome and comprehensive care. The ATU continued to provide basic assistance to victims of trafficking, going beyond their core investigative responsibilities. The ATU had three teams to assist trafficking victims; these teams provided psychological, social, and legal assistance. The overall quality of care for victims was insufficient due to limited resources and the lack of qualified personnel. The government relied heavily on international partners for support. In 2017, authorities cooperated with Argentina, Bolivia, France, Spain, EUROPOL, and INTERPOL on cases involving 20 Paraguayans and three foreign victims of trafficking. The government did not report if Paraguayan victims received assistance upon their return. In an effort to fill immediate budget gaps for victim assistance, the ATU used money collected from fines imposed on individuals driving under the influence of alcohol. Several observers reported that such subsidies were insufficient to adequately fund efforts. There were two shelters dedicated to helping female trafficking victims, one managed by the MWA and the other co-managed by The Secretariat for Children and Adolescents (SNNA) and an NGO. In 2017, the government provided shelter to a total of 27 victims (15 victims by MWA and 12 girl victims by the SNNA). In addition to shelter and food, the MWA and the SNNA provided psychological support, social assistance, legal advice, and reintegration programs for trafficking victims. The government did not have a shelter to assist male trafficking victims; however, the ATU provided assistance on an ad hoc basis before facilitating the return of male victims to their community of origin.

The government provided approximately 5.3 billion guaranies ($950,840) for the efforts of the ATU, the MWA, and SNNA. Authorities reported funding was insufficient to assist victims adequately. The Ministry of Public Health and municipalities had statutes that allowed the inspection of brothels; however, federal authorities complained that municipalities continued to issue operational permits to establishments where victims had previously been found. The government helped repatriate three trafficking victims and referred them to care facilities to receive medical, psychological, and legal services. Authorities did not provide any training for government officials on victim protection in 2017.

PREVENTION

The government increased prevention efforts. The Office of the Director General for Consular Affairs was the government entity responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking programs, including the activities of an interagency roundtable that consisted of subcommittees on prevention, prosecution, assistance, and legislation and included representatives from 16 government agencies. The roundtable was effective in fostering dialogue and coordination among government agencies; however, it continued to face challenges in collecting and reporting statistics. The comprehensive anti-trafficking law of 2012 did not stipulate the mandatory participation of civil society actors in the roundtable. During the reporting period, however, the government identified an NGO to serve as a liaison between the roundtable and civil society. In 2017, the interagency roundtable approved the 2014-2018 National Plan for the Prevention and Combat of Trafficking in Persons, but the plan lacked presidential approval at the close of the reporting period.

The government lacked a national anti-trafficking secretariat, despite the 2012 law mandating its creation. Several observers reported the absence of a dedicated agency limited the effectiveness of anti-trafficking efforts. The MWA coordinated eight regional anti-trafficking meetings in five departments reaching 677 community members and local departmental representatives of the agencies that participated in the roundtable. The government continued to post brochures and posters in bus terminals, airports, and border crossings to promote awareness. The government maintained a hotline to report crimes against children, including trafficking; media reports indicated the government received more than 9,000 calls to the hotline during the first half of 2017, but it was unclear how many of those were reports of trafficking. In 2017, the SNNA launched a cellphone app version of the hotline to promote use among younger audiences. Individuals calling the hotline or using the app had to provide identification; lack of anonymity could hinder reporting of crimes due to fear of reprisal. The government sponsored training for 23 taxi drivers in Asuncion that included awareness on child sexual exploitation. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor. Authorities did not identify children from whom sex was purchased by foreigners in Ciudad del Este and the Tri-Border Area as victims of child sex tourism or trafficking. In 2017, the government launched an awareness campaign focused on the prevention of child commercial sexual exploitation in the tourism sector. The campaign displayed pamphlets, stickers, and banners at hotels, airports, and places of mass circulation in Ciudad del Este and the border region. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel. The government provided all peacekeepers with UN-approved training on trafficking prior to their deployment on international peacekeeping missions.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, Paraguay is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Paraguayan women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking within the country, and transgender Paraguayans are vulnerable to sex trafficking. The practice of criadazgo appears to be the most visible and common form of trafficking in the country. Middle- and upper-income families in both urban and rural areas took on children, almost exclusively from impoverished families, as domestic workers and provided varying compensation that included room, board, money, a small stipend, and/or access to educational opportunities. Although not all children in situations of criadazgo are victims of trafficking, it made them more vulnerable. An estimated 46,000 Paraguayan children work in situations of criadazgo; many of these children are highly vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Although criadazgo mainly affects young girls, boys are increasingly at risk. Boys are often victims of labor exploitation in the agriculture industry, domestic servitude, forced criminality, and in some cases as horse race jockeys. Indigenous persons are particularly at risk for forced labor and sex trafficking. Children engaged in street vending and begging and working in agriculture, mining, brick making, and ranching are vulnerable to trafficking. Foreign victims of sex and labor trafficking in Paraguay are mostly from other South American countries. Paraguayan victims of sex trafficking and forced labor are found in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, and other countries. Paraguayan women are recruited as couriers of illicit narcotics to Europe and Africa, where they are often subjected to forced prostitution. Paraguayan children are subjected to forced labor in the cultivation and sale of illicit drugs in Brazil. The Tri-Border Area, between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, is vulnerable to human trafficking given the lack of regulatory measures, insufficient transnational cooperation, and the fluidity of illicit goods and services. Government officials—including police, border guards, judges, and public registry employees—facilitated human trafficking, including taking bribes from brothel owners in exchange for protection, extorting suspected traffickers in order to prevent arrest, and producing fraudulent identity documents. Paraguayan women and girls are vulnerable to trafficking in ships and barges navigating along country’s major waterways. Reports from 2015 indicated isolated instances of the now-defunct organized criminal group the Armed Peasant Association (ACA) forcibly recruiting children and adolescents to participate in logistical and communication support roles.