Costa Rica

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

COSTA RICA: Tier 2 Watch List

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, with those living in the north and central Pacific coast zones being particularly vulnerable. Authorities have identified adults using children to transport or sell drugs; some of these children may be trafficking victims. There are a significant number of transgender Costa Ricans in the commercial sex industry who are 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 men and women transit Costa Rica en route to Panama, where some are subsequently subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Indigenous Panamanians are also reportedly vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture in Costa Rica. Government officials, including a mayor, have been investigated for suspected involvement in sex trafficking.

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. Officials identified 23 victims, investigated 14 suspected cases, and provided anti-trafficking training to some officials and members of the tourism industry. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Costa Rica is placed on Tier 2 Watch List. Law enforcement efforts declined; the government did not convict any traffickers, child sex tourists, or individuals who purchased commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. Victim services remained inadequate, and the government failed to dispense any of the 1,725 billion colones ($3.24 million) accrued in a dedicated government fund to support anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling efforts. The government continued to lack the ability to collect or report comprehensive statistics on its anti-trafficking efforts, due largely to its policy of classifying cases of trafficking that did not involve the displacement of victims as separate crimes.


Use resources in 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 trafficking offenses, including labor trafficking and cases not involving movement, and convict and punish traffickers; amend legislation to define human trafficking consistent with international law; improve the efficacy and implementation of Costa Rica’s victim assistance protocol, particularly in cases occurring outside of the capital, for victims of labor trafficking, and for Costa Rican victims; conduct thorough and transparent criminal investigations and prosecutions of alleged government complicity in trafficking offenses and convict and sentence complicit officials; strengthen dedicated prosecutorial and police units through increased resources and training, including on victim treatment and the distinction between trafficking and smuggling; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict child sex tourists and others who purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims; improve data collection for law enforcement and victim protection efforts; and finalize an updated national action plan to guide the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.


The government’s anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts declined significantly, with few efforts to hold traffickers criminally accountable. The anti-trafficking law enacted in December 2012, Law 9095, came into effect in February 2013 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 more narrow than international law—requiring the displacement of the victim—and in other respects more broad—penalizing non-trafficking crimes such as illegal adoption, sale of organs, moving persons for the purpose of prostitution, and labor exploitation that does amount to forced labor.

Data collection on trafficking remained problematic. The attorney general’s office reported investigating 14 new cases of movement-based trafficking. The government prosecuted three defendants for suspected labor trafficking in a 2010 case involving Asian fishermen on boats in Costa Rican waters. This case ended in acquittal and prosecutors have appealed the verdict. There were no additional trafficking prosecutions and no convictions in 2014, compared with at least seven convictions in 2013. Some officials conflated trafficking with smuggling, and authorities reported that a diversion of government resources to combat smuggling contributed to the decrease in law enforcement efforts. Prosecutors worked with Nicaraguan, Mexican, Dominican, and Panamanian officials on an unspecified number of trafficking investigations in 2013; it is unknown whether any resulted in prosecutions or convictions. The government did not report progress in the pending investigation of a mayor for suspected sex trafficking opened in 2011, and it did not prosecute or convict any government employees complicit in human trafficking or trafficking-related offenses.


While the government identified more victims, it did not make progress in ensuring that identified victims received adequate protection; specialized services were limited, and most were provided by civil society organizations. The government did not collect comprehensive statistics on victims identified and assisted, and the data provided from different agencies could not be fully reconciled. Prosecutors reported the government identified and assisted 23 trafficking victims in 2014—13 subjected to sex trafficking and 10 to forced labor—an increase from 15 trafficking victims identified and assisted in 2013. The government did not provide comprehensive details on age, gender, or nationality of these victims. At least five were adults, three of whom were from foreign countries, and one of whom was male. The government had an “immediate attention” protocol, which defined steps for various agencies to take to coordinate the provision of food, lodging, health and psychological support to victims through NGOs, but it did not provide details on the number of victims supported in 2014 or the types of assistance received. Some officials, particularly outside the capital, remained unaware of the protocol. Authorities have written procedures for identifying victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrants and individuals in prostitution, but NGOs and some officials asserted victim identification was often reactive and referral mechanisms were not always implemented in an effective or timely manner.

The government neither provided nor funded specialized shelters or services for trafficking victims. It gave 83 million colones ($156,000) to one NGO that provided services to victims of sexual violence, some of whom may have been trafficking victims. There were no shelters available to male victims. The government designated two hospitals with specially trained staff to provide treatment for trafficking victims, but it is unknown whether these facilities cared for any victims in 2014. Police and NGOs noted victim services were virtually nonexistent outside of the capital. In 2014, the government allocated approximately 73 million colones ($135,000) to cover basic needs such as food, clothing, and travel expenses for victims participating in prosecutions as witnesses, but it is not clear if any victims benefited from these resources, as no new prosecutions were initiated. The government granted temporary residency status, with permission to work, to two foreign victims in 2014. Victims had the legal right to file a civil complaint to request compensation from traffickers, but no victims received such compensation. The government did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking; however, insufficient efforts to screen vulnerable populations for indicators of trafficking may have led to some victims being penalized.


The government decreased prevention efforts. The human trafficking and smuggling directorate (which includes civil society members) met quarterly and continued to implement a national action plan on trafficking, though few tangible outcomes were reported. Although the fund to fight human trafficking and smuggling—established in the previous year and financed primarily by the country departure tax of approximately 532 colones ($1)—continued to collect revenue, the government did not disburse this money for any anti-trafficking activities. Authorities conducted public awareness campaigns, often in partnership with civil society organizations. Labor inspectors held a session for labor recruiters to explain exploitative practices that could constitute violations under anti-trafficking laws, but the government did not report punishment of any recruiters for illegal practices that contribute to trafficking. The government investigated 32 individuals suspected of paying child trafficking victims for commercial sex, but did not report whether it prosecuted or convicted any individuals for such crimes. A quasi-governmental agency conducted trainings on combating child sex tourism for members of the tourism industry; however, the government did not extradite, prosecute, or convict any child sex tourists in 2014. The government and NGOs provided anti-trafficking training to 30 diplomatic personnel. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.