The government maintained protection efforts; however, services available were cursory and efforts to protect most victims were inadequate. In 2020, the government continued to identify a greater number of adult victims but did not provide them or victims of forced labor with shelter. The MOI identified 100 victims of trafficking, of whom 71 were exploited in sex trafficking, four in forced labor, nine in forced begging, two in indentured servitude, and 14 unknown. In addition, the government reported identifying four individuals in servile marriage, but it was unclear if these individuals were forced or coerced to marry for the purposes of exploitation. This compared with 124 potential victims identified in 2019, including 12 in servile marriage; 114 in 2018, including nine in servile marriage; and 96 in 2017, including two in servile marriage. Of the total number of victims, nine were men, and seven identified as LGBTQI+. Authorities reported that 32 of the 71 victims of sex trafficking were adults, 19 children. The ICBF reportedly assisted 144 victims of forced recruitment in 2020, compared with 180 in 2019 and 196 in 2018. The AGO reported identifying 124 potential victims, 72 Colombians, one Peruvian, one Venezuelan, and 50 without record of nationality. Some data was duplicative or contradictory, as no single agency was responsible for maintaining comprehensive protection or law enforcement data, and because Colombia’s law was broad, it was unclear if the cases reported by the AGO constituted trafficking as defined in international law.
The government reported that law enforcement officials used a victim identification protocol developed by an international organization; however, many law enforcement officials working on trafficking cases were not aware of protocol to identify victims. The municipality of Cali had a victim identification protocol that was developed with the support of an international organization; however, it was unclear if officials used it or if anyone received training on its use during the reporting period. The government offered some training on victim identification as part of its prevention campaigns. Nonetheless, experts indicated 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 sectors 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 a victim identification protocol for labor inspectors – in development since 2016 with the support of an international organization – remained unfinished. 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 have been unidentified and vulnerable to trafficking and new patterns of recruitment.
Of the 100 victims identified, authorities provided emergency assistance to 71 victims; of these 57 received temporary shelter, compared with 79 victims who received temporary shelter in 2019. Forty-four victims received medium-term assistance, compared with 66 in 2019. The government did not provide shelter to forced labor victims or adult trafficking victims. The ICBF did not provide details of the assistance provided to victims of child sex trafficking or forced child labor. Authorities identified 495 child victims of forced recruitment by illegal armed groups in 2020, of whom 63 reported being recruited during the reporting period. The ICBF reportedly provided support services to every underage victim of forced recruitment. To an international organization, ICBF officials reported assisting 144 victims of forced recruitment in 2020, compared with 180 in 2019 and 196 in 2018.
The MOI and the ICBF were 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. 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. In 2020, authorities reported adopting victim referral protocols in 13 departments, but did not indicate how many officials were trained or how many victims were referred to services using these protocols. The government reported following a national trafficking victim assistance plan to refer victims to services, which by decree could include emergency assistance, including 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. Authorities reported allocating 470.93 million Colombian pesos ($137,920) for victim protection and assistance, including 123.9 million Colombian pesos ($36,290) for victim transportation services. According to the MOI, most of the funding was used for technical assistance for regional and municipal trafficking in persons committees; however, the national government relied solely on individual departments and municipalities for the provision of services. According to experts, some victims who did not self-identify were not legally considered victims and did not receive care.
Government officials and NGOs asserted government-funded victim assistance was cursory and insufficient. In 2020, authorities noted the pandemic reduced availability of in-person services, limiting emergency assistance, and NGOs, especially those providing shelter, reported an increase in operating costs associated with victim testing and required personal protective equipment. In addition, quarantine measures and social distancing requirements complicated efforts to find housing for trafficking victims, as there were fewer spots available. 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 2020. 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 the majority of the victims identified. Authorities did not report if any of the 32 adult victims identified received care in any non-specialized shelter. In 2020, some department anti-trafficking committees, including in Bogota and Caldas department, signed initial agreements with an NGO to provide shelters for trafficking victims, but authorities did not indicate if they referred any victims to these shelters for care. Lack of funding for civil society organizations fighting to combat trafficking hindered the government’s ability to mitigate the crime; victims who did not receive adequate care were less able and willing to assist authorities in the case against their traffickers and less likely to provide input for the improvement of the overall response.
Government officials did not report deporting trafficking victims; however, media reports indicated that border authorities continued deporting alleged trafficking victims for prostitution-related crimes without proper screening for trafficking indicators. Forty-three Colombian trafficking victims were identified in foreign countries; 17 were repatriated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) compared with 33 in 2019 and seven in 2018. MFA officials did not keep record of funding provided for the repatriation of victims during the reporting period. According to officials, many victims returned in pandemic repatriation flights and such expenses were included as general expenses paid for by the government.