NICARAGUA: Tier 2
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 and in other Central American states, Mexico, and the United States. Many trafficking victims are recruited in rural areas or border regions for work in urban centers and tourist locales, where they are subjected to sex or labor trafficking; victims’ family members are often complicit in their exploitation. Nicaraguan women and girls are subjected to sex trafficking along the country’s Caribbean Coast, where the lack of strong law enforcement institutions, a higher crime rate, and presence of drug trafficking increase the vulnerability of the local population. Nicaraguan adults and children are subjected to forced labor in agriculture, construction, mining, the informal sector, and domestic service within the country and in Costa Rica, Panama, the United States, and other countries. Children in artisanal mining and quarrying are vulnerable to forced labor. NGOs report children and persons with disabilities are subjected to forced begging. Male migrants from Central American countries transit Nicaragua en route to Panama in search of employment; some are subjected 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 does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government drafted and approved its first trafficking-specific law, but it had yet to take effect at the close of the reporting period. It continued to conduct anti-trafficking awareness campaigns, prosecute and convict traffickers, and identify and refer some victims to service providers. However, overall protection efforts were weak; the government did not provide or fund adequate services for victims, nor did it systematically refer all victims to NGOs to receive such care. The government did not have formal procedures for identifying victims among vulnerable groups, and front-line officials were not adequately trained to recognize all forms of trafficking. Authorities prosecuted and convicted fewer offenders in 2014 than in the previous year, and activities of the anti-trafficking coalition and regional working groups declined. Prosecution, protection, and prevention efforts in the two Caribbean autonomous regions of Nicaragua continued to be much weaker than in the rest of the country.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR NICARAGUA:
Provide adequate funding for specialized services, including psychological, medical, and legal services for victims in partnership with civil society organizations; implement operating procedures to effectively refer victims 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 victims among vulnerable populations; improve trafficking data collection and coordination across agencies, and increase transparency in reporting anti-trafficking efforts; strengthen law enforcement and victim protection efforts in the Caribbean autonomous regions, including through increased staff and funding; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute cases involving all forms of human trafficking, and convict and punish traffickers and child sex tourists; partner with civil society organizations to ensure that victims receive long-term care and reintegration services; and strengthen departmental and regional anti-trafficking coalitions.
The government prosecuted and convicted fewer traffickers and provided only limited information about its law enforcement statistics. 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. In January 2015, the national assembly approved Nicaragua’s first trafficking-specific law; it did not take effect during the reporting period.
The government provided limited data on law enforcement efforts and, in contrast with previous years, did not provide further details to clarify these statistics. It is unclear how many investigations for suspected trafficking were initiated in 2014. Authorities prosecuted 24 suspected offenders in 17 cases (13 involving sex trafficking and four for forced labor) and convicted 12 traffickers in eight cases (seven involving sex trafficking and one for forced labor). Prison sentences for nine traffickers ranged from three years and six months’ to 15 years’ imprisonment. Three convicted traffickers did not serve time in prison; it is unclear what penalties they received. Eight cases involving 10 suspects remained open at the end of 2014. These figures represent a decrease from 2013, when the government prosecuted 44 suspects and convicted 20 traffickers. Authorities did not report the number of convictions overturned by appeals courts. Although child domestic servitude is addressed within Article 182 of the criminal code, the government did not consider such cases to be human trafficking crimes and did not pursue prosecutions in such cases. The government appointed a prosecutor in Waspam, a town in a high-risk region on the border with Honduras, filling a key position vacant nearly seven years. Nicaraguan authorities collaborated with counterparts from Belize and Panama to investigate trafficking cases. There were no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. The government maintained efforts to train officials on trafficking, often in partnership with civil society organizations, but did not provide clear information on the number of officials trained or the source of funding.
The government maintained efforts to identify victims and refer them to service providers, but overall victim protection was inadequate. The government identified 51 victims, which is comparable with 55 victims identified by the government in 2013. Two NGOs identified an additional 16 victims. The government did not provide information on the type of trafficking victims experienced, but an NGO reported seven victims were subjected to sex trafficking and three to labor trafficking. Of the 67 victims total, at least 23 were children, 20 were adults, 54 were subjected to sex trafficking, and eight were subjected to labor trafficking; ages and type of trafficking experienced by the remaining victims are unknown. One identified victim was from Belize, while the rest were Nicaraguan. The government did not have formal procedures for identifying victims among vulnerable populations, such as individuals in prostitution or working children. Local officials were not adequately trained to recognize all forms of trafficking, and victim identification in the autonomous regions continued to lag behind national efforts.
There were few specialized services for trafficking victims in Nicaragua. The government provided assistance to eight victims in a short-term police-operated shelter for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in Managua and referred 30 victims to NGO shelters for at-risk children or victims of domestic abuse. NGOs provided the majority of victim protection without government funding. Services and shelter for boys remained limited, and there were no shelters available to men. The government did not provide long-term care, and the availability of extended services from NGOs was limited. The government put some child victims at risk of re-trafficking by placing them with family members who may have been complicit in the children’s exploitation. Regions outside Managua most affected by human trafficking largely lacked adequate services.
While victims could file civil suits against traffickers, the government did not report whether any traffickers’ assets were used to support victims, which is what the law requires. Nicaraguan diplomats at a foreign posting provided repatriation assistance to several Nicaraguan sex and labor trafficking victims; it is unknown whether victims received any additional services upon their return to Nicaragua. There were no reports of victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking; however, inadequate efforts to screen for indicators of trafficking among vulnerable groups may have led to some unidentified victims being punished. Humanitarian visas were available to foreign trafficking victims, although there were no cases or requests reported by the government in 2014.
The Nicaraguan government continued awareness campaigns, but reported few other efforts to prevent trafficking. NGOs assert the government-run anti-trafficking coalition was inactive during the second half of the reporting period. The government continued to support 17 regional anti-trafficking working groups, though NGOs involved in the groups observed a significant decrease in their activities. Authorities reported partnering with NGOs to reach more than 40,000 Nicaraguan citizens through training and awareness events with general information on human trafficking. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. It continued to partner with the tourism industry on prevention of child sex tourism. Authorities did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any child sex tourists in 2014. The government made limited efforts to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts, but no efforts to decrease the demand for forced labor.