NICARAGUA: Tier 2 Watch List
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 demonstrated significant efforts during the reporting period by reactivating its national anti-trafficking coalition; investigating, prosecuting, and convicting traffickers; and providing limited victim services. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. Continuing a multiyear trend, authorities identified fewer victims and prosecuted and convicted significantly fewer traffickers. The government decreased its already inadequate level of funding for victim services and did not cooperate with NGOs in victim assistance or in the national coalition. 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. Therefore Nicaragua remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the second consecutive year.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR NICARAGUA
Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers; increase funding for victim protection, including through financing the trafficking fund, and provide specialized services for trafficking victims; develop and vigorously implement formal procedures for identifying victims among vulnerable populations and effectively refer victims to appropriate services; partner with NGOs to ensure victims receive long-term care and reintegration services; amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of human trafficking consistent with international law; increase training for government officials—including social workers, labor inspectors, and law enforcement officials—to facilitate increased victim identification and assistance, including securing restitution; strengthen law enforcement and victim protection efforts in the Caribbean Autonomous Regions, including through increased staff and funding; improve coordination and cooperation with NGOs, including by inviting NGOs to hold formal membership on both the national and local anti-trafficking coalitions; and publish the anti-trafficking national action plan and annually report on progress toward its objectives.
The government maintained minimal law enforcement efforts. The Law against Trafficking in Persons of 2015 criminalized sex and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from 10 to 15 years imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, coercion, or deceit as an aggravating factor rather than an essential element of the crime; the penalties increased to 16 to 18 years imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving these factors. The penalty for child trafficking increased to 19 to 20 years imprisonment. The law also defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation.
Authorities reported initiating five investigations in 2017—three sex trafficking and two forced labor—compared to eight sex trafficking investigations in 2016. The government prosecuted two suspects, compared to 13 in 2016. In 2017, the government convicted three traffickers, two for sex trafficking and one for forced begging, compared to nine convicted sex traffickers in 2016. In 2017, the two sex traffickers received prison sentences ranging from 19 to 20 years each. Observers reported weak rule of law and judicial corruption adversely affected legal proceedings in the country, including trafficking cases. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses. The government trained investigators, prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials on trafficking indicators. The government reported cooperating with two foreign governments involving Nicaraguan nationals, but did not report the results of this cooperation.
The government maintained minimal protection efforts. The government identified 12 trafficking victims, including three adults, five girls, and four boys—six sex trafficking and six forced labor victims. This is compared with 13 in 2016, 30 in 2015, and 51 in 2014. The government provided 10 of these victims with temporary shelter, medical care, and legal assistance; NGOs provided two victims services. NGOs reported identifying and assisting 10 additional victims, including Nicaraguan and foreign men, women, and children exploited in both sex and labor trafficking. Authorities did not have formal procedures for identifying victims among vulnerable populations, such as individuals in prostitution, migrants, or working children. Officials identified fewer victims in the autonomous regions than other regions, where identification and referral mechanisms were lacking.
The government reported providing limited assistance for victims of gender-based violence, which included trafficking victims, but did not provide funding for specialized services or shelters. NGOs reported the government closed the offices of the specialized women’s unit and its short-term shelters, which has led to challenges in coordination between the government and NGOs. There were no shelters available for men. The government did not provide long-term care, and the availability of extended services from NGOs was limited. The government did not provide funding to or collaborate with NGOs that provided the majority of victim protection, sometimes leaving victims without vital assistance. The government put some child victims at risk of re-victimization by placing them with family members who may have been complicit in their 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, for the third year, the government did not make it operational. The Ministry of Family provided funding for services through its annual budget, but these appropriations decreased by 32 percent in 2017. Victims may obtain damages by filing civil suits against traffickers; however, the government and NGOs reported that in practice victims had never exercised this right. The government did not report assisting Nicaraguan victims through its diplomatic missions overseas despite evidence of Nicaraguan victims of both sex trafficking and forced labor in Spain, Panama, and Costa Rica. Authorities sometimes detained victims for questioning, but there were no other reports of victims penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. The government reported screening for indicators of trafficking among migrant populations and those involved in prostitution, but failed to identify any labor trafficking victims or foreign victims. Nicaraguan law provided for humanitarian visas for foreign trafficking victims, but the government did not report granting any such visas in 2017.
The government maintained some efforts to prevent trafficking. The government reactivated its national anti-trafficking coalition, but it lacked a legally required executive secretariat, and its various working groups did not cover all regional, departmental, and municipal jurisdictions. For a third consecutive year, the national coalition and its regional working groups did not meet with NGOs, despite requirements under Law 896 that the coalition include an NGO representative. The government reported it developed a national action plan, but did not publish the plan or otherwise provide its contents. The government reported it conducted research, monitored its efforts, met to track trends and cases, and provided a report of its activities to the National Assembly; however, it had not made its research or report public. The government reported it conducted and funded 511 prevention campaigns during the reporting period targeting students, faculty, parents, indigenous communities, and community leaders along border towns and tourism destinations. Some Nicaraguans could not easily obtain national identification cards, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking. The Ministry of Labor reported that it monitored private employment agencies, which must be registered under Nicaraguan law, but no cases of forced labor were identified. The government did not provide 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 2017, although NGOs reported child sex tourism continued to be an issue in the country. The government made limited efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor.
As reported over the past five years, 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 countries, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. 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. During the reporting period, Nicaraguans were reported as sex and labor trafficking victims in Panama and Spain. In addition, children left by these migrants in Nicaragua reportedly become vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. 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. 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.