COLOMBIA: Tier 2
Colombia is a source and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex and labor trafficking. Groups at high risk for trafficking include internally displaced persons, Afro-Colombians, Colombians with disabilities, indigenous Colombians, and Colombians in areas where armed criminal groups are active. Sex trafficking of Colombian women and children occurs within the country and Colombian women and children are found in sex trafficking around the world, particularly in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. Authorities reported high rates of child prostitution in areas with tourism and large extractive industries, and sex trafficking in mining areas sometimes involves organized criminal groups. Transgender Colombians and Colombian men in prostitution are vulnerable to sex trafficking within Colombia and in Europe. Colombian labor trafficking victims are found in mining, agriculture, and domestic service. Colombian children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, are 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 and other individuals force vulnerable Colombians, including displaced persons, into prostitution and criminal activity—particularly to sell and transport illegal narcotics and serve as lookouts and assassins. Colombian men and women are exploited in forced labor abroad, particularly within Latin America. To a more limited extent, foreign victims are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in Colombia. Colombia is a destination for foreign child sex tourists, primarily from North America and Europe.
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 investigate and prosecute trafficking cases and reported increased investigation of internal sex trafficking cases. The government conducted awareness campaigns, offered identified victims short-term emergency assistance, and provided some services to child victims of sex trafficking and of forcible recruitment by illegal armed groups. Authorities did not demonstrate progress in identifying victims from vulnerable populations, providing specialized services to victims, or prosecuting and convicting labor or sex traffickers. A lack of sufficient departmental government funding for trafficking, coupled with limited interagency coordination, impaired victim identification and protection efforts. Officials treated some trafficking cases as other crimes, which hindered efforts to identify and assist victims and hold traffickers criminally accountable.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COLOMBIA:
Provide more trafficking victims access to shelter and specialized services by increasing funding for NGOs and government entities; increase proactive identification, investigation, and prosecution of forced labor and internal sex trafficking; revise Law 1069 to explicitly state victims do not need to file an official complaint against their traffickers in five days to receive ongoing assistance; create regional anti-trafficking prosecutorial units to increase capacity to investigate internal trafficking; create and implement formal mechanisms to identify victims among vulnerable populations within the country, including displaced Colombians; give Ministry of Interior (MOI) officials sufficient staff and autonomy to increase interagency cooperation, leading to increased victim identification and assistance; 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; track efforts against all forms of trafficking within the legal system and for victim identification and assistance, including through implementing the national trafficking information system; increase oversight of victim service provision; and continue to increase collaboration with NGOs.
The government continued efforts against transnational sex trafficking and increased investigation of internal sex trafficking but took minimal steps to prosecute and convict labor traffickers and internal sex traffickers. Article 188 A of the penal code prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of 13 to 23 years’ imprisonment plus fines up to 1,500 times the monthly minimum wage, penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. In 2014, authorities modified the penal code to specifically penalize benefiting from the sexual exploitation of a person within the context of armed conflict.
Data on law enforcement efforts was incomplete, as some internal trafficking cases were categorized as other crimes; for example, internal child sex trafficking cases were frequently investigated as induction into prostitution and pimping. Police reported nine anti-trafficking operations involving 26 suspects—six for international sex trafficking and three for domestic sex trafficking—and 176 possible trafficking cases referred from the anti-trafficking hotline. Prosecutors reported opening 15 new transnational trafficking investigations and 107 internal trafficking investigations, though it was unclear in how many cases charges were filed against alleged traffickers or how many cases involved labor trafficking. Authorities initiated trials in four transnational trafficking cases (one of which was for labor trafficking) and two internal trafficking cases involving an unknown number of defendants. In comparison, prosecutors reported 44 new investigations for transnational trafficking and eight cases brought to trial in 2013. The government convicted five transnational sex traffickers and two internal sex traffickers, compared with 11 transnational sex traffickers and one internal sex trafficker in 2013. Sentences ranged from three to 22 years’ imprisonment, including one sentence served as house arrest, and were subject to appeal. Statistical information for the number of investigations, prosecutions, or convictions in 2014 for the forcible recruitment or forcible use of children by illegal armed groups was not provided. The government did not report any convictions for other forms of forced labor, despite a 2013 constitutional court directive ordering authorities to increase law enforcement efforts against domestic servitude. Authorities collaborated with U.S. and Latin American officials on anti-trafficking law enforcement operations and investigations.
One prosecutor handled all transnational trafficking cases for the entire country, and one prosecutor in Bogota oversaw cases of internal trafficking and migrant smuggling in the city. Outside of the capital, some designated local prosecutors handled internal trafficking cases in addition to their existing workloads. Many of these prosecutors were overburdened, underfunded, and lacked trafficking expertise. Authorities launched a prosecutorial working group to improve coordination on trafficking investigations. Social workers and other officials interacting with potential trafficking victims, such as children in commercial sexual exploitation or in the worst forms of child labor, did not always refer these cases for criminal investigation. Officials and experts reported some authorities would not proactively investigate trafficking cases without an official complaint. Government officials did not consider forced child recruitment or forced criminal activity by illegal armed groups or organized criminal groups as human trafficking, and these forms of trafficking were not investigated or prosecuted as such. Authorities trained a variety of officials—including prosecutors, judicial officials, police, and labor inspectors—on human trafficking, often through partnerships with international organizations. The government provided no updates on a 2013 investigation of a city councilman and municipal employee in the department of Antioquia for possible involvement in commercial sexual exploitation of minors. Authorities did not report any other investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking.
The government provided some services to victims, but long-term protection was inadequate and victim identification uneven. Some officials reportedly used established protocols to identify victims, but authorities did not effectively employ procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations in the country, such as child laborers or displaced Colombians. NGOs criticized the government’s ability to identify and assist trafficking victims in the country. The MOI reported authorities identified 62 Colombian trafficking victims in 2014; 53 Colombian citizens exploited abroad and nine internal victims, including two children and one forced labor victim. Of victims identified abroad, 28 were exploited in sex trafficking, 22 in labor trafficking, and three were in servile marriage, which Colombian authorities considered to be trafficking. This compares with 60 Colombian victims identified abroad in 2013. In addition, authorities reported four foreign labor trafficking victims identified in Colombia. The Colombian Child Welfare Institute (ICBF) identified 96 girls and 12 boys in prostitution and no children in forced labor—compared with 158 children in prostitution and nine children in forced labor in 2013—but did not identify these children as trafficking victims. Given the low number of internal child sex trafficking victims reported by the MOI, it appeared the requirement for officials to report all trafficking cases to the MOI was not consistently implemented. Labor inspectors did not report identifying any forced labor victims and had limited access to some areas, such as illegal mining sites. Authorities and an international organization identified at least 243 children who separated from illegal armed groups in 2014, compared with 342 in 2013. Of these children, 96 were girls; 147 boys; 46 indigenous; and 42 Afro-Colombian.
The government provided some services to Colombian victims its funding for specialized assistance was inadequate. Local officials, NGOs, and trafficking victims all asserted government-funded victim care did not meet victims’ needs and reintegration services, such as employment assistance, were virtually nonexistent. Specialized care and shelter for child sex trafficking victims was lacking in most of the country. Services for male and transgender victims were very limited. NGOs reported victims found it easier to access services as victims of armed conflict than as trafficking victims, especially given the requirement to file an official complaint, which served as a disincentive for them to self-identify. In June 2014, authorities approved Law 1069, which outlines benefits, procedures, and responsibilities related to the protection of trafficking victims. This law defines short-term assistance as up to five days and medium-term assistance as up to six months. NGOs criticized the law for requiring victims to file an official complaint against their traffickers to receive medium-term assistance and for not sufficiently addressing long-term assistance needs. The government continued to fund an international organization to facilitate victim repatriation—53 in 2014—and provide services, including through sub-contracts to NGOs. Authorities did not report how much funding was paid out to these NGOs in 2014. Through this funding an NGO operated a dedicated emergency shelter for adult trafficking victims in Bogota, which provided temporary shelter to 12 Colombian victims in 2014, compared with 46 victims in 2013. Law 1069 makes local governments responsible for providing services beyond emergency care, but they lacked sufficient funding to provide specialized services, as most had no funding dedicated to trafficking victim care. The government reported departmental committees provided services to 50 victims identified in 2014, but it was unclear what services these victims received. Frequent turnover of departmental staff hampered victim protection. In some cases, police took child victims to hotels, as there were no shelters available. ICBF provided emergency psycho-social, medical, and legal care to child victims of sexual violence and assisted 108 children in prostitution. Working with an international organization receiving foreign donor funds, the government assisted children recruited by illegal armed groups and provided them with health, psycho-social, and education services; as of December 2014, 403 children were receiving this assistance, including 277 who had entered the program in 2014, and 192 of whom were institutionalized. Authorities lacked sufficient funding and personnel to provide tailored services, reintegration work with families, and vocational training for these children.
Thirty victims cooperated with law enforcement in trafficking investigations, and victims could also choose to participate in the victims and witness protection program. Some victims were reluctant to report their exploitation or testify against their traffickers due to fear of reprisals or lack of trust in the justice system. Authorities did not always provide adequate protection and security for victims participating in investigations. There were no new reports of victims being jailed or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. The government provided no updates on reports indicating a trafficking victim remained incarcerated as of February 2014 due to the testimony of another victim’s father. Authorities 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. There were no reports victims filed for or received restitution.
The government continued diverse prevention efforts. The MOI-run interagency anti-trafficking committee met on a regular basis and increased engagement with NGOs but did not finalize the pending anti-trafficking strategy. Authorities also drafted a decree on establishing a national trafficking information system. Interagency coordination of anti-trafficking efforts was uneven as the government treated different forms of trafficking as distinct crimes subject to different government entities’ jurisdiction. Authorities maintained an interagency commission for the prevention of child recruitment by armed groups and a separate committee on child sexual exploitation. All 32 departments in Colombia had anti-trafficking committees, but these groups maintained varying degrees of activity and effectiveness. MOI maintained a trafficking hotline. Authorities launched a high-profile trafficking awareness campaign and conducted other prevention efforts, often in partnership with international organizations and NGOs. The government continued a prevention campaign on child sex tourism and conducted workshops for hospitality and tourism industry representatives. The government did not report other efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor. Authorities conducted investigations for child sex tourism but did not report prosecutions or convictions for this crime. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.