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.