COSTA RICA: Tier 2

The Government of Costa Rica does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore Costa Rica remained on Tier 2. These efforts included investigating and convicting more traffickers, taking law enforcement action against complicit government officials, amending the law to establish force, fraud, and coercion as essential elements and remove movement as a required element of the offense, and providing more funding for services to victims. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Disbursement of government-funded resources to address trafficking fell short of allocations and remained insufficient overall. Civil society organizations reported authorities did not always implement referral mechanisms in an effective or timely manner or in coordination with them.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish traffickers. • Reduce the significant backlog of trafficking cases in the judicial system. • Increase victim identification and referral, particularly in coordination and collaboration with civil society. • Conduct thorough and transparent criminal investigations of alleged government complicity in trafficking offenses and prosecute, convict, and punish complicit officials. • Increase disbursement of funds for victim services and provide specialized shelter and services for trafficking victims in partnership with civil society organizations. • Increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict child sex tourists and others who purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims. • Increase anti-trafficking training for police, prosecutors, and judges. • Improve data collection on law enforcement and victim protection efforts.

PROSECUTION

The government increased law enforcement efforts. Article 172 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of six to 10 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim, and eight to 16 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law defined trafficking broadly to include labor exploitation and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation. In May 2018, the Legislative Assembly amended the law to establish force, fraud, and coercion as essential elements and remove movement as a required element of the offense. In addition to Article 172, officials used trafficking-related offenses to prosecute trafficking cases, including aggravated pimping (Article 170) and coerced pimping (Article 171), both of which prescribed penalties ranging from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. Article 189 criminalized forced labor or services and prescribed penalties of six to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Costa Rica had two police forces involved in trafficking investigations—the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) and the Professional Migration Police. The Attorney General’s Office supervised both investigative units. The Attorney General’s Office reported investigating 74 cases total—45 cases of sex trafficking (article 172), 18 cases of aggravated pimping (article 170), and 11 cases of forced labor or services (article 189)—compared to 62 cases in 2017. The government initiated 12 prosecutions and convicted 10 traffickers under article 172 to sentences ranging from five to 60 years’ imprisonment, compared to 41 new prosecutions and five convictions under article 172 in 2017. The most notable case involved a large-scale transnational labor trafficking case investigated by Costa Rican and Panamanian officials where alleged traffickers recruited adults and children from China and India with false promises of stable jobs and legal status. Traffickers charged these individuals upwards of $20,000 for transportation and subsequently forced at least 14 victims to work in restaurants, bars, and markets to pay off their debts. The investigation resulted in the arrest of 31 individuals, including 12 government officials who allegedly accepted bribes to allow victims to enter the country without proper documentation. Five of these officials remained in custody at the close of the reporting period and seven were released on bond pending trial. Authorities also convicted and sentenced a police officer to three years’ imprisonment for assisting a trafficking network operating out of a bar; the officer appealed the sentence. The government reported the former mayor indicted for establishing a trafficking network in 2011 still awaited trial. The government continued to investigate and prosecute individuals that paid child trafficking victims for commercial sex, resulting in 22 convictions in 2018, compared with three convictions in 2017 and at least one conviction in 2016; however, officials noted data was incomplete in previous years.

Observers noted improvements in coordination between the Attorney General and OIJ, but a significant backlog of criminal cases, including trafficking cases, slowed prosecutions. The Supreme Court approved and dedicated funds for the implementation of a judicial branch action plan, which prioritized capacity building for the Attorney General, OIJ, and judicial authorities and public awareness-raising on how to identify trafficking. The government provided anti-trafficking training to law enforcement, prosecutors, immigration officials, labor officials, child welfare officials, educational professionals, and civil society members. The government’s interagency anti-trafficking body, the National Coalition against Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons (CONATT), invested 133 million colones ($220,430) in a program to improve coordination between immigration officials and other law enforcement officials, which resulted in an increase in investigations by immigration officials.

PROTECTION

The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 20 trafficking victims (eight sex trafficking, four forced labor, one both sex trafficking and forced labor, three domestic servitude, and four both domestic servitude and sexual exploitation) under the trafficking law, compared to 34 in 2017 and three in 2015. Four of the victims were Costa Rican, six were Nicaraguan, three were Honduran, two were Colombian, one was Venezuelan, two were Dominican, one was Chinese, and one was Panamanian. The government provided shelter and health, legal, and psychological services to 20 victims and 10 dependents during the reporting period, including 11 women, five men, 12 girls, and two boys. Law enforcement and immigration authorities used written procedures for identifying victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrants and individuals in prostitution, and referred identified victims to CONATT to coordinate service provision. Public officials used the “Institutional Protocol for the Care of Minors and Survivors of Trafficking in Persons” and the “Interagency Manual of Attention of Minors in Sexual Trafficking, Child Labor, and Dangerous Work” which established the steps officials must take when identifying a possible case of trafficking.

CONATT coordinated assistance to victims, including emergency, short-term, and long-term assistance, which could include food, lodging, healthcare, financial, legal, and psychological services. CONATT secured lodging in either the government’s emergency shelter dedicated to trafficking victims, a safe house operated by civil society, or a longer-term shelter for women and children. The government did not provide dedicated shelters to male trafficking victims, although the emergency shelter and safe houses could accommodate male victims, and the government worked to ensure male victims received adequate services. The government assisted minor victims through a dedicated network of shelters for minors and a government-funded NGO. Authorities had the discretion to refer victims to services on a case-by-case basis; not all victims received the same level of protection. Civil society organizations reported authorities did not always implement referral mechanisms in an effective or timely manner and recommended the government provide transportation for victims to institutions providing assistance. Through the National Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Fund (FONATT), the government disbursed 429.6 million colones ($711,860) for victim services, 583 million colones ($966,030) for prevention programs, and 150 million colones ($248,550) for investigations and prosecutions in 2018, compared to 132 million colones ($218,720) to fund trafficking victim services in 2017 and 122 million colones ($202,150) in 2016. The child welfare agency provided direct funding and a per-victim subsidy for identified victims to an NGO-run shelter for child victims. The government also directed 160.3 million colones ($265,560) to NGOs providing services to trafficking victims in 2018, compared to 97.4 million colones ($161,390) in 2017 and 91 million colones ($150,790) in 2016. Observers reported that, despite dedicated government resources to anti-trafficking efforts, including victim services, the failure to disburse all of the allocated resources hindered the country’s ability to address its trafficking problem. Costa Rican law allowed victims to obtain temporary residency status and work permits, leave the country, file civil suits against their traffickers, and provide testimony outside of court proceedings. Authorities granted 10 victims temporary residency status and work permits, and three victims refugee status in 2018 compared to two victims granted temporary residency status and work permits in 2017. Authorities reported several victims who testified outside of court proceedings in 2018 compared to 17 victims who testified outside of court proceedings in 2017. The government facilitated the repatriation of two victims in 2018, compared to one in 2017.

PREVENTION

The government maintained prevention efforts. CONATT, chaired by the Migration Authority, integrated and coordinated anti-trafficking efforts among 22 public institutions, key NGOs, and international organizations, and maintained sub-commissions focused on attention to victims, prevention, justice, investigation and analysis, and project management. CONATT met periodically to review progress in the areas of research, protection, prevention, and prosecution; and it presented a public report on its accomplishments every four months. CONATT funded and cooperated with an international organization to develop a national anti-trafficking strategy and national action plan, but it did not officially adopt or publish either one during the reporting period. In 2018, the government disbursed 583 million colones ($966,030) for trafficking-specific prevention programs, including a community security program; capacity building for health, immigration, and labor officials, municipal officials, law enforcement, teachers, and community leaders; and awareness-raising. The government engaged in multiple awareness-raising programs, including advertisements, a binational fair and walk with Panama, and workshops, symposia, and training for community and business leaders on how to identify and prevent trafficking. The Judiciary Police operated a hotline to receive confidential criminal complaints, which received approximately 100 calls related to potential trafficking and pimping cases in 2018. The Judiciary Police also operated the 9-1-1 hotline available for general crime reporting, but did not specifically report receiving trafficking calls through that mechanism. The government educated labor recruiters for international and domestic businesses about the consequences of violating the anti-trafficking regulations but did not report investigating or penalizing any labor recruiters for illegal practices that contribute to trafficking. The government raised awareness of child sex tourism, integrated the international code of conduct related to commercial sexual exploitation in the travel and tourism industry into its national tourism program, and provided training in seven tourist zones. Working in collaboration with international partners, the government reported denying entry to 75 foreign-registered sex offenders who attempted to travel to Costa Rica as tourists in 2018.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Costa Rica, and traffickers exploit victims from Costa Rica abroad. Traffickers subject Costa Rican women and children to sex trafficking within the country, with those living in the north and central Pacific coastal zones being particularly vulnerable. Authorities have identified adults using children to transport or sell drugs; some of these children may be trafficking victims. LGBTI persons, particularly transgender Costa Ricans, are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of sex trafficking and domestic servitude. Traffickers subject migrant men, women, and children, primarily from Nicaragua, to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service or sex trafficking. Migrants from other Central American countries, the Caribbean, China, and South America remained vulnerable to trafficking, some en route to the United States. Nicaraguan men and women transit Costa Rica en route to Panama, where some are subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Indigenous Panamanians are also vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture in Costa Rica. Child sex tourism is a serious problem, with child sex tourists arriving mostly from the United States and Europe.

U.S. Department of State

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