The government increased its anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Law 79 of 2011 criminalizes all forms of trafficking, prescribing sentences from six to 30 years imprisonment, depending on the nature of the offense. These punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. This law also defines human trafficking as moving adults for the purposes of prostitution (without requiring the use of force, fraud, or coercion) and illegal adoption (without requiring evidence of exploitation), which are not considered forms of human trafficking under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. In September 2016, the government issued an Executive Decree approving the issuance of implementing regulations for Law 79, which provides guidance on implementation of the law on prosecution, protection and prevention, including on drafting a new action plan, policy and governance of the National Commission against Human Trafficking, and the creation of technical units for prosecution, protection and prevention activities. Other provisions prohibit various crimes related to child sex trafficking. Article 180 of the penal code criminalizes the “prostitution of minors” with penalties of four to six years imprisonment and a 5,200 balboas ($5,200) fine; these punishments are not sufficiently stringent and are not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 186 penalizes, with five to eight years imprisonment, purchasers of commercial sex acts involving a child. In addition to Law 79, article 89 of Law 3 establishes financial penalties of 1,000-5,000 balboas ($1,000-$5,000) for employers who confiscate foreign workers’ identity documents.
During the reporting period, Panama completed its transition from the inquisitorial justice system to the accusatory justice system in all jurisdictions, which temporarily slowed down processing of trafficking cases. In 2016, with technical assistance from a foreign government, authorities initiated seven sex trafficking investigations involving 13 suspects—as compared to 17 sex trafficking investigations involving 38 suspects during the previous reporting period. The government prosecuted the 13 suspects under the trafficking law, compared with three prosecutions the previous reporting period and obtained convictions for two sex traffickers from pending prosecutions, compared to one the previous reporting period. The government sentenced one of the sex traffickers to 18 years in prison, which was the country’s longest sentence for trafficking to date; it sentenced the other to six years under the child sexual exploitation law. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses. The government continued to detain two suspected labor traffickers in a case from the previous reporting period, pending additional evidence. At least one sex trafficking investigation remained ongoing from the previous reporting period. The government identified five criminal organizations and a complex sex trafficking operation that exploited 52 men and women in a Panama City neighborhood. Although Law 79 does not define trafficking to require movement of the victim, Panamanian officials continued to investigate and prosecute human trafficking cases that did not involve the displacement of individuals, usually across borders, as other crimes, such as commercial sexual exploitation. For example, the government charged some child sex traffickers with child sexual exploitation, which carries lighter sentences.
The Panamanian National Police (PNP) had 28 officers with specialized training in trafficking investigations and worked with the Attorney General’s organized crime office to investigate trafficking cases. During the reporting period, the sex crimes unit of the PNP established a sub-unit dedicated to trafficking crimes. Panamanian authorities cooperated with Central and South American countries on seven sex trafficking operations, including requesting INTERPOL Red Notices on suspects wanted by Panamanian authorities. The government increased training on human trafficking for officials, utilizing a train-the-trainer model that reached more than two-dozen officials from eight ministries.