Paraguay is a source country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking, and for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor. To a more limited extent, Paraguay is a destination and transit country for men and women subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution. Sex trafficking and domestic servitude of Paraguayan women and children within the country are two of the more common forms of trafficking. Transgender Paraguayans are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Some Paraguayan children work as domestic servants in exchange for food, board, and occasionally education or a small stipend in a system called criadazgo; many of these children are trafficking victims. Statistics released in 2013 indicate that around 47,000 Paraguayan children, mostly girls, are exploited in this system, and NGOs report that child domestic workers were highly vulnerable to sex trafficking. Indigenous persons are particularly at risk of being subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking, especially in the Chaco region, where some indigenous Paraguayans are reportedly subject to debt bondage on cattle ranches and in agriculture. Children engaged in street vending and begging and working in agriculture, mining, brick making, and ranching are vulnerable to human trafficking. An armed group reportedly recruits adolescent Paraguayans to provide logistical support. Paraguayan victims of sex trafficking and forced labor are found in Spain and in other countries, particularly other South American countries, including Argentina, Chile, Bolivia, and Brazil. Authorities have identified foreign victims of sex and labor trafficking in Paraguay, mostly from other South American countries. There are continued reports from NGOs that men from Argentina and Brazil engage in child sex tourism in Paraguay, including in the tri-border area and on fishing and river boats. Prosecutors continue to report that Paraguayan women are recruited as couriers of illicit narcotics to Europe and Africa, where they are subsequently coerced into forced prostitution. Bolivian labor trafficking victims transit Paraguay en route to Brazil, and press reports indicate that Chinese labor trafficking victims transit Paraguay en route to Argentina.
The Government of Paraguay does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government increased staffing for dedicated police and prosecutorial units, but the number of trafficking convictions decreased significantly in 2013 compared to 2012. Law enforcement efforts to address the large number of children in domestic servitude remained weak. Authorities continued to provide some protective services to female trafficking victims, but specialized victim services were limited, and authorities lacked a formal system to proactively identify trafficking victims or to refer them to care services. Trafficking-related corruption remained a serious concern.
Recommendations for Paraguay:
Intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, including forced labor crimes and crimes involving official complicity, and to convict and punish trafficking offenders; enhance access to comprehensive services and shelter for victims of sex and labor trafficking through increased funding for victim services and enhanced partnerships with civil society organizations; institute formal referral mechanisms to ensure that all identified victims can access care services; increase efforts to proactively investigate forced labor cases and identify labor trafficking victims; increase training for government officials, including law enforcement officials, labor officials, judges, and social workers on how to identify and respond to trafficking cases; improve data collection on human trafficking; and continue to strengthen efforts to increase interagency coordination.
The government maintained uneven anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts by increasing anti-trafficking police and prosecutorial unit staff, but convicted significantly fewer traffickers than in 2012 and failed to address official complicity. Law 4788 of 2012 prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties of up to eight years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In contrast to international law, this law establishes the use of force, fraud, and coercion as aggravating factors only, and conflates facilitating or profiting from the prostitution of others and the illegal extraction of organs with human trafficking. Authorities failed to issue a regulatory framework for the law in 2013. Prosecutors continued to use other statutes, including those penalizing commercial sexual exploitation of children or child abuse, to prosecute some trafficking cases.
In 2013, Paraguayan prosecutors reported 48 new trafficking investigations, 28 for international trafficking and 20 for internal trafficking. Of these cases, 38 involved sex trafficking while 10 involved labor trafficking. Authorities initiated 14 new prosecutions, all but two for international trafficking. The government convicted two sex traffickers and one labor trafficker; two convicted offenders received suspended sentences of two years’ imprisonment. The government also investigated 22 cases of child sex trafficking as aggravated pimping, leading to four prosecutions under statutes prohibiting pimping of minors. This represented a significant decrease from the 23 prosecutions and 14 sex trafficking convictions in 2012.
The police operated anti-trafficking units in five cities with a total of 42 officers, an increase of nine officers from the previous year; these units also investigate crimes such as extortion and the production of fraudulent documents. The government maintained a prosecutorial unit in the capital with three prosecutors and 35 assistants—an increase of 15 assistants compared with 2012. This unit focused on human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children. The police and prosecutorial units had insufficient resources, including a lack of vehicles, and the law enforcement response in some parts of the country was severely limited or delayed. Civil society and government actors reported that awareness of internal trafficking crimes was weak among many officials. There was no formal mechanism for labor inspectors, social workers, or other officials to refer cases to prosecutors for investigation, and officials reported that the lack of efficient and timely cooperation from judicial authorities hindered law enforcement efforts. Much of the specialized training on human trafficking for Paraguayan officials was either funded or provided by international organizations or foreign donors, but prosecutors from the dedicated anti-trafficking unit trained prosecutors, police officers, and judges on the anti-trafficking law. Paraguayan officials collaborated with Argentine, Chilean, Bolivian, German, and Spanish officials on trafficking investigations and extradited an alleged Paraguayan trafficking offender to Argentina to face charges.
NGOs and some government officials report that government officials, including police, border guards, judges, and public registry employees, reportedly facilitated human trafficking, including by taking bribes from brothel owners in exchange for protection, extorting suspected traffickers in order to prevent arrest, and producing fraudulent identity documents. NGOs and prosecutors also reported that some traffickers used their connections with local politicians to intimidate judges and police officers, impeding their arrest. Authorities arrested the wife of a police officer for operating a brothel where a child was exploited in prostitution and are investigating possible ties between the officer and the brothel. The government did not report any other investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
Government efforts to protect trafficking victims were focused on female victims and remained uneven, particularly outside of the capital. Authorities did not employ formal procedures for proactively identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as those in prostitution, domestic workers, or street children. Paraguayan officials experienced continued difficulties in collecting comprehensive and accurate victim data. Some officials did not identify trafficking victims as such due to an inaccurate belief that Paraguayan law required victims to be moved from location to another. The government did not report how many total trafficking victims it identified in 2013, but the women’s ministry reported assisting 48 female victims in Paraguay and the foreign ministry reported identifying and assisting 100 Paraguayan trafficking victims abroad. It was unclear how many victims of child domestic servitude the government identified in 2013.
Specialized services, including shelters, remained inadequate. The anti-trafficking law required the government to create a national fund for trafficking victim assistance, but this fund was not operational. The law also required the anti-trafficking prosecutorial unit to certify victims’ status to enable them to receive benefits; the government began slowly implementing this process in 2013. The women’s ministry and the secretariat for children each operated anti-trafficking units to coordinate awareness efforts and victim referrals for trafficking victims and victims of abuse. The women’s ministry ran one open shelter in Asuncion for female victims of trafficking and domestic violence that provided medical, psychological, and legal services to 21 victims during the year—12 girls and nine adult women. The women’s ministry maintained drop-in centers in several cities for a variety of women’s issues and four of these centers provided emergency assistance to a total of 33 trafficking victims during the year—21 women and 12 girls; the women’s ministry provided follow-up assistance to all of these victims. Fifteen of these victims participated in a social reintegration program involving small grants funded by a foreign donor. The government decreased the women’s ministry anti-trafficking budget by roughly 23 percent from 2012 levels, to the equivalent of approximately $598,000. The secretariat for children provided psychological care to 22 child trafficking victims. A unit in the attorney general’s office provided emergency legal, psychological, and social services to an unspecified number of sex and labor trafficking victims and referred female victims to women’s drop-in centers as available. NGOs provided additional services. Services for male victims remained virtually non-existent.
Paraguayan authorities encouraged victims to participate in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders and many victims did so. In some cases, officials traveled to victims’ home towns in order to facilitate videoconference testimony. Some victims avoided the court system due to social stigma, fear of retaliation, and concerns over the lengthy judicial process. Officials reported that one victim of forced labor in a servile marriage was detained, convicted, and imprisoned for eight months for document fraud committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. She was only identified as a trafficking victim after being released from jail. The government could offer a temporary residency status to foreign trafficking victims under the 2012 law and did so for the first time in 2013, issuing a renewable permit for an initial period of six months to one female victim and her dependents.
The Paraguayan government maintained multiple prevention efforts. The government-run anti-trafficking roundtable met several times during the year and had four sub-committees that met frequently. Roundtable members began drafting a national anti-trafficking plan in 2013, but the roundtable’s effectiveness was limited by a lack of funding and haphazard participation of some government entities. The women’s ministry launched five new regional anti-trafficking roundtables in 2013 for a total of 11 roundtables; these varied in effectiveness. The women’s ministry and other government agencies conducted a variety of workshops and educational events on trafficking. Government agencies conducted several awareness campaigns—including one focused on criadazgo—often with foreign donor funding and civil society partnerships. These campaigns included public service announcements, media ads, and educational events. Authorities arrested one individual for engaging in commercial sex with a child, but did not take other efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. The government did not report any investigations of foreigners engaged in commercial sexual exploitation of children in Paraguay. The government provided anti-trafficking training to Paraguayan troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping missions.