Venezuela (Tier 3*) is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Venezuelan women and girls, including some lured from poor interior regions to urban and tourist centers, such as Caracas, Maracaibo, and Margarita Island, are subjected to sex trafficking within the country. Victims are often recruited through false job offers. Venezuelan women are transported from coastal areas by small boats to Caribbean islands, particularly Aruba, Curacao, and Trinidad and Tobago, where they are subjected to forced prostitution. Venezuelan children are forced to work as domestic servants within the country. Venezuelan officials have reported identifying trafficking victims from Colombia, Peru, Haiti, China, and South Africa in Venezuela. Ecuadorian children, often from indigenous communities, are subjected to forced labor in the informal sector and in domestic servitude, particularly in Caracas. There were reports that some of the estimated 30,000 Cuban citizens, particularly doctors, working in Venezuela on government social programs in exchange for the Venezuelan government’s provision of resources to the Cuban government experienced forced labor. Indicators of forced labor include chronic underpayment of wages, mandatory long hours, and threats of retaliatory actions to the citizens and their families if they leave the program. During the year, Venezuelan officials identified women from Ethiopia and the Philippines in domestic servitude in Venezuela, and the South African government reported repatriating a South African woman who was a victim of domestic servitude exploited in Venezuela.
The Government of Venezuela does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and has been placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the last two consecutive years. The Trafficking Victims Protection Act provides that a country may remain on Tier 2 Watch List for only two consecutive years, unless that restriction is waived because the government has a written plan to bring itself into compliance with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Venezuela does not have a written plan; therefore, Venezuela is deemed not to be making significant efforts to comply with the minimum standards and is placed on Tier 3. Venezuelan authorities continued to train a significant number of government officials on human trafficking. The government did not publicly document progress on prosecutions and convictions of trafficking offenders or on victim identification and assistance. Victim services appeared to remain inadequate, and the extent of efforts to investigate internal forced labor or to assist children in prostitution was unclear.
Recommendations for Venezuela:
Intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of sex trafficking and forced labor, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; fund specialized services for trafficking victims, including child sex trafficking victims, in partnership with civil society organizations; implement formal and proactive procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution, and for referring victims for care; enhance interagency cooperation, perhaps through forming a permanent anti-trafficking working group; provide publicly available information regarding government efforts to combat human trafficking; and improve data collection on anti-trafficking efforts.
The Government of Venezuela maintained limited anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts during the year, but the lack of comprehensive public data on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions made the scope and efficacy of these efforts difficult to assess. Venezuelan law prohibits most forms of human trafficking through a 2007 law on women’s rights and a 2005 law on organized crime as amended in 2012; these laws prescribe punishments of 20 to 30 years’ imprisonment for trafficking of women and girls, for transnational trafficking of men and boys, and for internal trafficking of men and boys when carried out by a member of an organized criminal group of three or more individuals. In cases of internal trafficking involving male victims, prosecutors could bring charges against traffickers under other statutes. Venezuela’s legislature did not pass a draft anti-trafficking law, first introduced in 2010, during the year.
According to government and media websites, the government investigated and arrested individuals in several internal sex trafficking cases and in one transnational forced labor case in 2013. The government did not report how many trafficked offenders it prosecuted or convicted, if any, in 2013. In comparison, Venezuelan courts convicted at least one sex trafficking offender in 2012. The Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace’s organized crime office (ONDOFT), sometimes in collaboration with international organizations, provided anti-trafficking training for hundreds of government officials, including law enforcement and justice officials, in 2013. Authorities did not report cooperating with foreign governments on trafficking investigations during the year. The Government of Venezuela did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The Government of Venezuela appeared to maintain minimal victim protection efforts compared to the previous year, and authorities provided minimal information about trafficking victim identification or assistance in 2013. Venezuelan authorities did not report the number of trafficking victims identified or assisted in 2013, although press and government websites reported the identification of at least two domestic servitude victims—one from the Philippines and one from Ethiopia—who were exploited by a Lebanese citizen living in Venezuela. These sources also reported government identification of several Venezuelan girls and women exploited in sex trafficking. The government did not report information on the existence of formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including people in prostitution, and referring them to victim services. Victim services appeared to remain limited. There were no specialized shelters for trafficking victims in the country; however, ONDOFT officials requested funding to open a dedicated shelter during the year. Government centers for victims of domestic violence or at-risk youth reportedly were accessible to trafficking victims, though services for male victims were virtually nonexistent. NGOs offered victims specialized services, though authorities did not report referring identified victims to NGOs during the year. The government reportedly made psychological and medical examinations available to all victims of violent crime, including trafficking victims, but additional victim services—such as follow-up medical aid, legal assistance with filing a complaint, job training, and reintegration assistance—remained lacking.
There was no information made publicly available about whether the government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders. Similarly, there were no publicly available reports of victims being jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. Foreign victims who faced retribution if returned to their country of origin could apply for refugee status, but it was unclear if any victims did so in 2013. There were no publicly available reports of government assistance to repatriated Venezuelan trafficking victims during the reporting period.
The Venezuelan government maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking during 2013, particularly through the continuation of public awareness events. ONDOFT was responsible for coordinating government anti-trafficking efforts and held awareness events during the year for a variety of audiences, including tourism and airport personnel, students, and indigenous communities. No permanent anti-trafficking interagency body existed, and government officials reported on anti-trafficking efforts to the media on an ad hoc basis. Authorities continued to distribute anti-trafficking posters and pamphlets, most of which were focused on sex trafficking of women and girls. ONDOFT trained 300 media workers during a one-day seminar on how to report on human trafficking using a victim-centered approach. There were no publicly available reports of new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for child sex tourism offenses in 2013. The government did not report any specific activities to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor during the year.
* Auto downgrade from Tier 2 Watch List