USDOS – US Department of State (Author)
The Government of Bolivia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Bolivia remained on Tier 2. These efforts included sentencing two complicit officials to seven years’ imprisonment for their active role in a trafficking case initiated in 2016, prosecuting more traffickers, establishing specialized prosecutor offices in all nine departments, and working with international and civil society organizations to conduct anti-trafficking prevention campaigns. However, the government did not meet minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities reported a decrease in the number of investigations, convictions, and victims identified; it did not report the number of victims referred to services. In addition, the Ministry of Labor (MOL) reduced the number of labor inspectors and did not conduct any investigations into cases of forced labor.
Investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including perpetrators of labor trafficking. • Identify victims of trafficking, including victims of forced labor and criminality, and refer them to services. • Fund and collaborate with civil society organizations to provide specialized services for trafficking victims and increase the availability of services nationwide. • Expand training of officials on the use of established protocols for the proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and for the referral of victims to care services. • Finalize, approve, and fund the 2021-2025 National Action Plan. • Increase the number of specialized labor inspectors and train all labor inspectors on victim identification and criminal referral of forced labor cases. • Develop and implement a centralized data collection system on trafficking to reconcile duplicative data stored across different systems. • Screen displaced Venezuelan migrants for trafficking indicators, including individuals in commercial sex and those working in high-risk sectors. • Amend the anti-trafficking law to ensure that a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion is not required to constitute a child sex trafficking offense. • Direct Ministry of Health staff to screen vulnerable populations for trafficking indicators when conducting medical screenings. • Provide interpreters to assist law enforcement officials investigating child sex tourism cases in popular tourist locations. • Increase the time law enforcement officials serve in anti-trafficking units to preserve institutional knowledge. • Expedite the issuance of humanitarian visas for victims of trafficking. • Increase awareness of “Triple Seal” certification among businesses to reduce the demand for forced labor. • Train officials on the difference between human smuggling and human trafficking. • Apply the anti-trafficking law apolitically and non-discriminatorily.
The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Law 263 of 2012—the Comprehensive Law against Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons—criminalized labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking through amendments to Bolivia’s Criminal Code and prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for adult trafficking and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for child trafficking. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the definition of trafficking under Article 281-bis required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. Article 281-bis defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation, the sale of organs, and unlawful biomedical research. Article 321 of the Criminal Code criminalized pimping using force, fraud, or coercion and was used to prosecute sex trafficking crimes. The law prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adults, 12 to 18 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving children ages 14 to 18, and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving children under 14, which were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. Article 321 did not require a showing of force, fraud, or coercion for victims under 14 years of age but did require a demonstration of such means for offenses involving children ages 14 to 17. Additionally, Article 322 criminalized the purchase of sex with a minor and prescribed penalties of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving victims 14 to 17 years of age. Penalties increased by one-third for offenses involving children younger than 14. While the Criminal Code included separate criminal offenses for trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling, one government agency was responsible for both crimes, and that agency often conflated the two crimes in its collection of data and response to perpetrators and potential victims of trafficking.
In November 2020, a new administration took office, and massive turnover across government institutions led to gaps of information and efforts, including human trafficking. Government authorities reported new detailed information on law enforcement efforts not provided in previous years, making it difficult to draw an adequate comparison to the last reporting period. Data available was likely duplicative or contradictory, as no single agency was responsible for maintaining comprehensive protection or law enforcement data. Pandemic-related mitigating measures slowed trafficking investigations due to several week court closures and the reassignment of some law enforcement personnel to non-trafficking activities. The national police investigated 39 new cases of trafficking (14 for sex trafficking and 25 for forced labor), and department authorities arrested 48 suspects for trafficking and trafficking related crimes (28 in La Paz and 20 in Santa Cruz). The Public Ministry (MP) referred 83 potential cases of trafficking (33 for sex trafficking and 50 for forced labor) to the Ministry of Justice and reported 32 prosecutions (14 for sex trafficking, 17 for labor trafficking, and four for other forms of servitude), compared with 55 cases prosecuted in 2018, the last year data was available. Authorities indicated there were 115 traffickers imprisoned in 2020 for trafficking or trafficking related crimes, of which two received a final sentence. In addition, authorities reported to an international organization it convicted 11 traffickers (compared with five in 2019 and two in 2018), but authorities did not provide information on sentences prescribed to traffickers in 2020. Observers continued to note the vast majority of arrested suspects, including traffickers, served time in pre-trial detention without ever receiving a final sentence and often avoided justice by paying bribes to corrupt officials to avoid prosecution. General backlogs in the judiciary, insufficient resources and personnel, and inadequate training of law enforcement officials impeded law enforcement efforts. Officials reported that by the end of 2020, the courts had received 600 cases of trafficking and rejected 524 of the cases received. Misunderstanding of human trafficking by judicial authorities likely led to the premature dismissal of cases. In September 2020, the attorney general announced the establishment of department-level specialized prosecutor offices focused on human trafficking and human smuggling cases. The new offices provided training and specialized courses for public prosecutors and civil servants engaged in the fight against trafficking. In coordination with an international organization, authorities trained 48 new specialized prosecutors on trafficking crimes.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any new cases of official complicity. In August 2020, the interim government opened an investigation of the former president for trafficking crimes; however, the allegations may not be considered trafficking according to international law. Authorities abused law enforcement resources to prosecute individuals for politically motivated trafficking charges, bringing into question the veracity of the anti-trafficking data reported by the government. In 2020, courts sentenced two low-ranking police officers to seven years’ imprisonment for their active role in a 2016 case of sex trafficking involving several women and girls at two nightclubs in La Paz.
In coordination with an international organization, the government led a series of virtual training sessions for more than 290 department and national level officials on prosecution of traffickers, including specialized investigative techniques, awareness of emerging trends in online trafficking crimes, and victim identification; the training sessions also included prevention efforts and protection of victims. In coordination with civil society, authorities also trained 83 police investigators and officials from the human trafficking division of each department on victim-centered investigations, victim identification, intervention skills, and recruitment tactics used by traffickers. The La Paz police department’s anti-trafficking unit maintained 18 police investigators, and other departments’ anti-trafficking units had three to five investigators. Police officials rotated into new positions every three months to one year, resulting in a cyclical loss of institutional knowledge and impeding specialization in investigation of trafficking crimes. Civil society organizations indicated government authorities coordinated with the governments of Paraguay and Peru on cases involving victims from those countries identified in Bolivia.
The government maintained protection efforts. In 2020, law enforcement officials reported identifying 300 victims (292 Bolivians, four Haitians, one Colombian, one Chinese, and one Venezuelan), compared with 422 victims identified in 2019. Authorities had a victim identification handbook for law enforcement and a victim identification referral mechanism. However, according to officials, pandemic-related restrictions severely impacted their ability to identify victims proactively. The government’s overlapping legal framework and understanding of human trafficking and related crimes limited victim identification efforts. Authorities confused human trafficking with other crimes, such as child pornography, general labor exploitation, sexual abuse, and migrant smuggling, hindering their ability to identify trafficking victims. Authorities from the Ministry of Health did not receive training on victim identification and did not screen for trafficking indicators despite periodically administering medical tests to individuals in commercial sex, a population vulnerable to sex trafficking.
The government did not report how many victims it referred to services during the reporting period. There were six multi-use shelters for victims of domestic violence and other crimes that could accept child and female trafficking victims, each reportedly underfunded. Law enforcement officials were often unable to secure safe accommodation for trafficking victims, particularly in departments without multi-use facilities. The government relied on private organizations, faith-based groups, foreign donors, and NGOs to fund and provide victim services; in some cases, police officers gave victims money for hotel rooms for the night in the hope victims could seek greater support from local government authorities or get back in touch with family members. The government did not provide any specialized services to adult male victims but could provide basic assistance at migrant shelters. Authorities could refer underage male trafficking victims to NGOs, private shelters, and religious organizations for assistance.
Foreign victims who assisted in the case against their traffickers could receive a humanitarian visa, but the process often took years, and victims could not work during that time. While authorities did not report how many victims of trafficking received humanitarian visas, NGOs reported authorities treated foreign victims of trafficking fairly, following legal standards, and government officials worked with their foreign counterparts to facilitate repatriation in a timely fashion when victims sought that remedy. The government had a protocol for the repatriation of victims identified abroad, and in 2020, authorities reported repatriating and providing consular assistance to two victims, compared with 22 victims in 2019 and 20 in 2018. The government allowed the use of Gesell chambers in every department, and in lieu of testifying in person, victims could provide recorded testimony or submit a written statement to the court. The government did not report using these provisions to encourage victims to cooperate in the case against their traffickers. Under Bolivian law, victims and their prosecutors could request restitution for damages from the sentencing judge. When victims did not participate in the case against their traffickers, they or their prosecutors could still file restitution claims within three months of sentencing. The government did not report whether any victim or prosecutor sought restitution in trafficking cases. Authorities did not report penalizing victims for crimes their traffickers compelled to commit.
The government maintained prevention efforts. The Plurinational Council against Human Trafficking and Smuggling, chaired by the MOJ, was responsible for coordinating antitrafficking efforts at the national level. Two sub-ministerial units were responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts at the technical level. Observers noted a lack of interagency coordination, in part due to overlapping mandates. Authorities used the 2016-2020 national action plan (NAP) and—with the support of an international organization—began developing the 2021-2025 NAP; the new NAP was incomplete at the end of the reporting period. Authorities did not report making any progress in 2020 on the development of a consolidated database of trafficking cases that began in 2018 with the support of an international organization.
The government had a federal registry requiring all employment agencies to register and provide the MOL with all recruitment and job placement records. Authorities did not report how many applications the MOL reviewed or flagged for trafficking concerns, compared with 42 applications reviewed in 2019, when authorities granted five permits and denied 37 requests. While authorities did not deny all applications due to trafficking concerns, they reported one of the main considerations when making a final decision for approval was limiting employment opportunities that increased vulnerability to trafficking. MOL officials reported pandemic mitigation measures severely impacted their ability to conduct labor inspections. By October 2020, labor inspectors reported an average of 20 general inspections per week. Budget cuts also reduced the number of inspectors to 71, compared with 102 inspectors in 2019. Officials indicated all 71 inspectors were trained to identify cases of forced labor but did not report identifying victims during the reporting period. The government did not report providing additional training on forced labor during the reporting period. Authorities did not report conducting any inspections into forced labor, compared with 145 inspections in areas with a high prevalence of trafficking conducted in 2019. Authorities in the La Paz metropolitan area launched a new hotline for citizens and victims to report trafficking crimes. However, authorities did not report identifying any victims or starting any investigations as a result of calls to the hotline.
According to government officials and international organizations, the pandemic, political instability surrounding the general election, and a government transition decreased the frequency of government-funded awareness and education campaigns. Authorities reportedly adapted ongoing prevention campaigns to online platforms and partnered with international organizations to expand the reach of these campaigns. In 2020, authorities joined the Blue Heart campaign and launched an effort to raise public awareness of trafficking crimes using digital platforms and social network accounts of government institutions, civil society, and telecommunication, radio, and television companies. As part of this campaign, authorities placed awareness banners in transit terminals and offered training to adolescents and school aged children on ways to recognize recruitment tactics used by traffickers in online platforms. The government conducted a trafficking awareness orientation campaign that reached 7,300 students in 11 schools in Santa Cruz, and—with the support of an international organization—department anti-trafficking offices offered a public forum on awareness reaching approximately 300 people. Government officials worked with an NGO to distribute short videos targeting young audiences focused on preventing recruitment into trafficking, receiving 10,000 views. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The Institute for Normalization of Quality, a semi-autonomous government agency, operated a “triple seal” certification program for sugar producers whose final products were certified to be free of child and forced labor, which could reduce the demand for forced labor. Officials did not report how many new companies obtained the seal in 2020.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Bolivia, and traffickers exploit victims from Bolivia abroad. Traffickers exploit Bolivian adults and children in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country and abroad. To a more limited extent, traffickers exploited women from neighboring countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Paraguay, in sex trafficking in Bolivia. Traffickers exploit an increasing number of Venezuelan victims in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country. Traffickers subject some migrants from Africa, Chile, and the Caribbean traveling to or through Bolivia to sex trafficking and forced labor. Traffickers exploited children in sex tourism in rural indigenous communities in the north of the La Paz department, in and around the city of Rurrenabaque, and in tourist areas in the departments of La Paz and Beni, openly advertising to tourists speaking Hebrew and Arabic. Rural and poor Bolivians, most of whom are indigenous, and LGBTQI+ youth are particularly at risk for sex and labor trafficking. Bolivian women and girls are exploited in sex trafficking within Bolivia and neighboring countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Panama, and Peru. Within the country, traffickers exploit Bolivian adults and children in forced labor in domestic work, mining, ranching, and agriculture. Forced criminality continues to be a problem; media outlets reported cases of children forced to commit crimes, such as robbery and drug production, and others exploited in forced begging. In 2019, traffickers forced a Bolivian victim into criminality by compelling her to smuggle drugs into Malaysia. Traffickers exploit many Bolivians in forced labor in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile in sweatshops, agriculture, brick making, domestic work, textile factories, and the informal sector. Traffickers continued to use social media as the primary recruitment tool, luring vulnerable individuals with fraudulent employment opportunities and then exploiting them in forced labor or sex trafficking. Civil society organizations noted a pattern of exploitation in which older trafficking victims became recruiters of younger victims.