The government identified and assisted an increased number of victims; however, protection efforts were cursory and inadequate. In 2018, authorities reported identifying 114 possible victims (96 in 2017 and 68 in 2016). Of these, 67 were possible victims of sex trafficking, 17 in forced labor, four in forced begging, eight in servile marriage, and 13 were unknown. The Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) identified 24 children exploited in trafficking in 2018 (7 on 2017 and 46 in 2016). Authorities reported following a national trafficking victim assistance plan to refer the 114 identified victims to services; however, NGOs and some local officials asserted government-funded victim assistance was cursory and insufficient. The government reported that law enforcement officials used a victim identification protocol developed by an international organization; however, it was unclear whether officials received training on its implementation.
Despite a modest increase in the reported number of victims identified, in one highly publicized case involving more than 250 women and girls, many who were victims of trafficking, the government did not provide adequate services for those identified as victims. Authorities provided an orientation for victims on services available, including information on immigration protections for foreign victims, and ways to participate in the prosecution against their traffickers. The government reported one victim chose to cooperate with law enforcement in the prosecution of her traffickers. Some experts indicated that in some cases, law enforcement officials retrieved data from victims’ phones for evidentiary purposes and released them without referring them to adequate services. Despite the government’s concern with forced labor in areas such as illegal mining, domestic servitude, agriculture near the coffee belt, cattle herding, and crop harvesting, the MOL did not have inspectors trained on victim identification. In 2018, with the support of an international organization, the MOL worked to finalize a victim identification protocol for labor inspectors.
Under Colombian law, the government was responsible for providing victims with emergency assistance and medium-term assistance. Emergency assistance included a medical and psychological examination, clothing, hygiene kits, issuance of travel and identity documents, and shelter for five days with a maximum extension of five additional days. Medium-term assistance included educational services, skills training, assistance with job placement, and economic support for six months with a maximum extension of three additional months. In practice, some observers indicated that there were not enough specialized services available for victims of trafficking, including employment assistance and reintegration services. Government officials indicated that survivors receiving medium-term assistance were also eligible to receive shelter; however, Colombian policy did not stipulate shelter as part of medium-term assistance. The national government did not have dedicated funding for specialized victim services, and it relied solely on individual departments for the provision of services. The ICBF funded emergency assistance for children, but in many parts of the country, it did not fund physical spaces where child victims could go. As a result, there were reports that coordination for adequate services was left to the last minute, making it unreliable and difficult to obtain. The ICBF partially funded six shelters for child and adolescent victims, at least one of which had a multi-disciplinary team trained to work with victims of sexual abuse, including sex trafficking; however, funding was insufficient to provide the comprehensive assistance victims needed. Authorities sometimes placed victims in hotels on a case-by-case basis. The government did not fund other civil society organizations specialized on working with victims of trafficking.
Of the 114 identified victims, the government provided emergency assistance to 114 victims and medium-term assistance to 62, compared to 96 victims in 2017 (37 with emergency assistance and 59 with medium-term assistance). Of those receiving medium-term assistance, 50 received employment assistance, 16 received shelter, 17 medical assistance, 18 psychological assistance, and five received legal advice. The ICBF began restoring the rights of 24 child victims of sex trafficking. According to officials, the process included an evaluation of each case and the provision of mental and physical health services depending on each victim’s needs. In 2018, the government adopted two resolutions to guide officials on actions to guarantee the rights of child victims of trafficking. The government did not provide shelter to victims of forced labor or male victims of trafficking.
The Office of the Ombudsman had 25 trained staff known as duplas; they provided psychological and pro-bono legal assistance to victims of gender-based violence, including trafficking. In 2018, duplas assisted roughly 50 victims. The Ministry of Interior (MOI) reported coordinating with the departmental, municipal, and district committees to provide services for adult victims of trafficking, but did not report if it assisted beyond emergency care. NGOs expressed concern with the lack of financial support from the government and insufficient coordination and communication among agencies to provide care. Civil society organizations reported a case where staff from a domestic violence shelter turned a trafficking victim away because they could not provide specialized care, allegedly leaving the victim unprotected and vulnerable to re-trafficking.
Authorities penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. In a case involving 49 victims of trafficking, including 23 Venezuelan women and girls, the government determined the individuals were not victims of trafficking when they did not self-identify. Authorities reported initiating deportation proceedings to return victims back to Venezuela. In this case, traffickers allegedly forced women to have sex with tourists using debt-based coercion, confiscating their identification documents to control their movements. The victims were living in the same place they were working. The government assisted five trafficking victims through the victim and witness protection program. Some victims were reluctant to report their exploitation or testify against their traffickers due to fear of reprisals or lack of trust in the justice system. In a separate case involving 10 Venezuelan victims of forced criminality, government officials reported providing some psycho-social assistance to victims.
In 2018, the government earmarked 400 million pesos ($123,270) for repatriation assistance, compared with 222.8 million pesos ($68,660) in 2017. The government provided repatriation assistance to seven victims (compared with 35 in 2017), and the ICBF reported providing emergency assistance, birth registration, and school enrollment to the 24 child victims it identified. Under the law, prosecutors could seek restitution for victims; however, the government did not report seeking restitution on any case. The department of Guaviare allocated 215.2 million pesos (approximately $66,320) for its restitution program, but did not report whether it used it. In coordination with an international organization, the government registered and assisted 196 children and adolescents demobilized from illegal armed groups and criminal organizations. NGOs reported some officials working with victims of the armed conflict may not have enough training on victim identification; therefore, some victims may be unidentified and vulnerable to trafficking and new patterns of recruitment.