USDOS – US Department of State (Author)
The Government of Paraguay 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 Paraguay remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying significantly more trafficking victims; implementing a unified approach to victim identification in government quarantine facilities; opening temporary shelters for quarantining child trafficking victims; establishing a new entrepreneurial grant program for trafficking victims; and passing a new national action plan to combat trafficking in persons, the first such plan to receive presidential approval as required for full implementation. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Services for all victims remained inadequate, cooperation with civil society remained inconsistent, use of the identification protocol and referral mechanism was ad hoc, and the anti-trafficking unit was under-resourced. Although the government identified more victims, its victim services infrastructure was insufficient to meet the needs of this large group. The government’s anti-trafficking law did not align with international law.
Expand access to adequate specialized victim services, including for male victims. • Investigate and prosecute alleged traffickers, including complicit officials, and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms. • Fund and implement the 2020-2024 national action plan. • Train officials to consistently utilize victim identification protocols and referral mechanisms to increase proactive identification of trafficking victims. • Increase engagement with civil society actors to complement the government’s efforts to prevent trafficking and protect victims and encourage regular civil society participation in the interagency roundtable. • Increase funding and staffing for the Paraguayan National Police Anti-Trafficking Unit (PNPTU). • Revise the definition of human trafficking under law 4788/12 to ensure force, fraud, or coercion are essential elements of the crime as established under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. • Adopt reforms to eliminate abusive practices and working conditions that may amount to trafficking in the criadazgo (child servitude) system. • Establish the national anti-trafficking secretariat, as required by law. • Train law enforcement officials to bolster understanding that child sex tourism is human trafficking. • Improve interagency coordination and develop a case management database for trafficking cases. • Establish adequate penalties to deter child labor violations.
The government maintained prosecution efforts. The Comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Law 4788 of 2012 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to eight years’ imprisonment for cases involving adult victims and two to 20 years’ imprisonment for those involving child victims; 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; penalties were increased to two to 15 years’ imprisonment under such circumstances. Article 139 of the penal code, which relates to pimping crimes, could be used to prosecute child sex trafficking offenses; it prescribed penalties of eight years’ imprisonment for offenses involving children, which are significantly lower than the penalties described under the anti-trafficking law.
The PNPTU was responsible for investigating trafficking crimes, while the Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU) was the lead prosecuting agency. In 2020, authorities initiated 106 trafficking investigations, 35 for sex trafficking and 71 for forced labor, compared with 141 investigations in 2019 and 110 investigations in 2018. Officials continued to investigate 75 ongoing cases initiated in past years. Authorities filed preliminary charges against 21 suspected traffickers, compared with 53 in 2019, and 25 in 2018. There were 206 ongoing trafficking prosecutions initiated in previous reporting periods, where in 2019 there had been 127 such ongoing cases. Judges convicted three traffickers, all on sex trafficking charges, under Law 4788/12, and reported convicting six additional individuals of trafficking-related crimes, some of which may have amounted to trafficking under international law. This compared with 22 trafficking and trafficking-related convictions in 2019 and 15 in 2018. These traffickers received sentences ranging from five to 12 years’ imprisonment; those individuals sentenced under related charges received sentences ranging from 24 to 42 months’ imprisonment. Paraguayan courts closed from April 2020 to December 2020 as a public health precaution during the pandemic, limiting prosecutors’ ability to try and convict traffickers, but resumed adjudication under modified conditions in January 2021.
Anti-trafficking law enforcement operated with low budgetary allocations for a third consecutive reporting period. The PNPTU’s staff modestly increased to 41 specialized trafficking officers in 2020, compared with 36 officers in 2019, 38 in 2018, and 50 in 2017. Observers indicated the unit needed more staff and additional offices in high-risk areas, such as the international airport, to adequately perform its duties. From April to December 2020, the government directed law enforcement officials to work from home to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, where limited access to sensitive materials and rolling blackouts hindered investigations. In 2020, the ATU cooperated with Argentina, Brazil, and Spain on four trafficking investigations, particularly in the Tri-Border Area.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement activity. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses, though observers continued to allege some officials displayed complicity indicators, particularly border agents. Such allegations included officials taking bribes from massage parlors and brothels where trafficking crimes allegedly occurred, agents issuing passports for Paraguayan trafficking victims exploited abroad, and facilitating sex trafficking of women and girls on barges operating along the Paraguay River.
The government increased protection efforts. The government lacked a centralized database to aggregate efforts across ministries and could not provide comprehensive data on victim protection. There were three agencies involved in victim identification: the ATU, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MWA), and the Ministry of Children and Adolescents (MINNA). The government reported identifying 299 trafficking victims in 2020. By comparison, the government reported identifying 86 victims in 2019 and 70 victims in 2018. Traffickers exploited more than 150 of the victims identified in 2020 in forced labor. More than 80 percent of trafficking victims identified in 2020 were child victims. Among the 299 victims identified, there were 42 women, 187 girls, one man, and 69 boys. The government attributed the notable increase in victims identified to implementing routine screening for returning migrants required to quarantine in government facilities before entering the country to prevent the spread of COVID-19; in these facilities, officials from several agencies utilized common guidelines to identify potential victims of trafficking, with particular attention to unaccompanied children. The government had a formal victim identification protocol and national referral guide for prosecutors, police, labor inspectors, and border officials; however, use of these tools was inconsistent and ad hoc. In practice, only some government entities had protocols for the proactive identification of victims.
There were three dedicated shelters for female trafficking victims, one managed by the MWA for adults and two shelters for child victims managed by MINNA; one of MINNA’s shelters was co-managed by an NGO. MWA could also serve female trafficking victims at its two domestic violence shelters. Although the government identified significantly more victims in 2020, its shelter capacity was insufficient to accommodate the large number of victims needing care. In response to increased victim identification, MINNA established two temporary shelters at the border to allow child trafficking victims to quarantine separately from the general population. These facilities could accommodate approximately 40 children at one time. Otherwise, MINNA reported referring 26 child victims to its shelter services, compared with 44 in 2019 and 48 in 2018. Observers reported pandemic-related safety protocols may have contributed to limited capacity, as well as reduced turnover, in shelters. During the quarantine period required for child trafficking victims identified at the border, officials from the public defender’s office conducted psychosocial evaluations to determine whether the children could safely return to their families. Where there were no concerns victims’ families were complicit in their trafficking, the public defender’s office was responsible for organizing a safe return, including travel and chaperone, if necessary; the government released most child trafficking victims to the care of family or guardians. The ATU coordinated direct cash transfers and food assistance for 39 victims, and the MWA provided similar support to 11 victims. In addition to shelter and food, the government provided psychological support, social assistance, legal advice, and reintegration programs for some victims. The government implemented a new entrepreneurial program for trafficking victims in 2020, awarding small business seed grants to six female victims. The government did not have a shelter to assist male trafficking victims; however, the ATU could provide psychological assistance, food, and immediate shelter at hotels on an ad hoc basis before facilitating the return of male victims to their community of origin. In December 2020, the government established an interagency working group to ensure provision of services to trafficking victims outside of government shelters. The government did not have significant engagement with civil society. Aside from some funding provided to the NGO operating the MINNA shelter, the government did not provide assistance to NGOs contributing to the protection of victims. Lack of substantive cooperation with civil society also limited the government’s ability to provide comprehensive care. The overall quality of care for victims was inadequate due to limited resources and the lack of qualified personnel. The ATU continued to provide basic assistance to trafficking victims due to insufficient victim services provision by other parts of the government. However, the ATU did not receive government funding for victim assistance and relied on occasional allocations from a victims services fund managed by an international organization to assist victims. This funding supported the government’s case-by-case provision of food assistance, direct cash transfers, and reintegration programming for trafficking victims. Government officials reported funding was insufficient to assist victims adequately. In 2020, the government authorized emergency budgetary reallocations to fund pandemic measures; although these redistributions did not target anti-trafficking activities, the reshuffling prevented confident reporting on the funds ultimately available to combat human trafficking, though most observers agreed they were diminished. MINNA provided approximately $38,500 in 2020 to the NGO that operated the specialized shelter for underage victims, compared with approximately $50,000 in 2019. The government helped repatriate at least one victim in 2020, compared with five in 2019 and five in 2018. Authorities did not provide government officials any training on victim protection for the fourth consecutive year.
The government modestly increased its prevention efforts. The Directorate for the Attention of the Overseas Paraguayan Community (DACPE) was the government entity responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking programs and convening an ongoing interagency roundtable that included intermittent participants from 16 government agencies. In 2020, the roundtable held 14 sessions, compared to six in 2019. Of these 14 virtual meetings, most were committee meetings to finalize the draft national action plan. Law 4788/12 did not require participation of civil society in the roundtable, and authorities provided them a limited role. The roundtable’s plenary sessions were officially open to civil society, but a number of NGOs reported they did not receive consistent notification of meetings. Poor and informal interagency coordination limited the government’s ability to monitor, collect, and report statistics. Several observers reported the absence of a dedicated agency limited the effectiveness of anti-trafficking efforts. Two NGOs served as liaisons between the roundtable and civil society. After several years of deliberation, the president approved a 2020-2024 national action plan to combat trafficking in persons, the first national action plan thus approved; officials reported implementation would begin in 2021. The government lacked a national anti-trafficking secretariat, despite the 2012 law mandating its creation. Although the government’s engagement with civil society on trafficking issues was limited, observers noted, the interagency roundtable demonstrated increased openness to NGO participation, particularly welcoming NGO contributions in the development of the national action plan.
The government did not allocate funds for public awareness campaigns; instead, it relied on civil society, businesses, and trade unions to run campaigns in high-risk areas. However, the government continued to post brochures and posters in bus terminals, airports, and border crossings to promote awareness of trafficking, and two agencies expanded social media awareness campaigns in response to decreased use of public venues during the pandemic. The government maintained hotlines to report crimes against women and children, including trafficking, as well as a webpage for trafficking and exploitation complaints. Authorities did not provide a comprehensive report on trafficking calls received via these sources. In prior years, the government operated an email inbox and a phone app version of the hotline to facilitate digital complaints but did not report any complaints received via these means in 2020. The Ministry of Labor’s 21 labor inspectors conducted 464 worksite inspections. Although labor inspections focused heavily on pandemic sanitation protocols in 2020, inspectors identified at least eight child labor violations, some of which may have amounted to trafficking. Observers noted the monetary fines commonly levied against employers for child labor violations were not sufficient to discourage the practice. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts; however, a recent revision to the tax code prevented brothels from claiming legitimate business status through the payment of taxes. Additionally, the government did not identify or investigate crimes of child sex tourism in Ciudad del Este and the Tri-Border area as trafficking crimes. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs trained diplomatic and consular staff on anti-trafficking laws, protocol, and interagency coordination. However, the government did not provide anti-trafficking training for all diplomatic personnel deployed abroad.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Paraguay, and traffickers exploit victims from Paraguay abroad. The practice of compelling children to labor as domestic workers, criadazgo, is perhaps the most common form of trafficking in the country. Middle- and upper-income families in both urban and rural areas take on children, almost exclusively from impoverished families, as domestic workers and provide varying compensation that includes room, board, money, a small stipend, or access to educational opportunities. An estimated 47,000 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. Traffickers exploit children from rural areas in sex trafficking and forced labor in urban centers. Indigenous persons are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Boys are often victims of forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, criminality, and in some cases as horse jockeys. Traffickers exploit Paraguayan women and girls in sex trafficking within the country, and transgender Paraguayans are vulnerable to sex trafficking. In the Chaco region, traffickers exploit adults and children in debt bondage.
Traffickers increasingly utilize social media to recruit victims. Children engaged in street vending and begging and working in agriculture, mining, brick making, and ranching are vulnerable to trafficking. Paraguayan victims of sex trafficking and forced labor have been identified in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, Colombia, Mexico, Spain, and other countries. Traffickers recruit Paraguayan women as couriers of illicit narcotics to Europe and Africa, where they subject them to sex trafficking. Traffickers move female trafficking victims regionally and to Europe via transit countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Spain. Paraguayan women and girls are vulnerable to sex trafficking on ships and barges navigating the country’s major waterways. Traffickers exploit Paraguayan children in forced labor in the cultivation and sale of illicit drugs in Brazil. Foreign victims of sex and labor trafficking in Paraguay are mostly from other South American countries. The lack of regulatory measures, insufficient transnational cooperation, and the fluidity of illicit goods and services contributed to increased trafficking risk in and around the Tri-Border Area between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Civil society and victims reported instances of officials—including police, border guards, judges, and public registry employees—facilitating sex trafficking, including taking bribes from brothel owners in exchange for protection, extorting suspected traffickers to prevent arrest, and producing fraudulent identity documents.