The government maintained law enforcement efforts in some areas. Throughout 2018, the government utilized Article 124 of its criminal code, which criminalized all forms of labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking. Inconsistent with international law, 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. The law also defined trafficking broadly to include “child adoption for commercial purposes.” Article 124 prescribed penalties of house arrest for up to five years or five to eight years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent. However, with respect to sex trafficking, by allowing for house arrest in lieu of imprisonment, these penalties were not commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes. On January 1, 2019, the government adopted amendments to the criminal code which addressed these gaps. Article 171 of the new code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of two and a half to five years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. The amended law also removed the requirement of a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child trafficking offense and removed “child adoption for commercial purposes” as a form of exploitation under the definition of trafficking, thereby bringing the definition of trafficking in line with international law. Prosecutors could also charge traffickers using Article 260 for engaging a person in prostitution through the use of force or the threat of force or fraud, which was punishable by a fine or imprisonment of three to five years if the victim was an adult, five to 10 years’ imprisonment if the victim was 14-17 years old, and 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment if the victim was younger than 14 years old.
The government initiated two trafficking investigations under Article 124 in calendar year 2018 but provided no additional information, such as how many involved sex or labor trafficking. The government reported initiating eight additional investigations under Article 124, all of which involved adoption fraud with no evidence of exploitation. In comparison, the government conducted four trafficking investigations in 2017. The government prosecuted eight suspects under Article 124, however all eight were involved in fraudulent adoption, rather than trafficking offenses. The government prosecuted seven alleged traffickers in 2017 and five in 2016. The government reported that Kyrgyz courts convicted five individuals under Article 124 during the first nine months of 2018, compared with convictions of seven traffickers in 2017. Limited data was available on sentencing; one trafficker was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment. In addition, the government opened 65 investigations of trafficking-related crimes, including pimping and brothel maintenance.
Advocates for victims reported there was a general lack of proactive investigation, especially if victims did not make a specific, well-supported complaint. Civil society actors reported the need for systemic training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges, particularly on how to identify victims, work with them as witnesses, and gather evidence outside of victim testimony. The government, in conjunction with international funding and partners, trained 1,112 officials, including judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement. An international organization noted that many of these trainings focused on a victim-centric approach.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking cases remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement actions during the year. NGOs and international organizations reported law enforcement officials accepted bribes to drop cases and sometimes warned suspects prior to raids; legal researchers reported that changes to the criminal procedure code, implemented in January 2019, would reduce the likelihood that such bribes would be successful. Traffickers were reportedly also able to avoid punishment by offering victims payment to drop cases.