Venezuela is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Venezuelan women and girls are found in conditions of sex trafficking within the country, lured from poor interior regions to urban and tourist centers, such as Caracas, Maracaibo, and Margarita Island. Victims are often recruited through false job offers. In the past, Venezuelan officials reported identifying trafficking victims from Colombia, Peru, Haiti, China, and South Africa in Venezuela. Some Venezuelan children are forced to work as street beggars or as domestic servants, and Ecuadorian children, often from indigenous communities, are subjected to forced labor, particularly in Caracas. Some Venezuelan women are transported from coastal areas by small boats to Caribbean islands, particularly Aruba, Curacao, and Trinidad and Tobago, where they are subjected to forced prostitution. Organized crime is widely believed to be involved in facilitating sex trafficking in Venezuela. There were reports that Cuban citizens, particularly doctors, working in Venezuela on government social programs in exchange for the Venezuelan government’s provision of resources, including oil, to the Cuban government, experience forced labor. Indicators of forced labor include chronic underpayment of wages, mandatory long hours, and threats of retaliatory actions to the citizens and their families if they leave the program.
The Government of Venezuela 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 strengthened its anti-trafficking legal framework, increased investigation of forced labor crimes, and continued to train government officials. However, the government did not publicly document progress on prosecutions and convictions of trafficking offenders or on victim identification and assistance. Victim services appeared to remain inadequate, and the extent of efforts to investigate internal sex trafficking or to assist children in prostitution was unclear. Therefore, Venezuela is placed on Tier 2 Watch List for a second consecutive year.
Recommendations for Venezuela: Intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute cases of sex trafficking and forced labor, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; fund specialized services for trafficking victims, in partnership with civil society organizations; implement formal and proactive procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution, and for referring victims to care services; enhance interagency cooperation, perhaps through forming a permanent anti-trafficking working group; provide publicly available information regarding government efforts to combat human trafficking; and improve data collection for trafficking.
The Government of Venezuela strengthened its anti-trafficking laws during the year and increased investigations of forced labor cases. The lack of comprehensive public data on investigations, prosecutions, and convictions made law enforcement efforts difficult to assess. Venezuelan law prohibits most forms of human trafficking through a 2007 law on women’s rights and the 2005 law on organized crime: these laws prescribe punishments of 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment for trafficking of women and girls and for transnational trafficking of men and boys. In April 2012, amendments to the law against organized crime took effect, expanding the definition of human trafficking to include internal trafficking of men and boys when carried out by a member of an organized criminal group of three or more individuals. The revised law also increased penalties for trafficking to 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment and 25 to 30 years’ imprisonment in cases with child victims. In cases of internal trafficking involving male victims, prosecutors could rely on other statutes, though there were no reports they did so during the year. A separate draft anti-trafficking law remained before the legislature during the year.
According to government and media websites, the government reportedly investigated and arrested individuals in several transnational sex trafficking cases and in at least three transnational forced labor cases during the year, reflecting an apparent increase in investigations of forced labor, particularly domestic servitude. Due to a lack of comprehensive public statistics on human trafficking, it was unclear how many trafficking prosecutions the government initiated or how many traffickers it convicted in 2012. According to a government press release, authorities prosecuted and convicted at least one woman for forced prostitution and sentenced her to 11 years in prison. In comparison, in 2011 Venezuelan courts convicted two women of sex trafficking crimes, but their five-year sentences were commuted to parole. The Ministry of Interior and Justice’s directorate of crime prevention, sometimes in collaboration with international organizations, provided anti-trafficking training for various government officials, including law enforcement officers, in 2012. There appeared to be no public allegations that Venezuelan government officials were complicit in human trafficking-related offenses, and the Venezuelan government did not report any investigations or prosecutions of such government employees.
The government provided minimal information about trafficking victim identification or assistance in 2012, and victim services remained limited. The government did not report information on the existence of formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, including people in prostitution, and referring them to victim services. Authorities did not report operating specialized shelters or services specifically for trafficking victims, but the government provided limited funding to some NGOs providing such services. Government shelters for victims of domestic violence or at-risk youth reportedly were accessible to trafficking victims, though services for male victims were virtually nonexistent. NGOs provided the majority of services. There were no dedicated shelters for trafficking victims in the country. Authorities did not report the number of trafficking victims identified or assisted in 2012, although press and government websites reported the identification of at least three forced-labor victims—two from Peru and one from Ecuador—as well as one potential sex trafficking victim from the Dominican Republic. In comparison, the government reported assisting 38 trafficking victims in 2011. Government-provided psychological and medical examinations reportedly were available to all victims of violent crime, including trafficking victims, but according to NGOs, additional victim services—such as follow-up medical aid, legal assistance with filing a complaint, job training, and reintegration assistance—remained lacking.
There was no information made publicly available about whether the government encouraged victims to assist in the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders. Similarly, there were no publicly available reports of victims being jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking. Foreign victims who faced retribution if returned to their country of origin could apply for refugee status, and, according to an international organization, some victims did so during the reporting period. There were no publicly available reports of government assistance to repatriated Venezuelan trafficking victims during the reporting period.
The Venezuelan government continued to raise awareness of human trafficking through public service announcements and an awareness campaign. The Interior and Justice Ministry’s directorate of crime prevention was responsible for coordinating government anti-trafficking efforts; there was no permanent anti-trafficking interagency body. Officials reported on anti-trafficking efforts to the media on an ad hoc basis. While authorities reported conducting anti-trafficking seminars in tourism destinations for tourism service providers and government officials, there appeared to be no publicly available reports of new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions for child sex tourism in 2012. The government did not report any specific activities to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor during the year.