Nicaragua is principally a source and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Nicaraguan women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country as well as in neighboring countries, most often in other Central American states, Mexico, and the United States. Trafficking victims are recruited in rural areas for work in urban centers—particularly Managua, Granada, and San Juan del Sur—and subsequently coerced into prostitution. Nicaraguan girls are subjected to sex trafficking in locations along the country’s Atlantic Coast, where the lack of strong law enforcement institutions, a higher crime rate, and presence of drug trafficking increases the vulnerability of the local population. Nicaraguan adults and children are subjected to conditions of forced labor in agriculture, the informal sector, and domestic servitude within the country and in Costa Rica, Panama, and other countries. Children in artisanal mining and quarrying are vulnerable to labor trafficking within the country. Male migrants from other Central American countries transit Nicaragua en route to Panama in search of employment; some of them are vulnerable to labor trafficking in Panama. Nicaragua is a destination for child sex tourists from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.
The Government of Nicaragua fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Authorities maintained strong efforts to investigate trafficking cases and prosecute and convict trafficking offenders, and continued robust prevention efforts, particularly through strengthening regional anti-trafficking working groups. The government continued to provide limited services to trafficking victims, though it was unclear how many victims were referred to specialized services during the year and services were weaker outside the capital. Prosecution, protection, and prevention efforts in the two Atlantic autonomous regions of Nicaragua continued to be much weaker than in the rest of the country. The government continued to lack comprehensive data on human trafficking investigations and prosecutions and identification of trafficking victims.
Recommendations for Nicaragua:
Provide adequate funding for specialized services, including psychological, medical, and legal services for trafficking victims in partnership with civil society organizations; implement operating procedures that ensure victims identified within the country and repatriated Nicaraguan victims are referred to appropriate services; increase training and funding for government officials—including social workers, labor inspectors, and law enforcement officials—to facilitate increased victim identification and assistance, particularly in the autonomous regions; institute clear, formal, and proactive procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; strengthen law enforcement and victim protection efforts in the Atlantic autonomous regions, including through increased staff and funding; continue to investigate and prosecute cases involving all forms of human trafficking, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; partner with civil society organizations to ensure that victims receive long-term care and reintegration services; improve trafficking data collection on law enforcement and victim assistance efforts and improve data coordination across agencies; and continue to strengthen departmental and regional anti-trafficking coalitions.
The Government of Nicaragua continued strong law enforcement efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses and convict a significant number of trafficking offenders, though a lack of resources limited officials’ ability to investigate cases across the country, and law enforcement efforts lagged in the autonomous regions. Nicaragua criminalizes all forms of human trafficking through Article 182 of its penal code, prescribing penalties of 10 to 14 years’ imprisonment. A separate statute, Article 315, prohibits the submission, maintenance, or forced recruitment of another person into slavery, forced labor, servitude, or participation in an armed conflict; these offenses carry penalties of five to eight years’ imprisonment. These prescribed punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape.
Authorities maintained anti-trafficking units in the capital within the intelligence and judicial police forces and the women’s police commission. Additionally, a designated police unit in each of the country’s 15 departments and two autonomous regions was responsible for collaborating with the specialized units on trafficking investigations. A lack of resources hindered the specialized units’ abilities to carry out investigations outside of major cities, particularly in remote parts of the autonomous regions. In particular, the continued lack of a prosecutor in the town of Waspam, on the Nicaraguan border with Honduras hampered prosecution of trafficking in that region. Law enforcement data on trafficking cases varied between different government agencies.
Police investigated 29 potential trafficking cases in 2013, compared with 27 such investigations in 2012. In 2013, the government prosecuted 44 accused trafficking offenders in cases involving 52 victims. Twenty-four of these prosecutions remained open at the end of the reporting period. Each completed prosecution in 2013 led to a conviction; judges convicted 20 trafficking offenders and sentenced them to 12 to 30 years’ imprisonment. Twelve offenders were convicted for sex trafficking, while eight offenders were convicted for labor trafficking, including in one case involving nine adult male victims. In comparison, authorities reported prosecutions involving 57 alleged traffickers and convicting 35 traffickers in 2012, including 18 for forced labor, 13 of whom were also convicted of sex trafficking. Three convictions from 2012 were overturned by appeals courts in 2013, including two for sex trafficking and one for labor trafficking. Nicaraguan authorities collaborated with counterparts from four Central American countries to investigate trafficking cases. There were no reported investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees for their alleged complicity in trafficking-related offenses during the year. There were continued reports that some law enforcement and labor officials in the autonomous regions incorrectly categorized potential trafficking cases as labor infractions or instances of victims running away from home. The government maintained efforts to train government officials—particularly police officers—on human trafficking, often in partnership with civil society organizations. For example, the government provided funds for over 850 police officers to receive training on sexual exploitation, while the Ministry of Family trained 340 officials on trafficking victim care.
The Government of Nicaragua maintained efforts to protect victims by continuing to provide services to some victims and refer others to NGOs for further care, but the government continued to lack disaggregated data on victim assistance. The government reported identifying 55 trafficking victims in 2013, but did not specify how many were labor or sex trafficking victims. One Honduran victim was identified in 2013, while the rest were Nicaraguan citizens. The Ministry of Family did not report how many children in commercial sexual exploitation were identified in 2013 as it had done in past years. The government did not have formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among high-risk populations, such as adults and children in prostitution, and victim identification in the autonomous regions continued to lag behind national efforts. Labor officials had limited capacity to identify victims of labor trafficking across the country, particularly in areas farther from the capital and in the large informal sector.
Nicaraguan authorities continued to provide services to victims in partnership with NGOs, but did not report how many identified victims received specialized services, such as shelter, in 2013. During the reporting period, the women’s police unit maintained temporary shelters for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in Managua and Jinotega, but did not report how many trafficking victims stayed at these shelters in 2013. Regions most affected by human trafficking lacked adequate services, though NGOs operated shelters for at-risk children and female adult victims of domestic abuse in Rio San Juan, Esteli, Rivas, Puerto Cabezas, and Managua. While the government did not provide funding to these NGOs, officials referred victims to them for assistance. One NGO in Managua reported that the government referred fewer child victims for services than in the previous year. Some shelter operators expressed concern that a government preference for family reintegration for child sex trafficking victims could put some victims at risk if their home situation contributed to their vulnerability to exploitation. Victims received legal support, limited medical and psychological assistance, and education, when appropriate, from the government. The government provided minimal longer-term care. Services and shelter for male victims remained limited.
The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, and authorities reported that victims gave testimony in all 26 cases that were on or awaiting trial in 2013. Nicaraguan law allows for trafficking victims to provide documented testimony in advance of the trial. There were no reports of victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. Humanitarian visas were available to foreign trafficking victims, although authorities did not report issuing any during the year.
The Nicaraguan government continued strong prevention efforts during the year by conducting anti-trafficking awareness events and maintaining regional anti-trafficking working groups across the country. The government-run anti-trafficking coalition, which is composed of government and civil society actors, met on a bimonthly basis and was responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts and implementing an anti-trafficking strategic plan. The government continued to support regional anti-trafficking working groups in the country’s 15 departments and two autonomous regions, as well as 10 district working groups in the capital. These working groups held two national-level conferences in 2013 and varied in effectiveness, with some still in the development stage. The Nicaraguan government presided over the regional coalition against trafficking in 2013 in efforts to increase anti-trafficking coordination between Central American countries. Nicaraguan police reported partnering with NGOs to reach over 45,740 Nicaraguan citizens through training and awareness events with general information on women’s issues and human trafficking. The government maintained an awareness campaign against commercial sex and continued to partner with the tourism industry on prevention of child sex tourism. Authorities did not report the number of investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists in 2013; in contrast, in 2012, the government prosecuted six child tourists, resulting in three convictions.