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 with false promises of high-paying jobs 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 children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in the two Caribbean autonomous regions, where the lack of strong law enforcement institutions and a higher crime rate increase the vulnerability of the local population. Nicaraguans from northern-central departments who migrate to other Central American countries and Europe are reportedly vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. In addition, children these migrants leave in Nicaragua reportedly become vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking as a result. 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, particularly in Managua and near tourist centers. 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 meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government enacted and began implementing a new trafficking-specific law that imposes stringent penalties for sex and labor trafficking crimes. However, its definition of human trafficking is inconsistent with international law; it conflates human trafficking with other crimes, such as illegal adoption, and establishes the use of force, coercion, or deceit as an aggravating factor rather than an essential element of most trafficking crimes. Authorities continued to prosecute, convict, and impose stringent sentences on traffickers. However, the government identified significantly fewer victims than in 2014, and 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. The government-led anti-trafficking coalition and regional working groups were largely inactive during the year, and key elements of the new trafficking law—such as a dedicated trafficking fund—were not implemented. 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, in partnership with civil society organizations, specialized services for trafficking victims; increase funding for victim protection, including through financing the newly established trafficking fund; implement operating procedures to effectively refer victims to appropriate services; increase training 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 formal procedures for proactively identifying victims among vulnerable populations; improve trafficking data collection and coordination across agencies, and increase transparency in reporting anti-trafficking efforts across government entities and with external stakeholders; 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; amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law; partner with civil society organizations to ensure that victims receive long-term care and reintegration services; reinvigorate the work of the national and local anti-trafficking coalitions, including by appointing a national executive secretariat; and invite a diverse range of civil society organizations to hold formal membership on both the national and local anti-trafficking coalitions.
The government continued to prosecute and convict traffickers, but provided only limited information about its law enforcement efforts. Nicaragua’s first trafficking-specific law, law 896, came into effect in February 2015. This law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties ranging from 16 to 18 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, it is inconsistent with international law; it conflates human trafficking with other crimes, such as illegal adoption, and establishes the use of force, coercion, or deceit as an aggravating factor rather than an essential element of most trafficking crimes.
Authorities reported 10 trafficking investigations and 23 prosecutions of suspected offenders in eight cases in 2015, compared with 24 suspects prosecuted in 17 cases in 2014. Authorities convicted 10 traffickers in six cases, compared with 12 convicted in eight cases in 2014. Of these convictions, the government reported three cases involved sex trafficking and one involved both sex and labor trafficking; the majority included child victims. The government convicted three offenders, for child sex trafficking catered to foreign tourists in Granada, in the first successful case under the new anti-trafficking law. At the close of the reporting period, all convicted traffickers who had been sentenced received penalties ranging from 12 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Nine suspects were acquitted, and prosecutions of eight suspects were ongoing. The government did not provide complete information on the number of prosecutions ongoing from previous years. Although child domestic servitude is a form of human trafficking under Nicaraguan law, the government did not consider such cases to be human trafficking crimes and did not pursue prosecutions in such cases; children identified in domestic servitude were returned to their families, leaving them at risk of re-exploitation. There were no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. The government maintained efforts to train officials on trafficking.
The government decreased efforts to identify victims, and overall victim protection remained inadequate. The government identified and provided unspecified assistance to 30 Nicaraguan victims, including two adults and 28 children, a significant decline from 51 victims identified by the government in 2014. An NGO reported identifying seven additional victims. The government did not provide information on the type of trafficking these victims experienced. Authorities 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 maintained a police-operated short-term shelter for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking in Managua that served an unknown number of victims. The government referred seven child trafficking victims to NGO shelters for at-risk children or victims of domestic abuse. The government did not provide funding to NGOs that provided the majority of victim protection. 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.
Law 896 established a dedicated fund—to be financed through budget allocation, donations, and seized assets from traffickers—for victim protection and prevention activities. However, it was not financed and did not become operational during the reporting period. The government did not report whether it assisted any Nicaraguan victims through its diplomatic missions overseas. 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 2015.
The Nicaraguan government’s efforts to prevent trafficking declined. NGOs asserted the government-run anti-trafficking coalition did not meet during the current reporting period, remaining inactive for the second consecutive year. The government did not appoint an individual to fill the executive secretariat role, created by the new anti-trafficking law to chair the coalition, though the law stipulates this should have been completed within 45 days of its passage. The government reported that it continued to operate 17 regional anti-trafficking working groups, though NGOs involved in the groups reported the majority of these were inactive throughout the year. Under the new law, civil society organizations—which previously served as active members of the government’s anti-trafficking coalition—will be represented by a single organization unless individually invited to join by the executive secretariat. Authorities reported conducting media and outreach events to educate the public on human trafficking; it is unclear whether the government funded these events or received funding from NGOs. The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. Authorities did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any tourists for the purchase of commercial sex acts from children in 2015. The government did not report efforts to decrease the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor.