Bolivia is principally a source country for men, women, and children who are exploited in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country or abroad. Bolivians are found in conditions of forced labor in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Spain, the United States, and other countries, usually in sweatshops and agriculture, as well as in domestic service. Within Bolivia, women, children, and men are subjected to sex trafficking, often in urban areas. Bolivian women and girls are also exploited in sex trafficking in neighboring countries, including Argentina, Peru, and Chile. To a more limited extent, women from other nearby countries, including Brazil and Paraguay, have been identified in forced prostitution in Bolivia. Members of indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Within the country, Bolivian children are found in domestic servitude, forced begging, and forced labor in mining and agriculture
The Government of Bolivia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, the government enacted a new trafficking law that strengthened victim protection and trafficking prevention efforts. However, it did not provide dedicated funding to government ministries to fulfill some of the law’s new requirements until 2013. Also, the government did not allocate dedicated funding for local governments to implement their new responsibilities. Authorities assisted an increased number of sex trafficking victims, achieved the first conviction for domestic servitude, strengthened interagency coordination, and established anti-trafficking policies. The number of trafficking convictions remained low relative to the large number of victims found in Bolivia, particularly for forced labor. The government funded few specialized services for trafficking victims, and services for adult victims and victims of forced labor were inadequate.
Recommendations for Bolivia: Enhance victim services across the country by increasing resources designated for specialized assistance for trafficking victims, including for victims of forced labor; strengthen efforts to prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders and fraudulent labor recruiters; increase resources for prosecutors and police and ensure that dedicated human trafficking units focus on human trafficking as opposed to other crimes such as missing persons; enhance efforts to identify trafficking victims proactively by developing formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; intensify law enforcement efforts against the forced labor of adults and children, including domestic servitude, and the forced prostitution of adults; ensure that returning Bolivian trafficking victims receive reintegration services.
The government increased investigations of human trafficking during the year, though convictions remained low and the majority of law enforcement efforts focused on child victims. The government enacted a new trafficking law in July 2012 that prohibits all forms of trafficking and establishes penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed under Bolivian law for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law diverges from the 2000 UN TIP Protocol by penalizing illegal adoption as human trafficking. Previously, Bolivian law prohibited all forms of human trafficking and prescribed penalties of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment. Some officials conflated human trafficking with the movement of children within the country or to other countries without proper documentation. According to press reports, some police and prosecutors investigated child sex trafficking as other crimes, such as pimping, which prior to the new law carried lesser penalties.
Police reported investigating potential human trafficking cases involving 319 victims in 2012. There was no information available regarding how many of these cases involved forced labor or illegal adoption. Prosecutors reported opening 95 trafficking investigations, although it is unclear how many prosecutions were initiated in 2012. The government reported convicting four sex trafficking offenders and one labor trafficking offender in 2012; reported sentences ranged from two to 12 years’ imprisonment, although the convicted labor trafficking offender remained under house arrest after appealing her sentence. In comparison, in 2011 the government reported convicting two forced labor and seven sex trafficking offenders.
The government paid the salaries for officers in 14 specialized anti-trafficking and anti-smuggling police units; these units were also funded by foreign governments. Many of the cases investigated by these units involved missing persons, limiting officers’ ability to focus on trafficking cases. During the year, however, the police opened a missing persons unit in La Paz, allowing the La Paz anti-trafficking unit to focus its work on human trafficking cases. The national coordination office responsible for prosecution of human trafficking and other crimes collected law enforcement data from across the country and developed training materials, including an online training course, and victim assistance guidelines during the year. At least one prosecutor in each of Bolivia’s nine departments was designated to handle trafficking cases in addition to their existing caseload. In 2012, the attorney general instructed prosecutors to prioritize investigations of cases involving child trafficking victims. Law enforcement officials and prosecutors received anti-trafficking training from government officials in 2012, often funded by NGOs, international organizations, as well as a foreign government. Authorities reported no investigation, prosecutions, or convictions of government officials for trafficking-related complicity.
While the government reported assisting an increased number of victims, efforts to protect trafficking victims remained uneven, and civil society organizations provided the majority of specialized care without government funding. The government lacked formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations. Bolivian police reported identifying 319 possible trafficking victims. Officials referred victims to services and shelters during the year, although the government did not report the total number of victims referred for assistance in 2012. Based on press accounts and trafficking convictions, most victims identified were girls in sex trafficking, and efforts to identify forced labor victims or adult trafficking victims were more limited.
Specialized victim services were lacking in most of the country. Authorities issued a victim attention protocol in December 2012 outlining required victim support procedures for different government institutions. The government operated one shelter in La Paz for girls in commercial sexual exploitation but supported no specialized shelters for adult victims. Authorities also operated general shelters for vulnerable girls, including victims of violence and juvenile offenders. One of these centers reported assisting 45 girl victims in 2012. Many general centers did not accept children older than fourteen. Local governments operated two special victims units in 2012, including one opened during the year; these units focused on providing legal and psychological services to victims of gender-based violence, including victims of human trafficking. The special victims unit in Santa Cruz provided social, medical, and legal assistance to 46 victims in 2012. NGOs and religious groups without government funding provided the majority of shelter care and reintegration programs to victims. Many of these programs were not exclusively for trafficking victims but also provided services to victims of gender-based violence or sexual abuse. The new law established that local governments should create specialized centers for trafficking victims; the central government did not allocate dedicated funding to establish these centers, but provides departments with a budget to administer all social service programs. Services for male victims were virtually nonexistent, and minor male victims were referred to juvenile justice detention centers for shelter. Argentine officials reported identifying hundreds of Bolivian victims of trafficking during the year, many of whom reportedly chose to return to Bolivia. An international organization funded the repatriation of 40 victims from Argentina and 10 from Peru with government assistance for paperwork but did not have sufficient funding to assist all Bolivian victims exploited in neighboring countries. Authorities assisted repatriated child victims.
The government encouraged victims to participate in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, though victims often chose not to cooperate out of fear of reprisals from traffickers and lack of faith in the judicial system. During the year, some government officials providing services were insensitive to the needs of victims, while other officials released the names of child trafficking victims to the press. The new trafficking law criminalizes the release of victim information by government employees and established penalties of three to eight years’ imprisonment. There were no reports of identified victims being jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being subjected to human trafficking. The government did not provide foreign trafficking victims with legal alternatives to deportation to countries where they may face retribution or hardship.
The government maintained human trafficking prevention efforts during the year. The national anti-trafficking council, which also focused on smuggling, met regularly in 2012 and developed implementing guidelines for the new trafficking law, which were formalized in February 2013. The government developed public service announcements on the new law that aired during the year. The implementing guidelines of the new law required media outlets to run a certain number of minutes of public service announcements about human trafficking and the new law each month, which some media outlets stated would deprive them of a significant amount of advertising income. Effective coordination between government agencies was uneven outside of the capital, although one department formed an anti-trafficking council in 2012. Police officers continued to conduct awareness programs in public schools in the La Paz area. There were no reported investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for child sex tourism during the year. No government efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor were reported during the year. The government provided human rights training with anti-trafficking content for its troops before they deployed on international peacekeeping missions.