Colombia is a source country for women and children subjected to sex trafficking around the world, particularly in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Western Europe, as well as a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor. Within the country, Colombian victims are found in conditions of forced labor in mining, agriculture, and domestic service, and the sex trafficking of Colombian women and children remains a significant problem. Groups at high risk for internal trafficking include internally displaced persons, Afro-Colombians, indigenous communities, and relatives of members of criminal organizations. Ecuadorian children are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking in Colombia, and Colombian children are exploited in forced begging in urban areas. Illegal armed groups forcibly recruit children to serve as combatants, to cultivate illegal narcotics, or to be exploited in prostitution. Members of gangs and organized criminal networks force vulnerable Colombians, including displaced persons, into sex trafficking and forced labor, particularly in the sale and transportation of illegal narcotics. Colombia is a destination for foreign child sex tourists from the United States, Europe, and other South American countries.
The Government of Colombia fully complies with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Authorities continued to undertake awareness campaigns and law enforcement efforts, prosecuting transnational sex trafficking cases and opening a significant number of investigations. Identified victims of trafficking were provided with assistance from the government, including repatriation assistance, in cooperation with international organizations and NGOs. For the second consecutive year, however, the government did not report convicting any forced labor offenders. The pending victim protection decree, required by the 2005 anti-trafficking law, was not enacted during the reporting period, impeding more robust victim protection, though the government continued to provide limited funding to civil society organizations that provided some victim services. Authorities reported identifying five victims of forced labor and one victim of internal trafficking during the year, and it was difficult to assess government efforts to assist sex trafficking victims within the country, as it appeared that the majority of internal sex trafficking victims were not identified as such.
Recommendations for Colombia: Enact the victim assistance decree and designate funding for its implementation; ensure that all trafficking victims are provided access to protection and specialized services by continuing to increase funding for shelter and reintegration assistance; increase the proactive identification, investigation, and prosecution of forced labor and internal sex trafficking cases, in part through enhancing coordination between labor officials, police, and social workers; continue to prosecute transnational sex trafficking offenses; create formal mechanisms to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations within the country, including displaced Colombians, and implement these measures; and strengthen the interagency trafficking center’s ability to collect accurate data on all forms of trafficking and to coordinate national anti-trafficking efforts in partnership with civil society.
The Government of Colombia conducted law enforcement efforts against sex trafficking during the year, but efforts against forced labor remained inadequate. Colombian law prohibits all forms of trafficking and prescribes punishments of 13 to 23 years’ imprisonment plus fines, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with punishments prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. While Colombia law penalizes all forms of trafficking, governmental structures failed to reflect this comprehensive approach. As in previous years, one specialized prosecutor handled all transnational trafficking cases and faced a significant caseload. There were no prosecutors assigned to oversee cases of internal trafficking. Instead, internal cases of trafficking were investigated by local prosecutors, including sex crimes units, some having only limited expertise. As a result, cases of internal child sex trafficking were often investigated as commercial sexual exploitation of minors. Officials reported that efforts to investigate trafficking crimes were limited by lack of dedicated resources. The Constitutional Court issued a ruling directing government entities to increase efforts against forced labor and domestic servitude. Authorities operated an interagency center which was intended to coordinate and track criminal investigations and prosecutions, collect nationwide statistics about trafficking crimes, and refer victims to providers of protective services. Data collection remained uneven and focused almost exclusively on law enforcement efforts against transnational trafficking.
In 2012, Colombian authorities reported 128 new trafficking investigations; the majority of the cases involved Colombian women in forced prostitution abroad, with two reported investigations of alleged forced labor crimes. Authorities reported initiating 18 trafficking prosecutions and convicting 10 transnational sex trafficking offenders in 2012. Sentences ranged from six to 10 years’ imprisonment, with at least one convicted trafficker serving her sentence under house arrest, as well as fines. In comparison, authorities convicted 16 transnational sex trafficking offenders and achieved no convictions for internal trafficking in 2011. There were no reported convictions of forced labor offenses for a second consecutive year. In March 2013, the Constitutional Court ordered members of a family that kept a child in domestic servitude from 1963 to 1975 to pay the victim compensation for physical and psychological damages. Authorities conducted three joint transnational trafficking investigations with other governments in 2012.
Through partnerships with two international organizations, hundreds of prosecutors, judicial officials, police, and other government officials received training during the year on how to investigate trafficking cases and identify victims. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any public officials for trafficking-related offenses.
The Government of Colombia provided some services to trafficking victims, but its continued failure to enact a victim protection decree required in the 2005 anti-trafficking law hampered increased protection efforts. However, authorities provided funds for an NGO to open an emergency shelter for adult trafficking victims during the year. The government did not employ formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations within the country, such as displaced persons or people in prostitution. The interagency anti-trafficking center reported identifying 38 trafficking victims in 2012, only five of which were subjected to forced labor, and only one of which was subjected to internal trafficking; most of these victims were Colombian women subjected to forced prostitution in other countries. Police also identified six women and six children in internal sex trafficking during the year. Civil society organizations were critical of the government’s ability to identify and assist trafficking victims within the country, particularly children. The Colombian Child Welfare Institute (ICBF), a government institution, reported identifying 415 children in prostitution through September 2012.
Officials noted that the lack of legal guidelines for the care and protection of victims remained a significant challenge. A victim protection decree to assign responsibility formally for victim services and to allocate specific funding is required by the 2005 trafficking law and was first drafted in 2008; however, it has yet to be enacted. Without this decree, the government lacked both a budget for victim services at the local level and clear guidance for victim identification and assistance. Some local officials noted that in the absence of this decree, they did not have the legal mandate for dedicated trafficking victim services and could not include it in their budgets.
The majority of specialized victim services in Colombia were funded by international organizations and NGOs. In November 2012, an NGO opened a dedicated emergency shelter for adult male and female trafficking victims in the capital, and the Colombian government provided the equivalent of approximately $22,000 in funding to support the shelter, which assisted 11 victims referred by officials during the year. The government reported providing an international organization with the approximate equivalent of an additional $20,000 in funding for emergency victim services, to be dispersed through Colombian NGOs. Authorities reported following a national trafficking victim assistance plan to refer 38 identified victims to services and stated that they met all of these victims’ needs. However, NGOs, as well as some local officials and trafficking victims, asserted that government-funded victim assistance was cursory and argued that at times authorities put victims’ security at risk due to bureaucratic delays in the provision of assistance. Local governments responsible for providing services beyond emergency care reported that they had no dedicated resources to do so. Reintegration services, including employment assistance, were virtually nonexistent. Services for male victims were very limited. The ICBF operated centers that provided psycho-social, medical, and legal services to child victims of sexual violence and reported that through August 2012 it assisted 415 children in prostitution , although it did not report how many of these victims received government-funded shelter during the year. In partnership with an international organization, the government assisted at least 483 children recruited by illegal armed groups and provided them with protection, health, psychological, and education services. Colombian consular officials assisted Colombian trafficking victims overseas during the reporting period, though in the past some victims were critical of assistance they had received from consular staff.
The government encouraged victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions and 21 victims did so in 2012. Some victims, however, were reluctant to testify against their traffickers due to fear of reprisals or lack of trust in the government. There was a limited program to provide protection to victims of crimes who testify and 21 trafficking victims participated during the year. There were no reports of victims being jailed or otherwise penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. There was no specialized legal mechanism whereby the government offered a visa or temporary residence status to foreign trafficking victims. Authorities reported that they 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 did not identify any foreign trafficking victims in 2012.
The government maintained prevention efforts during the year. The interagency anti-trafficking committee continued to coordinate government efforts and held several workshops for government officials to draft policies. In partnership with an international organization, all 32 departments had anti-trafficking committees, although they maintained varying degrees of activity and civil society actors noted that some existed in name only. Throughout the year 27 departments developed local action plans against trafficking in persons with the assistance and guidance of the Ministry of Interior. The government continued to fund a trafficking hotline operated by the Ministry of Interior. Authorities reported conducting anti-trafficking awareness and training activities with and providing the equivalent of hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding for international organizations. The government developed a national strategy for the prevention of sexual exploitation of children in the context of travel and tourism and worked with civil society to certify hotels and tourism establishments committed to combating sexual exploitation of children. It did not, however, report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourism offenders during the year.