Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons

PANAMA: Tier 2

Panama is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Most Panamanian trafficking victims are exploited in sex trafficking in the country. Panamanian women are also vulnerable to sex trafficking in other countries, including one known case in Guyana. The majority of foreign trafficking victims in Panama are women from Colombia, neighboring Central American countries, and the Dominican Republic. Most of these women migrate voluntarily to Panama for employment—including in the sex trade—but are subsequently exploited in sex trafficking or, to a lesser extent, in domestic servitude. Colombian refugee women are particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking. Within the last five years, authorities have identified Eastern European women working in nightclubs as potential sex trafficking victims. Nicaraguan, and to a lesser extent, Colombian men are subjected to labor trafficking in construction, agriculture, mining, and other sectors. Men and women from China are subjected to debt bondage, including in supermarkets, laundries, and other small businesses operated by Chinese citizens. Authorities have reported cases of traffickers subjecting men from Colombia to forced labor in restaurants, and an international organization has identified cases of debt bondage of Indian men in door-to-door peddling. Men from the United States have been investigated as child sex tourists in Panama. Panamanian and European officials reported some men and women from other countries, who transit Panama en route to the Caribbean or Europe, are subsequently subjected to sex or labor trafficking in their destinations. Immigration officials have been investigated for labor trafficking offenses.

The Government of Panama does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Authorities increased the number of victims identified, including more labor trafficking victims; convicted five sex traffickers in two cases; and continued public awareness efforts. Victim protection was lacking, and the majority of identified victims did not receive services. The government failed to allocate funding to its trafficking victim assistance fund.


Significantly increase funding for the delivery of specialized victim services, including through implementing the dedicated victim assistance fund and funding civil society organizations to provide services; intensify law enforcement efforts to proactively investigate and prosecute both labor and sex trafficking crimes—including cases involving Panamanian victims in the country—and convict and sentence traffickers, including any allegedly complicit government officials; continue to develop and institutionalize government-provided anti-trafficking training for relevant officials; implement the previously developed victim identification and assistance guidelines and train officials widely on these provisions; in partnership with civil society, make specialized services available to all male victims and child victims; amend the anti-trafficking law to adopt a national definition of human trafficking consistent with international law; and strengthen interagency coordination mechanisms, including outside the capital.


The government continued modest but uneven law enforcement efforts against human traffickers. Law 79 of 2011 prohibits all forms of trafficking, with prescribed sentences ranging from six to 30 years’ imprisonment, depending on the nature of the offense. These punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. This law also prohibits moving adults for the purposes of prostitution (without requiring the use of force, fraud, or coercion) and illegal adoption (without requiring evidence of exploitation) as forms of trafficking, offenses that are not considered human trafficking under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. Although Law 79 does not define trafficking to require movement of the victim, in implementing the law, Panamanian officials investigated and prosecuted human trafficking cases that did not involve movement as other crimes, such as commercial sexual exploitation.

In 2014, authorities investigated 11 new trafficking cases, four for sex trafficking and seven for labor trafficking, all of which involved movement. Although the government did not initiate any new prosecutions, it continued seven sex trafficking prosecutions from previous years and convicted five sex traffickers, an increase from three traffickers convicted in 2013. Prison sentences for convicted traffickers ranged from 10 years to 12 years and six months. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for trafficking crimes that did not involve movement. Panamanian authorities cooperated on trafficking investigations with officials from Peru, Nicaragua, and Colombia. The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses, or any developments in the appeal of the 2012 dismissal in a case involving six former immigration officials suspected of labor trafficking. In 2014, the government trained some government officials on the provisions of the 2011 anti-trafficking law, though foreign donors funded the majority of training for Panamanian officials.


The government made limited progress in protecting trafficking victims, though protection efforts remained inadequate and the majority of identified victims did not receive services. Twenty-five victims were identified in 2014, including 14 men, seven women, three boys, and one girl; this is an increase from 16 victims identified in 2013. Twenty-one victims were subjected to labor trafficking and four to sex trafficking. One repatriated victim was Panamanian, and the remaining 24 victims were from other Latin American countries. The government did not report identifying any children exploited in sex trafficking or any Panamanian victims exploited within the country. It did not have systematic procedures for the proactive identification of victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution and detained undocumented migrants; guidelines for victim identification and protection published during the previous reporting year were not implemented. In July, the government launched a dedicated helpline for reporting trafficking cases, and identified three cases as a result. The government did not provide or fund specialized services for trafficking victims. Authorities referred 10 victims to an office in the public ministry that provides social workers and psychological services to witnesses and victims of crimes. Of these, two received temporary shelter in a government facility for women victims of domestic violence, one was placed in a government shelter for vulnerable children, and two were referred to an NGO that paid for them to stay in a hotel. There were no government or NGO shelters available to house adult men—the largest group of victims identified in 2014. Neither the government nor NGOs provided long-term services to any trafficking victims.

Panamanian authorities took written statements from victims and typically did not encourage them to participate further in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers. While victims could file civil suits against traffickers, the government did not implement a 2013 law mandating the creation of a specific fund for assistance to trafficking victims. Panamanian law provided only short-term legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims to countries where they might face hardship or retribution; five victims received permits to remain in Panama during the course of the investigations in their legal cases. While identified victims were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, insufficient efforts to screen vulnerable populations for indicators of trafficking may have led to some victims being penalized. Further, an NGO reported individuals forced to commit crimes were not identified as trafficking victims and were instead treated as criminals and during the year, a Colombian woman who may have been forced to transport drugs into the country was arrested for drug smuggling.


The government sustained modest prevention efforts. Its anti-trafficking commission, responsible for leading implementation of the 2012-2017 national anti-trafficking action plan, began meeting regularly during the second half of the reporting period, but reported few notable outcomes. Interagency coordination remained weak, due in large part to the lack of standardized protocols for conducting and reporting activities across various agencies. Authorities conducted several events as part of an annual, month-long public awareness campaign and continued a campaign against sexual exploitation of minors. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Unlike last year, the government did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any child sex tourists. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor or commercial sex acts.