The government identified an increased number of victims; however, victim protection efforts were cursory and inadequate. In 2019, authorities identified 124 victims of trafficking (compared with 114 in 2018, 96 in 2017 and 68 in 2016), of whom 110 were adults, 14 were children, 109 were female, and 15 were male. Eighty-one were victims exploited in sex trafficking, six in forced labor, 12 in servile marriage, 11 in domestic service, and 14 were unknown. In 2019, authorities identified the first case involving a transgender woman exploited domestically in sex trafficking. The government reported following a national trafficking victim assistance plan to refer victims to services, and it could provide emergency assistance, which 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. In fewer cases, and after administrative approval, authorities could provide medium-term assistance including educational services, job skills training, assistance with job placement, economic support, and legal assistance, including witness protection. The government indicated law enforcement officials used the UNODC victim identification protocol; however, many law enforcement officials working on trafficking cases were not aware of this or any protocol to identify victims. The municipality of Cali, with the support of an international organization, developed a victim identification protocol; however, officials did not report if anyone received training on its use. The government offered some training on victim identification as part of its prevention campaigns. Nonetheless, some experts indicated that in some cases, law enforcement officials retrieved data from victims’ phones for evidentiary purposes and released the victims without referring them to adequate services. Despite the government’s concern with forced labor in areas such as legal and illegal mining, emerald extraction, coal, domestic service, agriculture near the coffee belt, cattle herding, and crop harvesting, the MOL did not train inspectors to identify the crime, and it did not have a protocol for victim identification. Efforts to combat labor trafficking remained deficient, and cases of forced labor were likely overlooked and underreported. In 2019, officials from the MOL held a meeting to introduce a victim identification protocol under development since 2016 to a selected number of officials, but it did not finalize its approval or begin its implementation. Government authorities and NGOs reported that some officials working with victims of the armed conflict did not have enough training on victim identification; therefore, some victims may be unidentified and vulnerable to trafficking and new patterns of recruitment.
The MOI and the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (ICBF) were the entities responsible for victim protection; the former was responsible for the protection of adult victims and the latter responsible for the protection of child and adolescent victims of trafficking. The national government did not have dedicated funding for specialized victim services, and it relied solely on individual departments and municipalities for the provision of services. Government officials and NGOs asserted government-funded victim assistance was cursory and insufficient. While assistance for underage victims was limited and, in some places non-existent, some department ICBF authorities assisted victims and provided outpatient case management services to aid in their recovery. In most parts of the country, department ICBF authorities did not fund physical spaces where child victims could go, and as a result, coordination for services was left to the last minute, making it unreliable and difficult to obtain. The ICBF partially funded two 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. Local ICBF officials in Bogota operated a shelter for underage victims of commercial sexual exploitation that could provide care for trafficking victims but did not report how many victims received care in 2019. Authorities sometimes placed victims in hotels on a case-by-case basis. In contrast, adult victims did not receive specialized shelter assistance or any assistance beyond emergency care despite making up almost 90 percent of victims identified. Authorities did not report if any of the 110 adult victims identified received care in any non-specialized shelter. In addition, for the fourth year in a row, authorities did not fund other civil society organizations that could amplify efforts to protect victims, compared with 2015 when the government was funding a specialized shelter that could assist adult victims of trafficking in Bogota. In 2019, authorities at the national level reportedly requested 107 million pesos ($32,630) to fund third party providers for the provision of victim services. At the local level, municipalities and departments allocated 195 million pesos ($59,470) for prevention and victim protection after a request from the MOI.
According to experts, some victims who did not self-identify were not legally considered victims and faced limitations receiving care. In 2019, authorities provided emergency assistance to 106 victims, 79 received housing, 77 medical care, and 81 psychological assistance (compared with 114 victims that received emergency care in 2018). Officials indicated that 66 victims received medium term assistance, which might have included some financial assistance (compared with 62 who received medium-term care in 2018). The ICBF provided shelter to and began restoring the rights of 171 underage victims of forced recruitment but did not provide details of the assistance provided to victims of sex trafficking or forced labor. According to ICBF officials, the process of rights restoration included an evaluation of each case and the provision of mental and physical health services depending on each victim’s needs. The government did not provide shelter to victims of forced labor or adult victims of trafficking.
In many cases, due to a lack of formal identification and an insufficient understanding of trafficking, authorities penalized victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit. Several NGOs and some government officials reported cases of Venezuelan trafficking victims deported back to Venezuela for prostitution-related crimes. In a separate case, a 16-year-old victim faced criminal charges for the recruitment of two other victims after traffickers had recruited her. In a case reported last year, NGOs confirmed the deportation of 23 Venezuelan victims who were allegedly forced to have sex with tourists via debt-based coercion. The government did not report assisting victims through the victim and witness protection program, compared with five assisted in 2018. Some victims were reluctant to report their exploitation or testify against their traffickers for fear of reprisals or lack of trust in the justice system. In 2019, there were 64 Colombian victims of trafficking identified in foreign countries; of which 33 were repatriated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) with the support of international organizations or the victims themselves, as compared with seven in 2018. Officials from the MFA did not indicate how much funding was allocated for the repatriation of victims or earmarked for repatriation assistance in 2019, compared with the 400 million pesos ($122,000) earmarked in 2018. With the assistance of a foreign government, authorities strengthened asset forfeiture measures to disburse victim compensation funds expeditiously, but it did not report if any victims received compensation as a result of these measures.