Trafficking in Persons Report 2010
COLOMBIA (Tier 1)
Colombia is a major source country for women and girls subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced prostitution in Latin America, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Asia, and North America, including the United States. Within Colombia, some men are found in conditions of forced labor, but the forced prostitution of women and children from rural areas in urban areas remains a larger problem. Individual cases of forced marriage – a risk factor for trafficking – involuntary domestic servitude, and forced begging have been reported. Some children are subjected to forced labor in mines and quarries or as domestic servants. Groups at high risk for internal trafficking include displaced persons, poor women in rural areas, and relatives of members of criminal organizations. Continued armed violence in Colombia has displaced many communities, making them vulnerable to human trafficking. Guerillas and new illegal armed groups forcibly recruit children to join their ranks; the government estimates thousands of children are exploited under such conditions. Members of gangs and organized criminal networks force their relatives and acquaintances, and displaced persons – typically women and children – into conditions of forced prostitution and forced labor, including forced work in the illegal drug trade. Colombia also is a destination for foreign child sex tourists, particularly 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 increased law enforcement actions against trafficking offenders, enhanced prevention efforts, and continued to offer victim services through an interagency trafficking operations center and through partnerships with NGOs and international organizations. The significant number of Colombians trafficked abroad, however, reflects the need for increased prevention efforts and victim services.
Recommendations for Colombia: Dedicate more resources for victim services provided directly by the government; increase efforts to encourage victims to assist with the prosecution of their traffickers; enhance efforts to assist and repatriate the large number of Colombians trafficked overseas; institute formal measures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; and continue to raise public awareness about the dangers of human trafficking, particularly among young women seeking jobs abroad.
The Government of Colombia increased its anti-human trafficking law enforcement efforts during the reporting period. Colombia prohibits all forms of trafficking through its anti-trafficking statute, Law 985, which prescribes minimum punishments of 13 to 23 years’ imprisonment. Such punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2009, Colombian authorities initiated 215 anti-trafficking investigations, reported 200 trafficking prosecutions, and achieved 14 convictions, sentencing trafficking offenders to periods of imprisonment ranging from 7 to 27 years. Such results compare to 159 investigations and 16 convictions reported for 2008. Investigations of labor trafficking increased dramatically over the reporting period: in 2009, there were 80 reports of potential forced labor offenses; whereas in 2008, there were two. The government maintained partnerships with foreign governments to repatriate trafficking victims and investigate trafficking cases in Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago, and the United States. There were no corroborated reports of trafficking-related corruption during the reporting period and the government did not convict any officials for trafficking-related offenses. Public prosecutors received training on trafficking issues from an international organization.
The government maintained victim protection efforts, both through direct provision of assistance and in partnership with NGOs and international organizations. The government did not appear to employ formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations within the country, such as displaced persons or prostituted women. Authorities ran an interagency anti-trafficking operations center to refer victims to providers of protective services, as well as to coordinate and track criminal investigation and prosecution of their cases, and collect nationwide information and statistics about trafficking crimes. The government did not operate shelters dedicated to trafficking victims, but referred victims to local NGOs to provide these services. Authorities provided medical and psychological care, access to financial and employment assistance, and information and legal support for judicial processes. The government identified 155 victims of transnational trafficking during 2009, who consisted of near equal numbers of forced labor and sex trafficking victims, in addition to 14 victims who were trafficked within Colombia. The majority of these victims were adults, and the center provided 78 of these victims with services in collaboration with an NGO. Many victims only requested assistance in returning to their homes, and the government provided safe passage for victims returning home. The government encouraged victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and provided housing to victims participating in these efforts through its witness protection program. 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; four victims participated in prosecutions during the reporting period. Consular officials assisted 110 Colombians trafficked overseas during the reporting period: this represents a significant increase in repatriation assistance when compared with the 22 trafficking victims assisted by Colombian consular officers abroad in 2008. The government contracted legal advisors and social workers to help support Colombians abroad. However, victim services overseas are limited to consular districts with at least 10,000 Colombian residents, and are not likely to be available to victims trafficked to isolated locations. At home, Colombian law enforcement authorities encourage victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers. There were no reports of victims being jailed or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. While there was no specialized legal mechanism whereby the government offered a visa or temporary residence status to foreign trafficking victims, the government could provide trafficking victims with temporary permission to remain in the country on a case-by-case basis; these victims were eligible to receive humanitarian assistance from the government.
The government continued substantial prevention efforts against human trafficking. In partnership with international organizations, the government launched a new national trafficking prevention campaign targeting young, low-income Colombians, and concluded a campaign from the previous year; both campaigns included TV commercials, radio spots, and print ads. In collaboration with an international organization, the government also launched a pilot program to combat sex trafficking in two high-risk neighborhoods through public awareness events and training sessions for community leaders. Authorities trained 171 journalists in Medellin, Cartagena, and Cali to improve awareness and increase accurate media coverage of trafficking in persons issues. The Ministry of Education introduced a trafficking in persons component into its sexual education curriculum. Through its anti-trafficking operations center, the government operated a national call center, which received 7,801 calls during the reporting period. Most calls were citizen requests for information relating to job offers overseas, though 133 suspected trafficking cases from the call center were referred to police for investigation. The government encouraged more active anti-trafficking efforts at the local level, and two departments implemented anti-trafficking work plans during the reporting period, for a total of 15 departments with such plans. In 2009, the government hosted a national workshop for these departmental committees to share challenges and best practices. Colombian authorities hosted visiting delegations from Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, and Panama, and shared best practices from the anti-trafficking center with these delegations. Article 219 of the Colombian criminal code prohibits organizing or facilitating sexual tourism and provides penalties of 3 to 8 years’ imprisonment, but there were no reported prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists. No other government campaigns to reduce demand for commercial sex acts were visible during the reporting period, but the government reduced demand for child labor through public awareness and training efforts, often in partnership with international organizations.