The government maintained prosecution efforts. The Comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Law 4788 of 2012 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to eight years’ imprisonment for cases involving adult victims and two to 20 years’ imprisonment for those involving child victims; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with international law, Law 4788/12 established the use of force, fraud, and coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime; penalties were increased to two to 15 years’ imprisonment under such circumstances. Article 139 of the penal code, which relates to pimping crimes, could be used to prosecute child sex trafficking offenses; it prescribed penalties of eight years’ imprisonment for offenses involving children, which are significantly lower than the penalties described under the anti-trafficking law.
The PNPTU was responsible for investigating trafficking crimes, while the Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU) was the lead prosecuting agency. In 2020, authorities initiated 106 trafficking investigations, 35 for sex trafficking and 71 for forced labor, compared with 141 investigations in 2019 and 110 investigations in 2018. Officials continued to investigate 75 ongoing cases initiated in past years. Authorities filed preliminary charges against 21 suspected traffickers, compared with 53 in 2019, and 25 in 2018. There were 206 ongoing trafficking prosecutions initiated in previous reporting periods, where in 2019 there had been 127 such ongoing cases. Judges convicted three traffickers, all on sex trafficking charges, under Law 4788/12, and reported convicting six additional individuals of trafficking-related crimes, some of which may have amounted to trafficking under international law. This compared with 22 trafficking and trafficking-related convictions in 2019 and 15 in 2018. These traffickers received sentences ranging from five to 12 years’ imprisonment; those individuals sentenced under related charges received sentences ranging from 24 to 42 months’ imprisonment. Paraguayan courts closed from April 2020 to December 2020 as a public health precaution during the pandemic, limiting prosecutors’ ability to try and convict traffickers, but resumed adjudication under modified conditions in January 2021.
Anti-trafficking law enforcement operated with low budgetary allocations for a third consecutive reporting period. The PNPTU’s staff modestly increased to 41 specialized trafficking officers in 2020, compared with 36 officers in 2019, 38 in 2018, and 50 in 2017. Observers indicated the unit needed more staff and additional offices in high-risk areas, such as the international airport, to adequately perform its duties. From April to December 2020, the government directed law enforcement officials to work from home to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, where limited access to sensitive materials and rolling blackouts hindered investigations. In 2020, the ATU cooperated with Argentina, Brazil, and Spain on four trafficking investigations, particularly in the Tri-Border Area.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement activity. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking offenses, though observers continued to allege some officials displayed complicity indicators, particularly border agents. Such allegations included officials taking bribes from massage parlors and brothels where trafficking crimes allegedly occurred, agents issuing passports for Paraguayan trafficking victims exploited abroad, and facilitating sex trafficking of women and girls on barges operating along the Paraguay River.