VENEZUELA: Tier 3
Venezuela is a source 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, are subjected to sex trafficking within the country. NGOs continue to report Venezuelan women are subjected to forced prostitution in Caribbean islands, particularly Aruba, Curacao, and Trinidad and Tobago. Venezuelan children are exploited, frequently by their families, in domestic servitude in areas such as cooking, cleaning, and childcare within the country. Venezuelan officials and international organizations have reported identifying sex and labor trafficking victims from South American, Caribbean, Asian, and African countries within Venezuela. Ecuadorian children and women residing in Venezuela are subjected to forced labor in the informal sector and domestic servitude. Reports indicate 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 may have experienced treatment indicative of forced labor. Indicators of forced labor reported by some Cubans participating in the program include chronic underpayment of wages, mandatory long hours, and threats of retaliatory actions to the citizens and their families if they leave the program.
The Government of Venezuela does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so. Authorities convicted three sex traffickers and reported training government officials on human trafficking. The lack of reliable data on government anti-trafficking efforts made these efforts difficult to assess. The government reported identifying and assisting some trafficking victims; however, it did not provide detailed information on assistance provided and victim services remained inadequate. Publicly available information indicated many law enforcement efforts under trafficking statutes dealt with illegal adoption. The extent of efforts to investigate internal forced labor, to assist children in prostitution, or to improve interagency coordination to address trafficking was unclear.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR VENEZUELA:
Provide specialized services for trafficking victims, including child sex trafficking victims, working in partnership with civil society organizations and other service providers; strengthen and document efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of sex trafficking and forced labor, and convict and punish traffickers; develop and publish an anti-trafficking action plan and allocate resources to implement this plan; enhance interagency cooperation, perhaps through forming a permanent anti-trafficking working group; implement formal and proactive procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution, and for referring victims for care; continue to train government officials on how to identify and respond to potential human trafficking cases; issue guidance to clarify that cases of child prostitution should be handled as child sex trafficking; and improve data collection on government anti-trafficking efforts and make this data publicly available.
The government appeared to increase efforts to hold traffickers criminally accountable, though the lack of comprehensive public data on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions made overall law enforcement efforts against human trafficking 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 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. The penalties for these trafficking crimes are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed under Venezuelan law for other serious crimes, such as rape. In cases of internal trafficking involving male victims, prosecutors could bring charges against traffickers under other statutes. The law diverges from the 2000 UN TIP Protocol by penalizing illegal adoption as human trafficking. Venezuela’s legislature did not pass a draft anti-trafficking law, first introduced in 2010, during the year.
Venezuelan authorities did not report how many total trafficking cases were investigated or how many individuals were prosecuted or convicted for human trafficking in 2014. According to government websites and media reports, many cases pursued under trafficking laws during the year involved illegal adoption, although officials initiated the prosecution of at least one transnational forced labor case investigated in 2013. Media coverage indicated some child sex trafficking cases might have been investigated as other crimes, including child prostitution. According to press reports, three women were convicted of child sex trafficking in January 2014; two were sentenced to eight years and nine months’ imprisonment, while one trafficker was sentenced to 18 years and six months’ imprisonment. In comparison, there were no reported trafficking convictions in 2013. Authorities provided some anti-trafficking training to hundreds of law enforcement, justice, immigration, and other government officials. The government reported the Ministry of Interior, Justice, and Peace’s organized crime office (ONDOFT) worked with the women’s ministry to train 520 government officials in Nueva Esparta state on human trafficking in the judicial system, including prosecutors and justice officials in 2014. Authorities did not report cooperating with foreign governments on trafficking investigations during the year. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
Authorities provided limited information about trafficking victim identification and assistance in 2014, but appeared to maintain minimal victim protection efforts. The government did not provide sufficient information to ensure data on trafficking victim identification did not include individuals involved in human smuggling. The government issued a statement reporting ONDOFT assisted eight potential labor trafficking victims from Bangladesh in 2014. This statement also reported ONDOFT assisted 36 trafficking victims in 2013. Of these victims, 16 were reportedly exploited in sex trafficking and 20 in labor trafficking; 17 were Venezuelan citizens, while other victims were from Ethiopia, Ecuador, the Philippines, Somalia, and Bangladesh. Previously, the government had not reported how many trafficking victims it had identified or assisted annually since 2011. The government did not specify the kinds of assistance provided to the victims in 2013 or 2014. An Ethiopian victim of domestic servitude was repatriated in 2014 with funding from an international organization. Some child sex trafficking victims identified in law enforcement operations during the year did not appear to be included in ONDOFT victim identification statistics. The government did not report on the existence of formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including people in prostitution, and referring them to victim services. Victim referrals to different government entities, including ONDOFT and the women’s ministry, seemed to occur on an ad hoc basis.
Victim services remained limited. There were no specialized shelters for trafficking victims in the country. Victims could reportedly access government centers for victims of domestic violence or at-risk youth, though services for male victims were virtually nonexistent. NGOs provided some specialized services to victims of sex trafficking and forced child labor. 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. Trinbagonian officials reported coordinating with Venezuelan officials regarding services and repatriation for three Venezuelan victims of sex trafficking exploited in Trinidad and Tobago. There were no publicly available reports of government assistance to repatriated Venezuelan trafficking victims during the reporting period. There was no information made publicly available about whether the government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of traffickers. There were no publicly available reports of victims in Venezuela being jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, and NGOs and international organizations reported this did not generally occur. 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 2014.
The Venezuelan government conducted limited efforts to prevent human trafficking during 2014, similar to the previous year. No permanent anti-trafficking interagency body existed, and the government did not have an anti-trafficking plan or strategy. ONDOFT was responsible for coordinating government anti-trafficking efforts but ceased social media activity raising awareness on human trafficking as of April 2014. Authorities continued some awareness efforts, including a public service announcement and distribution of anti-trafficking posters and pamphlets, most of which focused on sex trafficking of women and girls. There were no publicly available reports of new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for child sex tourism offenses in 2014. The government did not provide anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel. The government did not report any specific activities to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts during the year.