The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Law 263 of 2012—the Comprehensive Law against Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons—criminalized labor trafficking and some forms of sex trafficking through amendments to Bolivia’s Criminal Code and prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for adult trafficking and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for child trafficking. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the definition of trafficking under Article 281-bis 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. Article 281-bis defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation, the sale of organs, and unlawful biomedical research. Article 321 of the Criminal Code criminalized pimping using force, fraud, or coercion and was used to prosecute sex trafficking crimes. The law prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving adults, 12 to 18 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving children ages 14 to 18, and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving children under 14, which were sufficiently stringent and commensurate with penalties prescribed for other grave crimes, such as rape. Article 321 did not require a showing of force, fraud, or coercion for victims under 14 years of age but did require a demonstration of such means for offenses involving children ages 14 to 17. Additionally, Article 322 criminalized the purchase of sex with a minor and prescribed penalties of eight to 12 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving victims 14 to 17 years of age. Penalties increased by one-third for offenses involving children younger than 14. While the Criminal Code included separate criminal offenses for trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling, one government agency was responsible for both crimes, and that agency often conflated the two crimes in its collection of data and response to perpetrators and potential victims of trafficking.
In November 2020, a new administration took office, and massive turnover across government institutions led to gaps of information and efforts, including human trafficking. Government authorities reported new detailed information on law enforcement efforts not provided in previous years, making it difficult to draw an adequate comparison to the last reporting period. Data available was likely duplicative or contradictory, as no single agency was responsible for maintaining comprehensive protection or law enforcement data. Pandemic-related mitigating measures slowed trafficking investigations due to several week court closures and the reassignment of some law enforcement personnel to non-trafficking activities. The national police investigated 39 new cases of trafficking (14 for sex trafficking and 25 for forced labor), and department authorities arrested 48 suspects for trafficking and trafficking related crimes (28 in La Paz and 20 in Santa Cruz). The Public Ministry (MP) referred 83 potential cases of trafficking (33 for sex trafficking and 50 for forced labor) to the Ministry of Justice and reported 32 prosecutions (14 for sex trafficking, 17 for labor trafficking, and four for other forms of servitude), compared with 55 cases prosecuted in 2018, the last year data was available. Authorities indicated there were 115 traffickers imprisoned in 2020 for trafficking or trafficking related crimes, of which two received a final sentence. In addition, authorities reported to an international organization it convicted 11 traffickers (compared with five in 2019 and two in 2018), but authorities did not provide information on sentences prescribed to traffickers in 2020. Observers continued to note the vast majority of arrested suspects, including traffickers, served time in pre-trial detention without ever receiving a final sentence and often avoided justice by paying bribes to corrupt officials to avoid prosecution. General backlogs in the judiciary, insufficient resources and personnel, and inadequate training of law enforcement officials impeded law enforcement efforts. Officials reported that by the end of 2020, the courts had received 600 cases of trafficking and rejected 524 of the cases received. Misunderstanding of human trafficking by judicial authorities likely led to the premature dismissal of cases. In September 2020, the attorney general announced the establishment of department-level specialized prosecutor offices focused on human trafficking and human smuggling cases. The new offices provided training and specialized courses for public prosecutors and civil servants engaged in the fight against trafficking. In coordination with an international organization, authorities trained 48 new specialized prosecutors on trafficking crimes.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any new cases of official complicity. In August 2020, the interim government opened an investigation of the former president for trafficking crimes; however, the allegations may not be considered trafficking according to international law. Authorities abused law enforcement resources to prosecute individuals for politically motivated trafficking charges, bringing into question the veracity of the anti-trafficking data reported by the government. In 2020, courts sentenced two low-ranking police officers to seven years’ imprisonment for their active role in a 2016 case of sex trafficking involving several women and girls at two nightclubs in La Paz.
In coordination with an international organization, the government led a series of virtual training sessions for more than 290 department and national level officials on prosecution of traffickers, including specialized investigative techniques, awareness of emerging trends in online trafficking crimes, and victim identification; the training sessions also included prevention efforts and protection of victims. In coordination with civil society, authorities also trained 83 police investigators and officials from the human trafficking division of each department on victim-centered investigations, victim identification, intervention skills, and recruitment tactics used by traffickers. The La Paz police department’s anti-trafficking unit maintained 18 police investigators, and other departments’ anti-trafficking units had three to five investigators. Police officials rotated into new positions every three months to one year, resulting in a cyclical loss of institutional knowledge and impeding specialization in investigation of trafficking crimes. Civil society organizations indicated government authorities coordinated with the governments of Paraguay and Peru on cases involving victims from those countries identified in Bolivia.