The government increased prosecution efforts. Article 153 of the penal code criminalized sex and labor trafficking, prescribing penalties of eight to 15 years imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law defined trafficking broadly to include all forms of labor exploitation. Article 168-B of Legislative Decree No.1232 prescribed a six-year minimum sentence for forced labor, which increased to a minimum of 12 years if the victim was 14-18 years old, or a 15-year minimum if the victim was younger than 14. Other laws criminalized elements of sex trafficking: profiting from sex trafficking carried penalties of three to 10 years imprisonment (20 years if the victim was younger than 14, 15 years if the victim was aged 14-17); pimping carried penalties of two to five years imprisonment (four to five years if the victim was younger than 18). Peruvian law also criminalized child sex tourism and prescribed penalties ranging from four to eight years imprisonment or eight to 10 years imprisonment under aggravating circumstances. The government continued to introduce the New Criminal Procedures Code, implementing it in 28 of 31 judicial districts by February 2018. The new criminal code did not require victims of trafficking to submit a complaint in order for the government to prosecute a suspected trafficker.
Peru’s overlapping legal framework on human trafficking and related crimes sometimes caused confusion for police, prosecutors, and judges in determining the appropriate charges, particularly in cases of alleged sex trafficking. For example, prosecutors often charged lesser, more readily provable offenses, such as pimping, that carried significantly lower penalties than trafficking offenses. Even when sex trafficking charges were filed, officials reported judges often reduced them to lesser charges, particularly in cases involving adult female victims. Judges applied the law unevenly in cases involving child victims; they occasionally ignored victims’ ages and therefore failed to apply the harsher penalty provisions applicable for crimes involving child victims. Prosecutors reported challenges in obtaining convictions in cases where traffickers used psychological coercion, rather than physical force or confinement, to compel victims into sex or labor exploitation.
Although several ministries operated data collection systems to track their anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection efforts, the government lacked a single authoritative system to record all government actions, making it difficult for authorities to assess efforts and identify trends. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the public ministry, however, tested an integrated data collection system during the year. Police reported conducting 865 anti-trafficking operations in 2017 (764 in 2016), resulting in the arrest of 410 suspected traffickers (427 in 2016). The public ministry’s anti-trafficking unit reported participating in 122 anti-trafficking operations and investigating 228 suspected traffickers’ cases. Authorities did not report specific details for all operations, including how many victims were identified or received protection services. Several operations involved large, coordinated raids on fraudulent employment agencies and bar-brothels, each resulting in multiple arrests and possible victims removed from the trafficking situation. Police often conducted raids on commercial sex establishments with limited intelligence-gathering and ineffective victim identification procedures. The government did not report comprehensive data on the total number of prosecutions initiated, convictions obtained, or sentencing information for trafficking offenses in 2017. However, the public ministry reported its trafficking-related prosecutions resulted in 50 court decisions in 2017, compared with 18 in 2016. Thirty-three of these cases resulted in convictions (13 in 2016). In one case, a court in Cusco issued Peru’s longest-ever sentence in a trafficking case—35 years—to a trafficker convicted of subjecting four teenage girls to child sex trafficking. In July 2017, prosecutors opened a case charging two individuals under forced labor and aggravated human trafficking statutes following a June industrial fire at an illegal counterfeiting operation that resulted in the deaths of two workers, including a 17-year-old, who had been locked inside. One U.S. citizen arrested in December 2015 for suspected sex trafficking remained in custody while under investigation in Peru; police arrested an alleged accomplice in April 2017.
The government operated eight specialized anti-trafficking regional prosecutor offices and maintained 147 specialized anti-trafficking police officers. The MOI’s overall anti-trafficking budget increased to 7.5 million soles ($2.3 million) in 2017, from approximately 826,000 soles ($255,250) in 2016, the majority of which it spent on police hiring, operations, training, and equipment. Nevertheless, poor communication and coordination between police and prosecutors sometimes compromised efforts to identify and assist victims and investigate cases, especially during law enforcement operations. NGOs and regional officials reported regional police often did not involve the national anti-trafficking police or public ministry in their cases and did not share investigative information with prosecutors. Inadequate budgets for personnel and logistical support, combined with inconsistent regional and local government capacity, hindered law enforcement efforts; this was particularly acute in regions where trafficking occurred in remote locales with limited government presence. In partnership with NGOs and an international organization, officials trained police, prosecutors, and other officials on trafficking, including how to differentiate between sex trafficking and other prostitution-related crimes. The MOI conducted several sessions to certify police officers to train additional law enforcement officials and the public ministry provided training for prosecutors and police. Authorities coordinated with foreign governments on trafficking investigations; the government maintained bilateral counter-trafficking agreements with Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador and signed new agreements with Chile and Argentina.
The government did not report any new investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses; however, corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. NGOs and government officials reported widespread corruption in Peruvian law enforcement and judicial systems severely hampered anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts. Government officials, NGOs, and victims reported police engaged in extortion and threatened nightclub and brothel owners with sex trafficking charges; they falsely charged victims trying to escape bars or brothels with crimes such as theft or trafficking and accepted money to close investigations, drop charges, or exonerate traffickers, including by compelling victims to sign declarations absolving their traffickers. Some judges and prosecutors may have accepted bribes to downgrade trafficking charges to lesser crimes. Some officials’ involvement in the mining industry posed a conflict of interest that impeded law enforcement action against trafficking in mining areas. Government officials and NGOs reported some police officers, including members of the specialized anti-trafficking units, accepted bribes from bar-brothels and illegal mining sites to avoid police anti-trafficking raids. A former member of congress remained under investigation for allegedly operating a hotel where child sex trafficking occurred. The government did not track accusations against or involvement of government officials in trafficking cases.