COLOMBIA: Tier 1
Colombia is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Colombia and in Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Mexico, and Central and South America. Groups at high risk for trafficking include internally displaced persons, Afro-Colombians, Colombians with disabilities, indigenous Colombians, and Colombians in areas where armed criminal groups are active. Sex trafficking of Colombian women and children occurs within the country and Colombian women and children are found in sex trafficking around the world, particularly in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. Authorities reported high rates of children exploited in prostitution in areas with tourism and large extractive industries. Sex trafficking in mining areas sometimes involves organized criminal groups. Transgender Colombians and Colombian men in prostitution are vulnerable to sex trafficking within Colombia and in Europe. Colombian labor trafficking victims are found in mining, agriculture, and domestic service. Colombian children working in the informal sector, including as street vendors, are vulnerable to labor trafficking. Colombian children and adults are exploited in forced begging in urban areas. Illegal armed groups forcibly recruit children to serve as combatants and informants, to cultivate illegal narcotics, or exploit them in sex trafficking. Organized criminal groups and other individuals force vulnerable Colombians, including displaced persons, into prostitution and criminal activity—particularly to sell and transport illegal narcotics and serve as lookouts and assassins. Such groups use false job opportunities, and feigned friendship or romance to recruit victims and threats to maintain control over them. Colombia is a destination for foreign child sex tourists, primarily from North America and Europe.
The Government of Colombia fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Authorities continued to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases and reported increased efforts to pursue sex trafficking cases. The government appointed 14 new prosecutors to handle the caseload associated with trafficking and related crimes, conducted awareness campaigns, and provided identified victims some services. The government strengthened internal coordination to combat trafficking. However, the government did not demonstrate progress in identifying victims from vulnerable populations, or prosecute and convict labor traffickers. Officials treated some trafficking cases as other crimes, which hindered efforts to identify and assist victims and hold traffickers criminally accountable.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COLOMBIA:
Provide access to shelter and specialized services for more trafficking victims by increasing funding for NGOs and government entities; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute and convict traffickers, including complicit officials, for forced labor and sex trafficking; approve and fund the national anti-trafficking strategy; revise law 1069 to explicitly state victims do not need to file an official complaint against their traffickers to receive ongoing assistance; establish and implement formal mechanisms to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations within the country, including displaced Colombians; provide funding to the specialized trafficking in persons criminal investigation unit; increase training for labor officials and inspections of employers in sectors where trafficking indicators have been found; and improve data collection and disaggregation through implementing the national trafficking information system.
The government increased efforts against transnational and internal sex trafficking, but took minimal steps to prosecute labor traffickers or complicit officials. Article 188 A of the penal code prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of 13 to 23 years’ imprisonment plus fines up to 1,500 times the monthly minimum wage, penalties that are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 188 B provides aggravating factors, which if present, increase the article 188 A punishment by one-third to one-half, including if the victim is younger than 18 years of age. Article 141 prohibits forced prostitution in situations of armed conflict and prescribes a penalty of 160 to 324 months’ imprisonment and a fine.
Data on law enforcement efforts was incomplete, as authorities sometimes categorized internal trafficking cases as other crimes, such as induction into prostitution or pimping. Police reported arresting 41 suspects for trafficking or related crimes, compared with 37 arrests in 2014. Law enforcement also reported investigating 56 possible trafficking cases referred from the anti-trafficking hotline, compared with 176 in 2014. Federal prosecutors reported investigating 135 new trafficking cases in 2015, compared with 122 in 2014, but it was unclear in how many cases prosecutors filed charges against alleged traffickers. Regional prosecutors reported the prosecution of 12 criminal organizations involved in trafficking and related crimes. The government convicted 31 individuals of trafficking and related crimes—including 11 internal traffickers and 20 transnational traffickers, compared with five transnational sex traffickers and two internal sex traffickers in 2014—and nine traffickers pled guilty. Judges sentenced 11 individuals for trafficking and related crimes, but the government did not report the terms of imprisonment. The government did not report any convictions for forced labor, despite a 2013 constitutional court directive ordering authorities to increase law enforcement efforts against domestic servitude. Government officials did not consider forced child recruitment or forced criminal activity by illegal armed groups or organized criminal groups to be trafficking in persons, and therefore investigated or prosecuted these cases as other crimes. In 2015, the government reportedly presented 104 cases of potential forcible recruitment or forcible use of children in the commission of criminal activities, but only 14 investigations were initiated. The government treated different forms of trafficking as distinct crimes subject to different government entities’ jurisdiction, which resulted in uneven interagency coordination of anti-trafficking efforts. Authorities collaborated with U.S. and Latin American officials on anti-trafficking law enforcement operations and investigations.
In 2015, the government appointed 14 new prosecutors to handle the caseload associated with trafficking and related crimes, significantly increasing capacity compared to 2014, when one prosecutor handled all transnational trafficking cases for the entire country and one prosecutor in Bogota oversaw cases of internal trafficking and migrant smuggling in the city. In addition, the government established a specialized trafficking in persons criminal investigation unit with two prosecutors. Outside the capital, some designated local prosecutors handled internal trafficking cases in addition to their existing workloads. Many of these prosecutors were overburdened, underfunded, and lacked trafficking expertise. Social workers and other officials interacting with potential trafficking victims, such as children exploited in prostitution or in the worst forms of child labor, did not always refer these cases for criminal investigation. Officials and experts reported some authorities would not investigate trafficking cases without an official complaint. Authorities trained a variety of officials—including prosecutors, judicial officials, police, and labor inspectors—on human trafficking, often through partnerships with international organizations. The government again provided no updates on a 2013 investigation of a city councilman and municipal employee in the department of Antioquia for possible involvement in commercial sexual exploitation of minors. Authorities arrested six immigration officials for alleged involvement with a criminal network engaged in human trafficking and drug smuggling, but did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking.
The government provided more services to victims than the previous year, but long-term protection was inadequate and victim identification, particularly of forced labor victims, was uneven. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) reported that authorities identified 67 trafficking victims compared with 59 in 2014. Of the identified victims, 45 were sex trafficking victims, 19 were forced labor victims, one was a forced begging victim, and two were unidentified. An international organization identified 51 trafficking victims—including 42 sex trafficking victims and nine forced labor victims. The government and an international organization identified 10 forced marriage victims, which Colombian authorities considered to be trafficking under their law. The Colombian Child Welfare Institute identified 39 girls and 6 boys exploited in prostitution and no children in forced labor—compared with 108 children exploited in prostitution in 2014—but did not identify these children as trafficking victims. Labor inspectors did not report identifying any forced labor victims and had limited access to some areas, such as illegal mining sites. Authorities and an international organization identified at least 229 children who separated from illegal armed groups in 2015, compared with 243 in 2014. Of these children, 72 were girls; 157 boys; 49 indigenous; and 27 Afro-Colombian. In June the government, through its ongoing negotiations to end a five-decade conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), secured a commitment from the FARC to release minors from its ranks, though that measure was not implemented at year’s end.
The national anti-trafficking law—law 1069—mandated the government to provide emergency trafficking victim protection and assistance, which includes medical and psychological assessments and assistance, clothing and hygiene kits, housing, transportation, legal advice, issuance of travel and identity documents, and repatriation; and medium-term assistance, which includes educational services, job training and job search assistance, and economic support. Of the 67 identified victims, the government provided 62 with emergency assistance and services and 56 with medium-term assistance; six received protective measures, 35 received repatriation assistance, 56 received employment assistance, and 67 accessed medical services, an improvement over the previous year when 50 victims received emergency assistance and 12 victims received medium-term assistance.
The government designated points of contact in various agencies and met roughly every two months to improve communication within and between the Interagency Committee for the Fight against Trafficking in Persons (ICFTP) and the MOI to design policies, analyze results, and recommend actions. NGOs acknowledged improved coordination, but criticized the delays in service delivery, the absence of formal procedures for engagement with NGOs resulting in uncoordinated and limited engagement by the government, the lack of emergency housing, the lack of long-term victim assistance, and a lack of attention to vulnerable populations. NGOs asserted Afro-Colombian, indigenous, LGBTI, and disabled persons received insufficient attention, but the government reported maintaining a shelter for LGBTI victims of violence, an indigenous training center, and policies to provide assistance to disabled victims. Shelter and services for male victims were very limited. NGOs reported victims found it difficult to access services, especially given the legal requirement to file an official complaint in order to receive long-term assistance, which served as a disincentive for them to self-identify. The government provided 596,097,411 pesos ($180,070) to assist trafficking victims internally and 200,000,000 pesos ($60,416) to assist Colombian trafficking victims abroad. The government also provided 730,921,325,661 pesos ($220,796,714) to provide services to children and adolescents, including child trafficking victims. Law 1069 makes local governments responsible for providing services beyond emergency care, but most had no funding dedicated to providing specialized services. Working with an international organization receiving foreign donor funds, the government assisted 311 children recruited by illegal armed groups and provided them with health, psycho-social, and education services. Authorities lacked sufficient funding and personnel to provide specialized services, reintegration work with families, and vocational training for these children.
The government offered victims the option to participate in the victim and witness protection program. Some victims were reluctant to report their exploitation or testify against their traffickers due to fear of reprisals or lack of trust in the justice system. The media reported victims being jailed or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, including in a case involving Brazilians in forced labor in the mining sector who were charged with immigration violations and illegal mining. The government again provided no updates on reports indicating a trafficking victim remains incarcerated as of February 2014 due to the testimony of another victim’s father, who alleged her to be a recruiter in a trafficking ring. Authorities could provide foreign trafficking victims with temporary permission to remain in the country during the investigative process on a case-by-case basis; however, authorities have never reported doing so. A media report indicated a civil court upheld a settlement for back wages and benefits for a forced labor victim, but there were no reports trafficking victims received restitution to which they are entitled under articles 102 and 103 of the criminal procedure code of Colombia.
The government continued diverse prevention efforts. ICFTP conducted five formal meetings and increased engagement with NGOs, but for the second year did not approve or fund the pending 2014-2018 anti-trafficking strategy. NGOs and international organizations noted that the absence of a national trafficking information system hindered monitoring, research, and evaluation of the impact of trafficking in persons in Colombia; however authorities reported having designed and compiled data to begin testing a system. Members of civil society continued to file petitions to obtain information from ICFTP and the MOI. Authorities maintained an interagency commission for the prevention of child recruitment by armed groups and a separate committee on child sexual exploitation. MOI consulted periodically with anti-trafficking committees in the 32 departments, but NGOs indicated the committees lacked expertise and funding. Colombia’s anti-trafficking operations center’s toll-free 24-hour hotline received 3,625 calls, including 56 suspected trafficking cases, during 2015. Authorities continued several interrelated trafficking awareness campaigns, commemorated World Day Against Human Trafficking in July in various parts of the country, and conducted other prevention efforts, often in partnership with international organizations and NGOs. The government, working with an international organization, designed a strategy and campaign to prevent fraudulent recruiting, which can lead to forced labor, and distributed materials at a public event; however, it did not report efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. Authorities conducted investigations for child sex tourism but did not report prosecutions or convictions for this crime. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel.