Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Costa Rican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country, and residents of the north and central Pacific coast zones are particularly vulnerable to internal trafficking. Authorities noticed an increase in adults using children for drug trafficking. Women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Child sex tourism is a serious problem, particularly in the provinces of Guanacaste, Limon, Puntarenas, and San Jose. Child sex tourists arrive mostly from the United States and Europe. Men and children from other Central American countries and from Asian countries, including China, are subjected to conditions of forced labor in Costa Rica, particularly in the agriculture, construction, fishing, and commercial sectors. Indigenous Panamanians are also reportedly vulnerable to forced labor.
The Government of Costa Rica does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, the government convicted two labor trafficking offenders and enacted a new trafficking law that established increased victim protection measures and a fund to finance government anti-trafficking efforts. Authorities identified victims in both sex trafficking and forced labor, but the number of trafficking offenders prosecuted and convicted was low in light of the large number of victims identified, as authorities could not confirm any convictions for sex trafficking offenders. The government did not fund any specialized shelters or services for trafficking victims, and services remained inadequate through most of the country. The new law did not correct a problematic definition of human trafficking in the penal code, contributing to flawed data collection.
Recommendations for Costa Rica: Significantly intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute human trafficking offenses, including forced labor, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; fund specialized services for trafficking victims, including child sex trafficking victims, through the establishment of a shelter specifically for trafficking victims or through funding NGOs to provide services; strengthen dedicated prosecutorial and police units through increased resources and training, including for victim treatment; ensure that cases of trafficking not involving movement are investigated and prosecuted and that Costa Rican victims of human trafficking receive appropriate services; improve the efficacy and the implementation of the victim assistance protocol, particularly outside of the capital, and in partnership with civil society organizations; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute child sex tourism; and improve data collection for law enforcement and victim protection efforts.
The Government of Costa Rica continued to investigate potential trafficking cases and achieved the first convictions for forced labor, but efforts to prosecute and convict trafficking offenders were inadequate, as was data collection. In December 2012, the government enacted a new trafficking law which codified the responsibilities of government entities and created a fund to fight human trafficking and smuggling which will be financed by increasing the country departure tax by the equivalent of approximately one dollar per traveler. This law prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of four to 20 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with other serious crimes. Before December, different articles of the penal code prescribed penalties of four to 16 years’ imprisonment for different forms of human trafficking. However, the new law did not address deficiencies in the penal code that made the definition both too narrow—continuing to require the displacement of the victim—and too broad—penalizing non-trafficking crimes such as illegal adoption, moving persons for the purpose of prostitution, and labor exploitation that does not rise to the level of forced labor.
Data collection on human trafficking remained problematic. Authorities reported investigating over 50 potential trafficking cases during the reporting period but did not report how many trafficking cases were prosecuted. The government convicted two labor trafficking offenders whose sentences were pending. Authorities did not report convicting any sex trafficking offenders under the anti-trafficking law during the reporting period, and while authorities reported using other statutes, such as those penalizing rape, to convict sex trafficking offenders during the year, they could not report how many offenders were convicted under these statutes. In comparison, there was one sex trafficking conviction in 2011. The dedicated anti-trafficking police unit investigated a significant number of forced labor and sex trafficking cases. The organized crime prosecutor’s office was responsible for trafficking cases involving displacement, while local prosecutors were responsible for prosecuting cases of trafficking without movement, leading to jurisdiction issues and making it difficult to assess prosecution efforts. Police and prosecutors were limited by inadequate staffing and resources. Some officials conflated trafficking with smuggling. Government ministries provided training to prosecutors, police officers, and other public officials, often in partnership with civil society organizations. Prosecutors coordinated with the Government of Nicaragua on a child sex trafficking investigation. Authorities continued to investigate a mayor for possible trafficking crimes but did not report any prosecutions or convictions of public officials allegedly complicit in human trafficking offenses during the year.
The Costa Rican government maintained efforts to identify and assist foreign trafficking victims during the year, though access to specialized services, including shelters, remained inadequate, particularly in light of significant internal child sex trafficking. The government continued to implement its “immediate attention” protocol, which defines the steps for the different government institutions that compose the emergency response team to identify, protect, and provide integrated assistance to victims. NGOs and some officials asserted, however, that victim identification and referral mechanisms were not always implemented in an effective or timely manner, and that some officials were unaware of the protocol. Police reported identifying 22 trafficking victims in 2012, three of whom were Costa Rican. Of the 22 victims, five were exploited in forced prostitution, one in forced labor, and 15 were exploited for both in bars. One victim identified during the year had been forced to assist in the trafficking of illegal narcotics. Authorities also reported assisting 85 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
The government did not provide or fund specialized shelters or services for trafficking victims, and officials and NGOs alike noted the lack of dedicated housing for victims was a significant challenge. Authorities maintained emergency government shelters for female victims of domestic violence, but staff were reportedly reluctant to house trafficking victims in these shelters due to security concerns. Authorities reportedly sheltered 12 adult victims in hotels or rented houses on a temporary basis. The government also operated two emergency shelters for at-risk children that assisted three trafficking victims during the year, but these centers did not offer specialized services for trafficking victims, and one trafficking offender removed a child victim from one shelter during the year. Authorities did not report how many of the 85 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation identified in 2012 received shelter, but reported that all received psychological and social services. The government relied on NGOs and religious organizations to provide specialized care for trafficking victims and provided limited funding to two NGOs to provide some services to adults and children in prostitution. The Office for Care and Protection of Victims of Crime (OAPVD) provided emergency services as well as legal, psychological, and basic health assistance to victims of all crimes participating in the criminal process, including trafficking victims. OAPVD reported assisting 12 trafficking victims in 2012. Police and NGOs noted that victim services were virtually nonexistent outside of the capital.
The government granted temporary residency status, with permission to work, to eight foreign victims in 2012, and reported providing some employment assistance to foreign victims during the year. Costa Rican authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and several victims did so during the reporting period, although other victims did not collaborate with investigations due to their lack of confidence in the judicial system. Some victims reportedly refused to cooperate in investigations after meeting with organized crime prosecutors and sensing a lack of sensitivity on the prosecutors’ part. Funding for witness protection increased but remained limited. The government reportedly did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking.
The Government of Costa Rica increased prevention efforts during the reporting year. The government’s anti-trafficking directorate, which coordinated the national anti-trafficking coalition, continued to lead government efforts and its responsibilities were further outlined in the new trafficking law. The coalition and its subcommittees met frequently during the year and continued to implement the country’s national action plan on human trafficking. Authorities conducted awareness campaigns, often in partnership with civil society organizations, particularly targeting youth. In partnership with U.S. authorities, Costa Rican police deported four American citizens in 2012 for their involvement in child sex tourism. In an effort to reduce the demand for commercial sex, authorities continued to investigate and prosecute individuals that paid child trafficking victims for commercial sex, resulting in two convictions in 2012. Despite significant reports of child sex tourism, however, there were no reported local prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists during the reporting period.