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NICARAGUA: Tier 2 Watch List

The Government of Nicaragua does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included developing and publishing a national action plan, launching a strategy for victim identification and assistance, and providing limited victim services. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period. The government did not prosecute or convict any traffickers and continued a multi-year trend by identifying fewer victims. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses despite endemic official corruption and widespread complicity. The government did not cooperate with NGOs in the national anti-trafficking coalition. Prosecution, protection, and prevention efforts in the two Caribbean autonomous regions of Nicaragua continued to be much weaker than in the rest of the country. Because the government has devoted sufficient resources to a written plan that, if implemented, would constitute significant efforts to meet the minimum standards, Nicaragua was granted a waiver per the Trafficking Victims Protection Act from an otherwise required downgrade to Tier 3. Therefore Nicaragua remained on Tier 2 Watch List for the third consecutive year.

Significantly increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials. • Vigorously implement the National Strategy for Comprehensive Attention to Victims of Trafficking in Persons by identifying victims, including among vulnerable populations, and effectively refer victims to appropriate services. • Partner with NGOs to provide victims long-term care and reintegration services. • Increase funding for victim protection, including through financing the trafficking fund, and provide specialized services for trafficking victims; fulfill the requirement under Law 896 to include the Nicaraguan Coordinating Federation of NGOs working with Children and Adolescents (CODENI) to represent NGOs in the National Coalition against Human Trafficking (NCATIP). • Amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of trafficking consistent with international law. • Increase training for government officials—including social workers, labor inspectors, and law enforcement officials—to facilitate increased victim identification and assistance, including securing restitution. • Strengthen law enforcement and victim protection efforts in the Caribbean Autonomous Regions, including through increased staff and funding. • Annually report on progress in implementing the national action plan.

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. The Law against Trafficking in Persons of 2015 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, coercion, or deceit as an aggravating factor rather than an essential element of the crime; the penalties increased to 16 to 18 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving these factors. The penalty for child trafficking increased to 19 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law also defined trafficking broadly to include all labor exploitation and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation.

Authorities reported initiating four investigations in 2018—two sex trafficking and two forced labor—compared with five investigations in 2017—three sex trafficking and two forced labor. The government did not prosecute any suspects in 2018 compared with two suspects in 2017 and 13 in 2016. In 2018, the government did not convict any suspects, compared with three traffickers (two for sex trafficking and one for forced begging) in 2017 and nine convicted sex traffickers in 2016. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses despite endemic official corruption and widespread complicity. Officials within at least four of the government agencies in the NCATIP perpetrated, led, or authorized human rights violations, creating an environment of impunity and decreasing the likelihood of victims reporting trafficking in persons. The government, with support from international organizations, trained investigators, prosecutors, judges, and other law enforcement officials on trafficking.

The government maintained minimal protection efforts. The government identified six trafficking victims, including four adults and two girls—four sex trafficking and two forced labor victims. This compared with 12 in 2017, 13 in 2016, 30 in 2015, and 51 in 2014. The government provided six victims—four domestic and two foreign national victims—with medical care, and legal assistance; NGOs provided two victims with shelter and services, while family and friends offered shelter to the other four victims. The government developed and published a National Strategy for Comprehensive Attention to Victims of Trafficking in Persons, which described the process for identifying and assisting victims. However, the government did not report whether it used this new strategy to identify victims, including among vulnerable populations, such as individuals in prostitution, migrants, or working children. Officials did not identify any victims in the autonomous regions where one-sixth of the population resided and where identification and referral mechanisms were lacking.

The government reported providing limited assistance for victims through allocations to government institutions responsible for anti-trafficking efforts, but it did not provide a figure for these allocations nor did it provide specific funding for specialized services or shelters. The government reported it referred two victims to NGOs for shelter and services; however, NGOs reported the government referred only one victim. There were no shelters available for men.

According to the government, adult victims were not free to leave shelters without supervision. The government did not provide long-term care, and the availability of extended services from NGOs was limited. The government did not provide funding to or collaborate with NGOs that provided the majority of victim protection, sometimes leaving victims without vital assistance. Observers reported the government maintained an unofficial policy of placing victims with family members, which puts these individuals at risk of re-victimization by family members who may have been complicit in their exploitation. The Ministry of Family coordinated services to child trafficking victims, including medical and legal services and access to education. Both Managua and regions outside Managua most affected by trafficking largely lacked adequate services.

Law 896 established a dedicated fund for victim protection and prevention activities to be financed through budget allocation, donations, and seized assets from traffickers. However, for the fourth year, the government did not make it operational. Law 896 provided victims the ability to testify in advance of the trial and allowed testimony via video or written statement to encourage participation and protect a victim’s identity; however, the government did not report using these provisions during the reporting period. Victims may obtain damages by filing civil suits against traffickers; however, the government and NGOs reported that in practice victims had never exercised this right. The government, through its diplomatic mission, facilitated some communication between 25 Nicaraguan victims identified in Spain and their families. Authorities sometimes detained victims for questioning, but there were no other reports of victims penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking. The government reported screening for indicators of trafficking among migrant populations and those involved in prostitution, but did not report whether screening resulted in the identification of victims. Nicaraguan law provided for humanitarian visas for foreign trafficking victims, and the government provided one foreign national victim with such a visa.

The government maintained efforts to prevent trafficking. The government reported the NCATIP led 15 departmental and 43 municipal working groups, which, according to civil society, engaged in capacity building and awareness raising on trafficking. For a fourth consecutive year, the NCATIP did not fulfill the requirement under Law 896 to include CODENI to represent NGOs. While the NCATIP engaged with two civil society organizations, 39 other such organizations reported the NCATIP excluded them from their activities. The government developed and published a national action plan for 2018-2022, which focused on awareness raising; increasing technical capacity to investigate, prosecute, and sentence traffickers; protecting the rights of victims and witnesses and providing assistance; and monitoring and implementing the plan. The government reported it conducted research, monitored its efforts, and met to track trends and cases; however, it had not made its research or monitoring reports public. The government reported it conducted and funded prevention campaigns, which included town halls, radio spots, and brochures targeting students, faculty, parents, indigenous communities, and community leaders along border towns and tourism destinations. The government reported having a 24-hour hotline to report cases and provide information on trafficking and gender-based violence, but it did not report whether any calls led to trafficking investigations or the identification of victims. During the reporting period, more Nicaraguans encountered problems obtaining national identification cards, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking and limited their ability to access public services. Nicaraguan law criminalized knowingly engaging in sex acts with a sex trafficking victim, but officials did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any suspects of such acts. The government required private employment agencies to register and established minimum wages and maximum hours for adult and adolescent domestic workers; it, however, did not report identifying forced labor in these sectors. Labor inspectors conducted 214 inspections in bars and nightclubs, but no cases of forced labor were identified. The government reported more than 6,000 businesses had subscribed to an agreement with the Ministry of Tourism to monitor and report suspected child sexual exploitation in the industry. The government also cooperated with the United States to deny entry to convicted sex offenders. Authorities did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any tourists for the purchase of commercial sex acts from children, although NGOs reported child sex tourism continued to be an issue in the country.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Nicaragua, and traffickers exploit victims from Nicaragua abroad. Groups considered most vulnerable to human trafficking in Nicaragua include women, children, and migrants. Nicaraguan women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country and in other Central American countries, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Victims’ family members are often complicit in their exploitation. Traffickers increasingly use social media sites to recruit their victims who are attracted by promises of high salaries outside of Nicaragua for work in restaurants, hotels, construction, and security. Traffickers also recruit their victims in rural areas or border regions with false promises of high-paying jobs in urban centers and tourist locales, where they are subjected to sex or labor trafficking. Nicaraguan women and children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in the two Caribbean Autonomous Regions, where the lack of strong law enforcement institutions, rampant poverty, and a higher crime rate increase the vulnerability of the local population. Nicaraguans who migrate to other Central American countries and Europe are reportedly vulnerable to and have been reported to be victims of sex and labor trafficking. In addition, experts report children left by migrants in Nicaragua are vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Nicaraguan adults and children are subjected to labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, mining, the informal sector, and domestic service within the country and in Costa Rica, Panama, the United States, and other countries. Children in artisanal mining and quarrying are vulnerable to forced labor. Observers report traffickers exploit children through forced participation in illegal drug production and trafficking. Children and persons with disabilities are subjected to forced begging, particularly in Managua and near tourist centers. Male migrants from Central American countries transit Nicaragua en route to Costa Rica and Panama in search of employment; some are subjected to labor trafficking in these destination countries. Nicaragua is a destination for child sex tourists from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.

U.S. Department of State

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