Colombia is a source country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking, and a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor. Groups at high risk for internal trafficking include internally displaced persons, Afro-Colombians, indigenous Colombians, Colombians with disabilities, and Colombians living in areas where armed criminal groups are active. Sex trafficking of Colombian women and children occurs within the country. Authorities reported high rates of child prostitution in areas with tourism and large extractive industries, and NGOs reported that sex trafficking in mining areas sometimes involves organized criminal groups. NGOs reported that transgender Colombians and Colombian men in prostitution are exploited in sex trafficking in Colombia. Colombian labor trafficking victims are found in mining, agriculture, and domestic service. Colombian children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, are also vulnerable to labor trafficking. Colombian children and adults are exploited in forced begging in urban areas. Illegal armed groups forcibly recruit children to serve as combatants and informants, to cultivate illegal narcotics, or to be exploited in prostitution. Organized criminal groups force vulnerable Colombians, including displaced persons, into sex trafficking and forced criminal activity—particularly to sell and transport illegal narcotics and serve as lookouts or assassins.
Colombian women and children are found in sex trafficking around the world, particularly in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Western Europe. Colombian men and women are exploited in forced labor—including in domestic service—in Latin America and to a more limited extent, North Africa. During the year, Colombian men were identified in forced labor in Argentina in furniture and basket production and peddling. To a more limited extent, children from neighboring countries are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in Colombia. Colombia is a destination for foreign child sex tourists primarily from North America, Europe, and other Latin American countries.
The Government of Colombia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Authorities continued to undertake awareness campaigns and investigate and prosecute transnational trafficking cases. Authorities increased the number of labor trafficking investigations and reported six convictions related to child recruitment by illegal armed groups in 2013, some of which may have involved forcible child recruitment. The government offered victims of transnational trafficking repatriation and short-term emergency assistance and provided services to child victims of sex trafficking and of forcible recruitment by illegal armed groups. The government did not demonstrate concrete progress in identifying victims from vulnerable populations, providing specialized services to victims, and prosecuting and convicting perpetrators of internal trafficking. Authorities did not treat all internal sex trafficking cases and recruitment of children by illegal armed groups as human trafficking, which hindered efforts to accurately assess government efforts to identify and assist victims and to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases. Departmental governments lacked sufficient funding, staff, or interagency coordination to provide adequate specialized services to victims of trafficking. The government’s victim assistance decree, required by the 2005 trafficking law and initially drafted in 2008, remained pending.
Recommendations for Colombia:
Provide more trafficking victims access to protection and specialized services by increasing funding for shelter and reintegration assistance, including for departmental governments and civil society organizations, in part through enacting a victim-centered assistance decree and designating funding for its implementation; increase proactive identification, investigation, and prosecution of forced labor and internal sex trafficking cases; consider creating regional anti-trafficking prosecutorial units for the four administrative regions in the country to increase law enforcement capacity to investigate internal trafficking; create and implement formal mechanisms to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations within the country, including displaced Colombians; enhance coordination among labor officials, police, prosecutors, and social workers to ensure cases are identified and referred for criminal investigation and victims are provided comprehensive and timely assistance; strengthen the interagency working group’s ability to collect accurate data
on all forms of trafficking and to coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts in partnership with civil society.
The Government of Colombia continued to prosecute transnational sex trafficking cases, but carried out limited law enforcement efforts against internal trafficking. Law 985 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of 13 to 23 years’ imprisonment plus fines, penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Internal child sex trafficking cases were usually investigated as induction into prostitution and pimping, and some of these crimes carried lower penalties than trafficking.
The Prosecutor General’s Office maintained 143 open investigations for transnational trafficking, including 21 for labor trafficking. The total number of internal trafficking investigations and prosecutions initiated by the Colombian government in 2013 was unknown, as internal trafficking cases were sometimes investigated as other crimes. The government initiated 44 prosecutions for transnational trafficking, an increase from 18 known prosecutions in 2012. The government convicted 11 transnational sex traffickers and one internal sex trafficker in 2013, a small increase from 2012. Sentences ranged from eight to 10 years’ imprisonment, with at least two convicted traffickers serving their sentences under house arrest and paying fines. The Prosecutor General’s Office initiated 1,160 new investigations related to child recruitment by illegal armed groups; these cases involved 586 male victims and 257 female victims. Colombian courts issued six sentences for illegal recruitment of children by armed groups in 2013; the range of sentences was unknown, and it was unclear how many of these cases involved forcible recruitment or forcible use of children. It was unclear how many sentences were issued for forcible child recruitment in 2012. In March 2013, the Constitutional Court issued a directive ordering the government to increase law enforcement efforts against domestic servitude, but authorities did not report any investigations or prosecutions for that form of labor trafficking or any convictions for other forms of labor trafficking other than child recruitment by illegal armed groups. The Colombian National Police conducted two joint anti-trafficking law enforcement operations with a foreign government in which 11 arrests were made, and one cooperative transnational trafficking investigation, resulting in four arrests, two of which led to convictions.
While Colombian law penalizes all forms of trafficking, governmental structures and law enforcement practices did not reflect this comprehensive approach. Data collection remained strong on law enforcement efforts against transnational trafficking but was uneven on efforts against internal sex trafficking and forced labor. As in previous years, one prosecutor handled all transnational trafficking cases for the entire country and faced a significant caseload. The government assigned only one prosecutor in Bogota to oversee cases of internal trafficking in the city, with no reduction in prior workload. Outside of Bogota, local prosecutors handled internal trafficking cases as well as prosecutions for other crimes. Many of these prosecutors were overburdened, underfunded, and lacked trafficking expertise. Law enforcement officers reported that social workers and other officials interacting with potential trafficking victims, such as children in commercial sexual exploitation, did not always refer these cases for criminal investigation. In some cases, this was because officials inaccurately believed that it was permissible under Colombian law for a child between 14 and 18 to engage independently in commercial sex; any minor engaging in prostitution for the benefit of a third-party, including a family member, is a trafficking victim. Colombian authorities did not consider forced child recruitment by illegal armed groups to be human trafficking, but rather a war crime. Children forced to engage in criminal activity by organized criminal groups, as well as former child soldiers who did not leave illegal armed groups before turning 18, were not explicitly included in the trafficking definition in the law, and authorities did not investigate these cases as human trafficking.
In 2013, hundreds of officials—including prosecutors, judicial officials, police, and labor inspectors—received some training on human trafficking, often through partnerships with international organizations. Authorities investigated a city councilman and municipal employee in the department of Antioquia for possible involvement in commercial sexual exploitation of minors; these officials continued to work while the investigation proceeded. The government did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The Government of Colombia provided services to some trafficking victims, but long-term victim care was lacking and the government funded limited specialized services beyond emergency care. Some government officials, including Colombian consular officers abroad and immigration officials, reportedly used established protocols to identify trafficking victims. The government did not provide evidence of effectively employing formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations within the country, such as displaced persons, child laborers, or people in prostitution.
Civil society organizations were critical of the government’s ability to identify and assist trafficking victims within the country, in part due to frequent turnover in staff responsible for coordinating victim services. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs identified 60 Colombian trafficking victims abroad through its embassies and an international organization, compared to 38 victims identified the year before. Of these, 34 were exploited in sex trafficking, 23 in forced labor, and three cases were considered to be trafficking by the Colombian government in which women were in servile marriages and subjected to domestic servitude. Fourteen were male victims of labor trafficking and five were child victims of sex trafficking. Fifty-five of these 60 victims were repatriated in partnership with an international organization. The Colombian Child Welfare Institute (ICBF), a government institution, reported identifying 158 children in prostitution and nine children in forced labor; the government did not identify these children as trafficking victims. Authorities and an international organization identified 342 children who separated from illegal armed groups in 2013. Of this population, 228 were girls and 114 were boys, including 227 indigenous children and 33 Afro-Colombian children. The government did not report how many adult victims were identified within the country.
Officials noted that the lack of legal guidelines for the care and protection of victims remained a significant challenge. The anti-trafficking law of 2005 mandated a victim protection decree to formally assign responsibility for victim services and to allocate specific funding. This decree was first drafted in 2008 but remained pending at the end of the reporting period, although officials reported that it was in the process of being finalized and should provide a budget for victim services at the local level and clear guidance for victim identification and assistance. Some local officials noted that in the absence of this decree, they did not have the legal mandate to provide dedicated trafficking victim services and could not include it in their budgets.
The government provided emergency services to Colombian trafficking victims exploited abroad as well as services for internal child trafficking victims, but funding for specialized assistance was limited. Colombian consular officials assisted 60 Colombian trafficking victims overseas during the reporting period, compared to 35 in 2012. An NGO operated a dedicated emergency shelter for adult male and female trafficking victims in the capital, and the Colombian government provided the equivalent of approximately $74,000 in funding to support the shelter, which provided temporary shelter to 46 Colombian victims exploited abroad during the year. The government provided an international organization additional funding for repatriation and emergency victim services. Local governments were responsible for providing services beyond emergency care, but local officials and NGOs reported that local governments did not have dedicated or sufficient funding to provide specialized services. International organizations and NGOs provided the majority of specialized victim services in Colombia; two NGOs reported assisting a total of 46 domestic servitude victims throughout the country in 2013. Local officials, NGOs, and trafficking victims all asserted that government-funded victim assistance did not meet the needs of victims and that reintegration services, including employment assistance, were virtually nonexistent. Services for male victims were very limited, as were specialized services for victims of forced labor.
The ICBF operated centers that provided emergency psycho-social, medical, and legal services to child victims of sexual violence and reported that it assisted 158 children in prostitution, although it did not report how many of these victims received government-funded shelter during the year. Local officials reported that there was a lack of ongoing specialized care for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation beyond emergency care. In partnership with an international organization receiving foreign donor funding, the government assisted at least 342 children recruited by illegal armed groups and provided them with health, psychological, and education services. Of these victims, 107 children stayed in temporary shelters, 36 were put in foster care, 95 were referred to specialized centers for attention operated by NGOs and ICBF, 84 were assigned social workers, and 20 were referred to other protection institutions. Authorities reported a lack of funding and qualified personnel for assisting these children, and some officials and NGOs reported that tailored services, reintegration work with families, and vocational training were inadequate.
The government encouraged victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and 35 victims did so in 2013, compared to 21 in 2012. Some victims were reluctant to report their exploitation or testify against their traffickers due to fear of reprisals—including from organized criminal groups involved in human trafficking—or lack of trust in the government. The government did not provide adequate protection and security for victims participating in investigations in all cases. There were no reports of victims being jailed or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. However, press reports indicated that a former trafficking victim remained incarcerated as of February 2014 due to the testimony of another victim’s father, who is now under investigation for fraudulent testimony against the imprisoned victim as well as for having been involved in the sex trafficking of his daughter. There was no specialized legal mechanism whereby the government offered a visa or temporary residence status to foreign trafficking victims. Authorities reported that they could provide foreign trafficking victims with temporary permission to remain in the country during the investigative process on a case-by-case basis; however, authorities have never reported doing so and did not identify any foreign victims in 2013.
The government maintained some prevention efforts during the year; the interagency anti-trafficking committee met on a monthly basis, but did not produce tangible results and did not finalize the 2013-2018 draft anti-trafficking strategy or victim protection decree initially drafted in 2008. The government allowed NGOs minimal opportunity to provide input to these draft policies. As the government treated different forms of trafficking as distinct crimes, and since different government entities were responsible for responding to these crimes, interagency coordination of anti-trafficking efforts was not always effective. The government also maintained an interagency commission for the prevention of child recruitment and sexual exploitation, which organized anti-recruitment projects and education campaigns targeted at children in high-risk areas. In partnership with an international organization, all 32 departments in Colombia had anti-trafficking committees, but these groups maintained varying degrees of activity and civil society actors noted that some existed in name only. The government continued to fund a trafficking hotline operated by the Ministry of Interior, which led to 14 investigations by police and 18 investigations by prosecutors. NGOs reported that the hotline was not always answered, and staff members were not adequately trained. Authorities conducted anti-trafficking awareness campaigns and events, often in partnership with international organizations and sometimes with foreign donor funding, in all 32 departments. The government continued to conduct workshops with civil society for hospitality and tourism industry representatives focused on preventing the sexual exploitation of children. The government did not report other efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. Authorities investigated and prosecuted a Canadian citizen for commercial sexual exploitation of a child, but did not convict any child sex tourism offenders.