The Government of Bolivia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Bolivia remained on Tier 2. The efforts included increasing trafficking investigations, convicting more traffickers, identifying more victims, and increasing training for law enforcement officers and prosecutors to combat human trafficking. Authorities adopted a new victim identification protocol and referral mechanism and trained department officials on its use. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Authorities prosecuted fewer traffickers, specialized services for all victims nationwide remained scarce, and efforts to address forced labor were negligible.
The government increased prosecution 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 younger than 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 younger than 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.
The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) reported authorities investigated 62 trafficking cases, compared with 39 cases in 2020. The national police reported 419 open complaints of potential trafficking crimes at the end of 2021, including 252 from previous years. In 2021, officials prosecuted 22 cases of trafficking (12 for sex trafficking, five for forced labor, and five for other forms of servitude) compared with 32 prosecutions in 2020 (14 for sex trafficking, 17 for labor trafficking, and four for other forms of servitude). Insufficient efforts to coordinate on data collection often led to confusing data difficult to reconcile. The government had department-level specialized prosecutors in all nine departments focused on human trafficking and migrant smuggling cases. Authorities convicted 12 traffickers (five for sex trafficking and seven for labor trafficking) compared with no convictions in 2020. Data provided was likely duplicative or contradictory, as no single agency was responsible for maintaining comprehensive protection or law enforcement data. In previous years, the 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 hindered effective law enforcement efforts. In addition, police officials rotated into new positions every three months to one year, resulting in a cyclical loss of institutional knowledge and impeding specialization in the investigation of 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 government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. Civil society organizations reported that low-level official complicity in trafficking crimes persisted. The government trained law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, and immigration personnel on human trafficking investigations and prosecutions, including the proactive identification of victims in nightclubs and establishments where trafficking was prevalent. Authorities coordinated with foreign governments to investigate trafficking cases, assist victims, and when appropriate, repatriate them. In 2021, authorities reportedly coordinated with the Governments of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Peru to repatriate victims identified domestically and abroad, including a notable operation with Peruvian officials that led to the identification of 20 trafficking victims in the Peruvian mining town of La Rinconada.
The government increased protection efforts. Authorities reported identifying 594 trafficking victims in 2021, compared with 300 victims identified in 2020. While the government did not report how many victims it referred to services nationwide, authorities reported assisting eight victims, and an NGO in La Paz reported government officials referred 44 trafficking victims to services. NGOs noted an increase in the number of Venezuelan victims of trafficking as a result of an influx of Venezuelan migrants arriving in the country. In 2021, authorities approved and began using a victim identification protocol and referral mechanism, and MOJ officials trained several department stakeholders responsible for victim identification and protection on its use. The government’s overlapping legal framework and understanding of human trafficking and related crimes limited victim identification efforts. Authorities confused human trafficking with other crimes, such as child pornography, general labor exploitation, sexual abuse, and migrant smuggling, hindering their ability to identify trafficking victims. Authorities from the Ministry of Health did not receive training on victim identification and did not screen for trafficking indicators despite periodically administering medical tests to individuals in commercial sex, a population vulnerable to sex trafficking.
There were five specialized shelters that could assist female victims of trafficking, including three located and funded by department authorities in Cochabamba, Potosi, and Santa Cruz and two NGO-operated shelters in La Paz. There was a sixth inactive shelter in La Paz that could assist underage female victims of trafficking; however, for unknown reasons it remained non-functional. Law enforcement officials were often unable to secure safe accommodations for trafficking victims, particularly in departments without multi-use facilities. Law enforcement officers could give victims money for hotel rooms for the night in the hope victims could seek greater support from local government authorities or get back in touch with family members. The government did not report providing specialized services to adult male victims but could provide basic assistance for them at migrant shelters. Authorities could refer underage male trafficking victims to NGOs, private shelters, and religious organizations for assistance, but it did not report doing so during the reporting period.
The government had several mechanisms to encourage victims to cooperate in cases against traffickers, but officials did not report using these during the reporting period. Foreign victims who assisted in the case against their traffickers could receive a humanitarian visa, but the process often took years, and victims could not work during that time. While authorities did not report how many victims of trafficking received humanitarian visas, if any, NGOs reported authorities treated foreign victims of trafficking fairly, following legal standards, and those identified had access to the same services as Bolivian victims. According to civil society actors, government officials worked with their foreign counterparts to facilitate repatriation in a timely fashion when victims sought that remedy. The government had a protocol for the repatriation of victims identified abroad but did not report if it repatriated or provided support to the 20 Bolivian victims identified in the Peruvian mining town of La Rinconada. The government had Gesell chambers in every department, and in lieu of testifying in person, victims could provide recorded testimony or submit a written statement to the court. Under Bolivian law, victims and prosecutors could request restitution for damages from the sentencing judge. When victims did not participate in the case against the traffickers, they or prosecutors could still file restitution claims within three months of sentencing. The government did not report whether any victim or prosecutor sought restitution in trafficking cases. Authorities did not report penalizing victims for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit.
The government maintained prevention efforts. The Plurinational Council against Human Trafficking and Smuggling, chaired by the Ministry of Justice (MOJ), was responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts at the national level. Two sub-ministerial units were responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts at the technical level. The council convened in March, June, and December. In the past, observers noted a lack of interagency coordination, in part due to overlapping mandates. The 2016-2020 NAP expired, and authorities held some meetings for the development of a new five-year plan to combat trafficking but did not finalize or approve a new NAP by the end of the reporting period. The government had a federal registry and required all employment agencies to register and provide the Ministry of Labor (MOL) with all recruitment and job placement records; however, authorities did not report reviewing or investigating any applications that raised trafficking concerns. The MOL did not report conducting any labor inspections or training inspectors to identify human trafficking crimes in 2021. The government did not report training officials on the identification of forced labor indicators during the reporting period. Authorities in the La Paz metropolitan area maintained a hotline for citizens and victims to report trafficking crimes. However, authorities did not report identifying any victims or starting any investigations as a result of calls to this hotline. The autonomous department of Cochabamba launched a new hotline the public could use to report trafficking crimes.
Authorities partnered with international organizations and NGOs to promote trafficking awareness and train government officials and members of the public to prevent the crime. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The Institute for Normalization of Quality, a semi-autonomous government agency, operated a “triple seal” certification program for sugar producers whose final products were certified to be free of child labor, discrimination, and forced labor. In January 2022, authorities issued the triple seal to the largest sugar producer in the country responsible for 40 percent of the market. This was the second sugar producer to receive the triple seal since the certification was created. Media reporting indicated 80 percent of the exported and 60 percent of the internal sugar market were free from child labor, discrimination, and forced labor.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Bolivia, and traffickers exploit victims from Bolivia abroad. Traffickers exploit Bolivian adults and children in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country and abroad. To a more limited extent, traffickers exploited women from neighboring countries, including Brazil, Colombia, and Paraguay, in sex trafficking in Bolivia. Traffickers exploit an increasing number of Venezuelan victims in sex trafficking and forced labor within the country. In 2021, authorities reported a notable surge in the number of Venezuelan and Haitian victims of sex trafficking and forced labor in the country. Traffickers subject some migrants from The Gambia, Venezuela, Chile, and the Caribbean traveling to or through Bolivia to sex trafficking and forced labor. Traffickers exploited children in sex tourism in rural Indigenous communities in the north of the La Paz department, in and around the city of Rurrenabaque, and in tourist areas in the departments of La Paz and Beni, openly advertising to tourists speaking Hebrew and Arabic. Rural and poor Bolivians, most of whom are Indigenous, and LGBTQI+ youth are particularly at risk for sex and labor trafficking. Bolivian women and girls are exploited in sex trafficking within Bolivia and neighboring countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Panama, and Peru. Within the country, traffickers exploit Bolivian adults and children in forced labor in domestic work, mining, ranching, and agriculture. Forced criminality continues to be a problem; media outlets reported cases of children forced to commit crimes, such as robbery and drug production, and others exploited in forced begging. In 2019, traffickers forced a Bolivian victim into criminality by compelling her to smuggle drugs into Malaysia. Traffickers exploit Bolivians in forced labor in Argentina, Brazil, and Chile in sweatshops, agriculture, brick-making, domestic work, textile factories, and the informal sector. Traffickers continue to use social media as the primary recruitment tool, luring vulnerable individuals with fraudulent employment opportunities and then exploiting them in forced labor or sex trafficking. Civil society organizations noted a pattern of exploitation in which older trafficking victims became recruiters of younger victims.