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 increasing national awareness raising efforts. However, the government did not demonstrate increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government identified significantly fewer victims for the second consecutive year and did not provide or fund adequate services for victims. The government-led anti-trafficking coalition and regional working groups were largely ineffective during the year, and key elements of the trafficking law—such as a dedicated anti-trafficking fund—were not implemented for the second year. 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 was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.
Increase efforts to investigate and prosecute cases involving all forms of human trafficking, and convict and punish traffickers, including child sex tourists; provide specialized services for trafficking victims or dedicate resources for civil society organizations to do so; increase funding for victim protection, including through financing the trafficking fund; implement operating procedures to effectively refer victims to appropriate services; partner with civil society organizations to ensure that 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; institute formal procedures for proactively identifying victims among vulnerable populations in the autonomous regions and those in forced labor; strengthen law enforcement and victim protection efforts in the Caribbean Autonomous Regions, including through increased staff and funding; improve trafficking data collection and coordination across agencies, and improve measures to track anti-trafficking efforts among government entities and share with external stakeholders; reinvigorate the work of the national and local anti-trafficking coalitions, including by appointing a national executive secretariat; and invite a diverse range of civil society organizations to hold formal membership on both the national and local anti-trafficking coalitions.
The government maintained uneven law enforcement efforts, which focused largely on sex trafficking. Law 896 of 2015 criminalizes all forms of trafficking and prescribes penalties ranging from 16 to 18 years imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, the law’s definition of trafficking is inconsistent with international law; it conflates human trafficking with other crimes, such as illegal adoption, and establishes the use of force, coercion, or deceit as an aggravating factor rather than an essential element of most trafficking crimes.
Authorities reported initiating eight sex trafficking investigations and prosecuting 13 suspected sex trafficking offenders in seven cases in 2016, compared to 23 suspects prosecuted in eight cases in 2015. Under law 896, courts of first instance convicted nine sex traffickers in six cases, most of which included child victims, compared to10 sex traffickers convicted in six cases in 2015; in one case, the government reported convicting two individuals for knowingly soliciting a 14 year old to perform commercial sex acts. Convicted traffickers appealed the verdicts and sentences in four of these six cases; appellate courts upheld the convictions in two cases, overturned in one case involving two defendants, and one appeal remained pending. All convicted and sentenced traffickers were sentenced to 10 to 20 years imprisonment. The government did not provide information on the number of prosecutions ongoing from previous years, and reported no labor trafficking investigations or prosecutions. An NGO reported referring an additional four cases for investigation, none of which the government investigated. The government did not identify or prosecute any cases of forced labor, including child domestic servitude during the reporting period. Corruption is widespread in Nicaragua. There were no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. The government reported that its programs to improve awareness of trafficking crimes reached 743 government officials, including investigators, prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials.
The government decreased efforts to identify victims and it maintained limited protection efforts focused solely on Nicaraguan female sex trafficking victims. The government identified 13 Nicaraguan female sex trafficking victims, including four adults and nine children, a decline from 30 victims identified by the government in 2015 and 51 in 2014. The government provided these victims with legal assistance and temporary shelter, food, and medical services. An NGO reported identifying and assisting 11 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 or working children. The government had an internal victim referral process for trafficking cases, but it is unclear if it used the tool to refer any victims during the reporting period. Rather, the government reported referral of six trafficking victims on an ad hoc basis for long-term care to NGO shelters for at-risk children or victims of domestic abuse. Local officials were not adequately trained to recognize all forms of trafficking and identified fewer victims in the autonomous regions than other regions, where identification and referral mechanisms were lacking. There were few specialized services for trafficking victims in Nicaragua. The government maintained two police-operated short-term shelters for victims of domestic violence and human trafficking that served an unknown number of victims; the government closed the offices of the specialized women’s unit that previously operated these shelters, which led to challenges in coordination between the shelters and NGOs. The government did not provide funding to NGOs that provided the majority of victim protection. Services and shelter for boys remained limited and 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 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 second year, the government did not finance it or make it operational. 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. There were no reports of victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, but this may have occurred due to weak identification efforts. 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. Humanitarian visas were available to foreign trafficking victims, although the government did not report any requests for visas.
The government maintained minimal efforts to prevent trafficking. While the government reported that its anti-trafficking coalition was active during the reporting period, for the second year it remained without an executive secretariat to lead and coordinate its efforts. Furthermore, NGOs reported for a second consecutive year the 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 conducted research on human trafficking and met to track trends, cases, and prevention efforts; however, NGOs and former members of the coalition reported they were not aware of these efforts. The government reported it conducted and fully funded 443 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. The government reported it provided 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 2016, although NGOs report that child sex tourism continues 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, and the United States. Many trafficking victims are recruited in rural areas or border regions with false promises of high-paying jobs in urban centers and tourist locales, where they are subjected to sex or labor trafficking. Victims’ family members are often complicit in their exploitation, and traffickers have reportedly increased recruitment activity on social media sites. 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 among the primary nationalities of victims identified in Guatemala. 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. NGOs report 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.