BOLIVIA: Tier 2 Watch List
Bolivia is principally a source country for men, women, and children exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country and abroad. To a more limited extent, women from neighboring countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Paraguay, have been found in sex trafficking in Bolivia. Civil society and media report Bolivia serves as a transit and destination country for migrants from Africa, Chile, and the Caribbean, some of whom become victims of forced labor and sex trafficking. Rural and poor Bolivians, most of whom are indigenous, and LGBTI youth are particularly vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Bolivian women and girls are found in sex trafficking within Bolivia and in neighboring countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Panama, Peru, and Chile. Within the country, Bolivian men, women, and children are found in forced labor in domestic service, mining, ranching, and agriculture. Media report cases of children forced to commit crimes, such as robbery and drug production, and others exploited in forced begging. A significant number of Bolivians are found in forced labor in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile, other countries in sweatshops, agriculture, domestic service, textile factories, and the informal sector. Media reports also indicate traffickers, including extended families with ties to the communities and groups they exploit, use social and online networks to advertise high-paying jobs abroad to recruit vulnerable populations. Traffickers also exploit the absence of a national registry of employment agencies to establish informal temporary employment agencies, through which they identify and recruit potential victims. Some suspected traffickers reportedly bribe officials to avoid facing justice.
The Government of Bolivia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these measures, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing anti-trafficking efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Bolivia is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year. Per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, Bolivia was granted a waiver from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3 because its government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards. The government published and resourced its 2015-2019 national anti-trafficking action plan aimed at prevention, protection, and prosecution, as well as national and international coordination. The government devoted 18 million bolivianos ($2.6 million) for 2015 of an estimated 60 million bolivianos ($8.7 million) budget to implement the plan from 2015-2019. Authorities reportedly convicted five traffickers but did not report the total number of victims identified, referred, or assisted in 2015, or the kinds of services these victims received.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BOLIVIA:
Strengthen efforts to prosecute all trafficking offenses, and convict and punish traffickers, including complicit officials; implement the established protocols for the identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and the referral of victims to care services; establish a national registry of employment agencies to inhibit fraudulent labor recruitment; devote additional resources to implement the 2015-2019 national anti-trafficking action plan, including funds designated for specialized assistance for all trafficking victims across the country; direct dedicated human trafficking units to increase efforts on human trafficking cases rather than focusing on other crimes, such as missing persons; implement systematic victim-centered anti-trafficking training for government officials, including police, prosecutors, judges, and social workers; improve data collection and sharing on anti-trafficking efforts, adequately distinguishing human trafficking from other crimes; provide reintegration services to returning Bolivian trafficking victims; and coordinate efforts among government and non-governmental entities working to combat trafficking.
Government anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts remained weak. Law 263 of 2012—the Comprehensive Law against Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons—prohibits all forms of trafficking and establishes penalties of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Law 263 diverges from the international definition of trafficking in persons, however, by classifying non-trafficking crimes, such as illegal adoption and the removal or sale of organs without the purpose of exploitation, as human trafficking. While law 263 creates separate criminal offenses for trafficking in persons and smuggling of persons, it creates only one government infrastructure to address the two crimes, which may lead to confusion in collection of data and in the response to perpetrators and victims of these separate crimes. Some officials conflated human trafficking with the movement of children within the country or to other countries without proper documentation. Some police and prosecutors charged trafficking cases as non-trafficking crimes, such as pimping; this was sometimes due to a belief that trafficking cases were difficult to prove in court.
The government did not provide reliable or comprehensive data on the number of trafficking investigations or prosecutions initiated in 2015. Trafficking crimes reported to the Bolivian police decreased from 380 in 2014 to approximately 247 in 2015. Authorities reportedly convicted five traffickers, a decrease from 12 traffickers in 2014; however they did not report sentence length or specify the form of trafficking committed for each conviction. Press reports indicated two traffickers were sentenced to two and eight years’ imprisonment, respectively, for smuggling and trafficking two newborn children for illegal adoption, a crime under law 263 but not under the international definition. The government operated two national anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling police units, one focused on internal law enforcement efforts and the other on border security. Civil society indicated departmental (provincial) governments received funding from a national tax, but devoted less than 1.5 percent to budgets for law enforcement operations, generally judged to be insufficient. As a result, police relied heavily on donations from NGOs and civil society to conduct operations, including anti-trafficking operations. The government, in collaboration with an international organization, provided anti-trafficking training to 108 investigators, police, prosecutors, judges, and social workers. While law 263 imposes a serious penalty for public servants involved in trafficking crimes, some experts reported traffickers could bribe prosecutors to avoid being charged. For the third consecutive year, no information was available regarding government response to a 2013 report from the ombudsman’s office that two police officers allegedly forced female inmates into prostitution. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses.
The government made inadequate victim protection efforts. Authorities approved an early detection protocol for police and social service providers to identify trafficking and smuggling cases, and a protocol for specialized attention to trafficking and smuggling victims. However, these protocols were not implemented nor did they receive any dedicated funds. The government did not report the total number of victims identified, referred, or assisted in 2015 or the kinds of services these victims received. An international organization reported assisting five internal trafficking victims and repatriating 18 Bolivian victims of labor exploitation without assistance from the government. A civil society organization reported providing services to three foreign trafficking victims in Bolivia. The Ministry of Health administered periodic medical tests to individuals in the legal commercial sex trade, but did not screen for trafficking indicators. The Ministry of Labor (MOL)had 10 inspectors to investigate child and forced labor, and employed another 87 inspectors who could investigate such cases if found during routine labor inspections. MOL did not report the number, if any, of labor trafficking victims identified in 2015. Law 263 requires the MOL to create a national registry of employment agencies to monitor for trafficking activity. However, authorities did not establish this mechanism in 2015; and NGOs expressed skepticism that even with the registry, many employment agencies would continue to operate informally and be difficult to regulate.
Government-funded or provided specialized victim services were lacking in most of the country. NGOs provided the majority of specialized care, including emergency housing, without government funds. Law 263 requires regional governments to create specialized care centers for trafficking victims in each of Bolivia’s nine departments, but the government did not operate or fund such centers. Law 263 also requires the government to provide free access to services for victims, but the government did not fund such services. Police were often unable to secure safe accommodation for trafficking victims identified in raids and reportedly used personal funds at times to assist victims. The government did not provide services to adult male victims. The government detained boy trafficking victims in juvenile justice centers with juvenile criminals due to a lack of shelters. Five departmental governments operated special victims units, which focused on providing legal and psychological services to victims of gender-based violence, but did not report the number of trafficking victims these units assisted in 2015. Victims may provide written testimony rather than testifying in a court proceeding, although the procedure was not used in 2015. Bolivian law allowed victims to seek civil damages, but there were no reports of trafficking victims doing so in 2015. The government could provide foreign victims with humanitarian visas to remain in Bolivia temporarily and if granted, enable victims to apply for a work permit; but it did not report issuing such visas in 2015. Two Colombian trafficking victims received permanent residency through a Mercosur agreement.
The government made modest progress in its prevention efforts. The government published and resourced its 2015-2019 national anti-trafficking action plan aimed at prevention, protection, and prosecution, as well as national and international coordination. The government devoted 18 million bolivianos ($2.6 million) for 2015 of an estimated 60 million bolivianos ($8.7 million) budget to implement the plan from 2015-2019. The Plurinational Council against Human Trafficking and Smuggling published a national policy to implement law 263 that requires each department to develop anti-trafficking plans; only one of nine departments developed a plan. Authorities conducted some anti-trafficking awareness events. The plurinational council met seven times in 2015 and civil society representatives participated for the first time. Two separate government entities were responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts, and experts noted a lack of interagency coordination, in part due to overlapping mandates. In addition, the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman continued to coordinate a network of government officials and civil society organizations, which engaged in prevention efforts in four border cities and collaborated with civil society in four departments. Law 263 required media outlets to run public service announcements on trafficking and written news outlets to publish public service announcements on trafficking, and most outlets complied. The government created an observatory of trafficking crimes to collect information on trafficking trends and law 263 also mandates the plurinational council to submit an annual report to Congress on its work; neither report has been published. The Institute for Normalization of Quality, a semi-autonomous government agency, operated a “triple seal” certification program for sugar producers whose final products are certified to be free of child and forced labor. As of 2015, two companies obtained the seal. There were no reported investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for child sex tourism in 2015. The Vice Ministry of Tourism requested hotels to post signs informing tourists of sanctions for child sex tourism; some hotels complied. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. The Department of Defense, in coordination with an international organization, provided anti-trafficking training to 19,000 troops that patrol national borders. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.