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BOLIVIA: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Bolivia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government made key achievements during the reporting period; therefore Bolivia was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List. These achievements included investigating and convicting traffickers; verifiably identifying victims; approving a victim referral mechanism; and developing and training law enforcement officials on the newly adopted victim identification protocol. Despite these achievements, the government did not vigorously convict traffickers, including complicit officials; services for victims remained inadequate; and efforts to address labor trafficking remained insufficient.

Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials and perpetrators of labor trafficking. • Implement and train officials on the use of established protocols for the proactive identification of trafficking victims among vulnerable populations and for the referral of victims to care services. • Train officials on the difference between human smuggling and human trafficking. • Increase specialized victim services, and fund and collaborate with NGOs to assist in the provision of those services. • Encourage victims to cooperate with law enforcement by ceasing investigations of “false allegations.” • Train all labor inspectors on victim identification and increase inspections in sectors with high vulnerability to trafficking. • Increase the time law enforcement officials serve in anti-trafficking units to preserve institutional knowledge. • Amend the anti-trafficking law to ensure that a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion is not required to constitute a child sex trafficking offense. • Train Ministry of Health staff conducting medical screenings on vulnerable populations on trafficking indicators. • Strengthen engagement and coordination with civil society on technical, budgetary, and policy matters related to trafficking. • Improve interagency coordination on data sharing and improve data collection of anti-trafficking efforts, including distinguishing human trafficking from other crimes. • Expedite the issuance of humanitarian visas for victims of trafficking. • Increase awareness of “Triple Seal” certification among businesses to reduce the demand for forced labor.

The government increased law enforcement efforts. Law 263 of 2012—the Comprehensive Law against Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons—criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for adult trafficking, and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for child trafficking. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the definition of trafficking under Article 281bis of the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. However, Article 322 of the law criminalized all commercial sex acts involving children, thereby addressing this gap. Article 322 prescribed penalties of 8 to 12 years’ imprisonment, which were also sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape. Article 281bis defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation, the sale of organs, and unlawful biomedical research. In addition, Article 321 of Law 2033, which criminalized pimping using force, fraud, or coercion, was used to prosecute sex trafficking crimes. The law prescribed significantly lower penalties of 3 to 7 years’ imprisonment for adults, and 4 to 10 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving children. While Law 263 created separate criminal offenses for trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling, one government agency was responsible for both crimes; that agency often conflated the two crimes in its collection of data and response to perpetrators and potential victims of trafficking.

The government reported investigating 281 cases of trafficking, including 13 cases for pimping. Authorities prosecuted 55 trafficking cases, including nine for pimping (44 in 2017). Authorities convicted two traffickers, one under the trafficking law and the second under article 321. Authorities did not specify how many of these cases were labor or sex trafficking, and these cases likely included other crimes not considered trafficking under international law. The government did not provide sentencing data for those convicted in 2018. Observers reported the vast majority of arrested suspects, including traffickers, served time in pre-trial detention without ever receiving a final sentence and often avoiding justice by paying bribes to corrupt officials to avoid prosecution. General backlogs in the judiciary, insufficient resources and personnel, and poor training of law enforcement officials impeded law enforcement efforts. Observers reported each prosecutor was responsible for 800 to 1,000 cases, leading to a slow administration of justice. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any new cases of official complicity. In the nightclub case dating back to 2016, the government indicted three complicit officials for trafficking crimes, including two police officers and a municipal employee. In the 2017 case involving the prosecution of two individuals on politically motivated trafficking allegations, authorities reported insufficient evidence to prosecute.

International organizations and NGOs provided training workshops for government officials, including police officers, judges, prosecutors, and immigration authorities. Additionally, the Ministry of Government (MOG) and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) organized anti-trafficking capacity building opportunities for members of the judiciary, reaching approximately 292 officials, including judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officials. The La Paz police department’s anti-trafficking unit maintained 18 police investigators and other departments’ anti-trafficking units allotted three to five investigators. Police officials rotated into new positions every three months to one year, resulting in a cyclical loss of institutional knowledge and impeding specialization in trafficking crimes. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) provided basic training to newly hired labor inspectors on child labor, including indicators of forced labor. In 2018, authorities reported investigating 52 cases of child labor, some that could have been labor trafficking. The 2017 forced labor case involving 17 adults and eight children from the Guarani indigenous group exploited in the sugarcane harvest remained open at the end of the reporting period.

The government increased protection efforts. The government reported identifying and assisting 15 victims of trafficking. In 2018, the government adopted a new victim identification handbook for law enforcement officials, and updated and approved a victim referral mechanism. Authorities trained 74 law enforcement officials on the use of the victim identification handbook. The Ministry of Health administered periodic medical tests to individuals in prostitution but did not screen for trafficking indicators. The MOL employed 14 labor inspectors specifically charged with investigating cases of child labor and forced labor, and an additional 92 labor inspectors, who had authority to investigate potential forced labor cases if they encountered them during their routine inspections. Authorities did not report identifying any victims of forced labor.

The government provided in-kind support but relied on private organizations, faith-based groups, foreign donors, and NGOs to fund and provide most victim services. The government did not provide specialized shelters for victims; however, six out of nine department governments had multi-use shelters for victims of domestic violence that accepted female trafficking victims, each reportedly underfunded. Due to the small number of shelters, police were often unable to secure safe accommodation for trafficking victims identified in raids and reportedly gave victims money for hotel rooms for a night. The government did not provide any specialized services to adult male victims, but they could receive basic assistance at migrant shelters. Authorities referred boy trafficking victims to NGOs, private shelters, and religious organizations for assistance.

The government did not provide an update on efforts to publish a list of “false victims” of trafficking crimes meant to dissuade “false allegations” by members of the public. The publication of such a list could serve as a means to penalize or otherwise discourage victims from reporting crimes or participating in investigations or the judicial process. Inclusion on the list also endangers victims. Foreign victims who assisted in the case against their traffickers could receive a humanitarian visa, but the process often took years and victims were unable to work during that time. The government issued 248 humanitarian visas from 2014 to 2018 but did not indicate how many it issued to victims of trafficking. The government had a protocol for the repatriation of victims identified abroad. Authorities assisted nine individuals using this protocol and provided consular assistance and protection services for 20 foreign victims in 2018. The government allowed the use of Gesell chambers in seven of nine departments, and in lieu of testifying in person, victims could provide recorded testimony or submit a written statement to the court. The government did not report using these provisions to encourage victims to cooperate in the case against their traffickers. Under Bolivian law, victims and their prosecutors could request restitution for damages from the sentencing judge. When victims did not participate in the case against their traffickers, they or their prosecutors could still file restitution claims within three months of sentencing. The government did not report whether any victim or prosecutor sought restitution in trafficking cases.

The government increased prevention efforts. The Plurinational Council against Human Trafficking and Smuggling, chaired by the MOJ, was the entity responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts at the national level. Two sub-ministerial units were responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts at the technical level. Observers noted a lack of interagency coordination, in part due to overlapping mandates. The government used the 2015-2020 national action plan and continued developing the 2016-2020 multiregional plan for the coordination of trafficking efforts among the nine autonomous regions. Jointly with an international organization, the government began the development of a database to consolidate trafficking cases. The government did not approve or implement the 2014 protocol for the early detection of populations vulnerable to trafficking.

The council’s national policy to implement Law 263 required each department to develop anti-trafficking plans; by the end of 2018, seven of nine departments had developed and begun implementing a plan, an increase from two of nine in 2017. In previous years, traffickers exploited the absence of a national registry of employment agencies to establish or abuse existing informal temporary employment agencies, through which they identified and recruited potential victims. In 2018, the government adopted a federal registry requiring all employment agencies to register and provide the MOL all recruitment and job placement records.

The Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office launched an awareness campaign focused on educating students nationwide on detecting fraudulent recruitment and informing on labor rights. The campaign reached approximately 18,700 students. The government conducted a separate awareness campaign educating the general population of fraudulent recruitment practices, and developed and aired information segments for an investigative documentary on trafficking that aired in 52 media outlets. The national police conducted courses on trafficking awareness targeting students, parents, and teachers, reaching approximately 1,300 people, and in coordination with an NGO, police officials provided informational pamphlets on trafficking awareness to individuals attending a concert hosted by an NGO focused on TIP. The MOG conducted two awareness campaigns and organized several events and workshops in departments with a high prevalence of trafficking, including Cochabamba and El Alto. The campaigns targeted the public and reached approximately 30,000 people. The Institute for Normalization of Quality, a semi-autonomous government agency, operated a “triple seal” certification program for sugar producers whose final products were certified to be free of child and forced labor, which could reduce the demand for forced labor. Officials reported that 149 companies obtained the seal in 2018. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Bolivia. Traffickers exploit Bolivian men, women, and children in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country and abroad. To a more limited extent, traffickers exploited women from neighboring countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Paraguay, in sex trafficking in Bolivia. Bolivia serves as a transit and destination country for migrants from Africa, Chile, and the Caribbean, some of whom become victims of sex trafficking and forced labor. Rural and poor Bolivians, most of whom are indigenous, and LGBTI youth are particularly vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Bolivian women and girls are exploited in sex trafficking within Bolivia and neighboring countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Panama, Peru, and Chile. Within the country, traffickers exploit Bolivian men, women, and children in forced labor in domestic work, mining, ranching, and agriculture. Media report cases of children forced to commit crimes, such as robbery and drug production, and others exploited in forced begging. Traffickers exploit a significant number of Bolivians in forced labor in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile in sweatshops, agriculture, brick-making, domestic work, textile factories, and the informal sector.

U.S. Department of State

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