Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Costa Rican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country; residents of the north and central Pacific coast zones are particularly vulnerable to internal sex trafficking. Authorities have identified cases of adults using children for drug trafficking; some of these children may be trafficking victims. There are a significant number of transgender Costa Ricans in the commercial sex industry who could be vulnerable to sex trafficking. Women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Child sex tourism is a serious problem, with child sex tourists arriving mostly from the United States and Europe. Men and children from other Central American countries and from Asian countries, including China, are subjected to conditions of forced labor in Costa Rica, particularly in the agriculture, construction, fishing, and commercial sectors. Nicaraguan sex and labor trafficking victims transit through Costa Rica en route to Panama. Indigenous Panamanians are also reportedly vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture in Costa Rica.
The Government of Costa Rica does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. In 2013, authorities convicted an increased number of trafficking offenders compared to the previous year and created a dedicated prosecutorial unit for human trafficking and smuggling. Victim services remained inadequate; however, the government budgeted funds for an NGO to build a dedicated shelter and established a fund that collected the equivalent of approximately $1.4 million earmarked in part for assistance to trafficking victims. Government capacity to proactively identify and assist victims, particularly outside of the capital, remained weak. Authorities continued to lack adequate trafficking data collection and categorized cases of human trafficking that did not involve the displacement of the victim as other crimes.
Recommendations for Costa Rica:
Use resources from the newly established fund to provide comprehensive services for trafficking victims, including child sex trafficking victims, in partnership with civil society organizations; intensify efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute human trafficking offenses, including forced labor, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; improve the efficacy and the implementation of Costa Rica’s victim assistance protocol, particularly outside of the capital and for victims of labor trafficking; continue to strengthen dedicated prosecutorial and police units through increased resources and training, including on victim treatment; investigate and prosecute cases of trafficking not involving movement and provide appropriate services to Costa Rican victims; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute child sex tourists; and continue to improve data collection for law enforcement and victim protection efforts.
The Government of Costa Rica increased its law enforcement efforts during the reporting period by convicting an increased number of trafficking offenders and creating a dedicated prosecutorial unit for human trafficking and smuggling. Authorities often failed to proactively investigate cases and had a limited capacity to conduct investigations outside of the capital. The anti-trafficking law enacted in December 2012, Law 9095, came into effect in February 2013 and prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of four to 20 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes. The definition of trafficking in this law is in some respects too narrow—continuing to require the displacement of the victim—and in other respects too broad—penalizing non-trafficking crimes such as illegal adoption, sale of organs, moving persons for the purpose of prostitution, and labor exploitation that does not rise to the level of forced labor.
Data collection on human trafficking remained problematic. Authorities investigated 17 new cases and prosecuted seven defendants for movement-based human trafficking during the reporting period. In addition, prosecutors reported 18 new investigations for sex trafficking of minors under pimping statutes in 2013. The government convicted at least seven sex traffickers during the reporting period; six of these convictions were achieved under anti-trafficking statutes, with sentences ranging from five to 27 years’ imprisonment. Authorities also reported three trafficking convictions in 2013 under aggravated procuring statutes, resulting in sentences ranging from seven to ten years’ imprisonment. In comparison, there were two labor trafficking offenders convicted during the previous reporting period.
A dedicated anti-trafficking police unit investigated movement-based labor and sex trafficking cases, as well as smuggling cases; the majority of cases investigated involved sex trafficking. In August 2013, the government created a dedicated prosecutorial unit for human trafficking and smuggling with two prosecutors; this unit had no dedicated budget, but used human and financial resources from the organized crime prosecutor’s office. The unit investigated trafficking cases involving displacement, while local prosecutors were responsible for prosecuting cases of trafficking without movement, making it difficult to assess fully the government’s prosecution efforts. The effectiveness of police and prosecutors’ anti-trafficking work was limited by inadequate staffing and resources, as well as frequent turnover of law enforcement officials in dedicated units. Some officials conflated trafficking with smuggling. Government ministries provided training to prosecutors, police officers, and other public officials, often in partnership with civil society organizations receiving foreign government funding. Prosecutors worked with Nicaraguan, Panamanian, and Indonesian officials on an unspecified number of trafficking investigations in 2013. Authorities continued to investigate a mayor for possible trafficking crimes, but did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.
The Costa Rican government maintained its protection efforts during the year. Although authorities assisted a limited number of victims and dedicated funds to an NGO to build a shelter for trafficking victims, specialized services remained inadequate, particularly outside of the capital. The government continued to implement its “immediate attention” protocol, which defines steps for government agencies that comprise the emergency response team to identify, protect, and provide integrated assistance to victims. Some officials, particularly outside of the capital, remained unaware of the protocol. NGOs and some officials asserted that victim identification was often reactive and referral mechanisms were not always implemented in an effective or timely manner. Authorities reported identifying and assisting 15 trafficking victims in 2013, all of whom were female and four of whom were Costa Rican. Eleven were adults and four were children. Of the 15, 11 were victims of sex trafficking and four were victims of labor trafficking. Authorities reported assisting 33 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation. Labor inspectors had a limited capacity to identify possible forced labor victims.
The government did not provide or fund specialized shelters or services for trafficking victims, and officials and NGOs noted that the lack of dedicated housing for victims was a significant challenge. The government relied on NGOs and religious organizations to provide specialized care for trafficking victims and provided the equivalent of approximately $134,000 to one NGO to provide services to adults and children in prostitution. In October 2013, Costa Rica’s Congress approved an additional allocation of the equivalent of approximately $230,000 to buy land for this NGO to build a dedicated trafficking shelter. Authorities maintained emergency government shelters for female victims of domestic violence, but staff members were reportedly reluctant to house trafficking victims there due to security concerns. Authorities used government and international organization funding to shelter an unspecified number of adult victims in hotels on a temporary basis. The government reported that all of the 33 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation identified in 2013 received psychological and social services and authorities coordinated shelter for at least two child trafficking victims. Police and NGOs noted that specialized victim services were virtually nonexistent outside of the capital.
The government granted temporary residency status, with permission to work, to five foreign victims in 2013. Costa Rican authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and several victims did so during the reporting period. Other victims did not collaborate with investigations due to their lack of confidence in the judicial system. The government did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking.
The Government of Costa Rica maintained its prevention efforts during the year. The human trafficking and smuggling directorate continued to implement a national action plan on human trafficking and coordinate the national anti-trafficking coalition. The coalition met on a quarterly basis and included civil society actors. The fund to fight human trafficking and smuggling—financed primarily by the country departure tax equivalent of approximately $1.00 per traveler—was established in 2013 and collected the equivalent of approximately $1.5 million in revenue. The government did not use these funds during the reporting period, but earmarked these funds for future trafficking victim assistance efforts, as well as efforts against migrant smuggling. Authorities conducted public awareness campaigns, often in partnership with civil society organizations. The government continued to investigate and prosecute individuals that paid child trafficking victims for commercial sex, resulting in 37 investigations and at least five convictions in 2013. With information from U.S. authorities, Costa Rican police deported two American citizens in 2013 for alleged involvement in child sex tourism. Despite continued reports of child sex tourism, the government did not prosecute or convict any child sex tourists in 2013. The government took efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex, but did not report efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.