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Paraguay (Tier 2)

The Government of Paraguay 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 Paraguay remained on Tier 2. These efforts included identifying more than 150 trafficking victims; coordinating with foreign counterparts to arrest traffickers and identify victims; formalizing a screening protocol to identify child trafficking victims at international border crossings; and continuing to grow a grant program supporting trafficking survivors. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. The government did not establish the dedicated anti-trafficking agency or funding source required by law and reported limited efforts to implement the national action plan (NAP) to combat trafficking. Victim services remained inadequate; there were no shelter options for male victims, and due to capacity limitations and lack of funding, the government only provided shelter to a subset of female trafficking victims. Cooperation with civil society remained inconsistent, use of the identification protocol and referral mechanism was ad hoc, and the police anti-trafficking unit was under-resourced. The anti-trafficking law did not align with international law, which stymied efforts to effectively hold traffickers accountable.

  • Fund and expand access to adequate specialized victim services, including for male victims.
  • Investigate and prosecute alleged traffickers, including complicit officials, and sentence convicted traffickers to significant prison terms.
  • Fund and fully implement the 2020-2024 NAP.
  • Train officials to consistently utilize victim identification protocols and referral mechanisms to increase proactive identification of trafficking victims, including among minority and Indigenous populations.
  • Increase engagement with civil society actors to complement the government’s efforts to prevent trafficking and protect victims; encourage regular civil society participation in the interagency roundtable.
  • Establish the national anti-trafficking secretariat, as required by law.
  • Establish the national anti-trafficking fund, as required by law.
  • Increase funding and staffing for the Paraguayan National Police Anti-Trafficking Unit (PNPTU).
  • Revise the definition of human trafficking under Law 4788/12 to ensure force, fraud, or coercion are essential elements of the crime as established under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.
  • Adopt reforms to eliminate abusive practices and working conditions that may amount to trafficking in criadazgo (child domestic servitude).
  • Train law enforcement officials to understand, investigate, and prosecute child sex tourism cases under the anti-trafficking law.
  • Improve interagency coordination and develop a case management database for trafficking cases.
  • Establish adequate penalties to deter child labor violations.

The government decreased 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 and the Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU) shared responsibility for investigating trafficking crimes; the ATU also acted as the lead prosecuting agency. In 2021, authorities initiated 53 trafficking investigations—24 for sex trafficking, 24 for forced labor, and five for undefined exploitation—compared with 106 investigations in 2020 and 141 in 2019. Officials continued to investigate 196 ongoing cases initiated in previous years. Authorities filed preliminary charges against four suspected sex traffickers, compared with 21 in 2020 and 53 in 2019. There were 25 ongoing prosecutions initiated in previous reporting periods, involving 16 accused traffickers, compared with 105 ongoing prosecutions in 2020. Judges convicted three traffickers, one for sex trafficking and two for labor trafficking. This compared with three trafficking convictions in 2020. These traffickers received sentences ranging from two to 10 years’ imprisonment.

Anti-trafficking law enforcement operated with low budgetary allocations for a fourth consecutive reporting period. The PNPTU operated with 41 specialized trafficking officers in 2021; this compared with the same number of officers in 2020, 36 officers in 2019, and 38 in 2018. Observers indicated the unit needed more staff and additional offices in high-risk areas, such as the international airport, to adequately perform its duties. In 2021, the ATU cooperated with authorities from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, France, and Spain on 29 suspected trafficking investigations, resulting in the arrest of 13 alleged traffickers (five in Paraguay, eight in other countries) and the identification of 40 Paraguayan trafficking victims exploited abroad. The government reported pandemic funding reallocations created additional obstacles for anti-trafficking efforts; lack of transportation and travel funding, for example, limited anti-trafficking officials’ mobility, curtailing investigations, access to training opportunities, and other law enforcement activity.

The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes; although there were no actionable reports, corruption and complicity in trafficking crimes remained concerns, and observers continued to allege some officials displayed complicity indicators, particularly border agents. Such allegations included officials intentionally overlooking trafficking indicators, especially along the border with Brazil, accepting bribes from businesses where trafficking may have taken place, and facilitating sex trafficking of women and girls on barges operating along the Paraguay River. The government trained police and members of the Paraguayan Navy on investigative techniques for trafficking cases and trafficking indicators.

The government maintained protection efforts. The government lacked a centralized database to aggregate efforts across ministries and could not provide comprehensive data on victim protection. There were three agencies involved in victim identification: the ATU, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MWA), and the Ministry of Children and Adolescents (MINNA). These agencies reported identifying 166 trafficking victims in 2021. By comparison, the government reported identifying 299 victims in 2020—a notable increase over previous years, attributable to screening returning migrant workers during a required quarantine—and 86 in 2019. Traffickers exploited 74 of these identified victims in sex trafficking and 86 in forced labor; the government did not report the form of trafficking experienced by the remaining six victims. Among the 166 victims identified, there were 72 women, 46 girls, nine men, and 33 boys. The government’s interagency anti-trafficking roundtable directed a national referral mechanism for prosecutors, police, labor inspectors, and border officials; in 2021, the government updated this referral process to encompass pandemic measures, such as quarantine requirements. Some government entities, such as the National Migration Office and Ministry of Health, had victim identification protocols, but there was no universal protocol to facilitate the proactive identification of victims. Use of available referral and identification resources was inconsistent and ad hoc. Civil society organizations reported the government applied the identification protocols less consistently among minority and Indigenous populations; as a result, authorities may have disproportionately penalized minority and Indigenous trafficking victims for crimes their traffickers compelled them to commit. MINNA developed and implemented new standard operating procedures (SOPs) for the identification of child trafficking victims at national borders. Under these new SOPs, border officials and MINNA coordinated to screen children traveling alone for trafficking indicators, codifying the screening process which contributed to the identification of 256 child trafficking victims during the period of increased border crossings in 2020.

There were three dedicated shelters with capacity for up to 38 female trafficking victims, one managed by the MWA for adults and two shelters for child victims managed by MINNA; one of MINNA’s shelters was co-managed by an NGO. MWA could also serve female trafficking victims at its two domestic violence shelters. The government reported providing some form of support services to 160 trafficking victims; it reported referring 45 victims to shelter services—it referred 22 women victims to an MWA shelter and 23 children to MINNA shelters. In the absence of sufficient shelter capacity, most victims returned to their homes, where they may have struggled to access other support services; returning home also increased victims’ vulnerability to re-trafficking, as victims’ families may have been involved in their exploitation. By comparison, MINNA provided shelter to 26 child victims in 2020 and 44 in 2019. Observers reported pandemic-related safety protocols contributed to limited capacity in shelters. MINNA coordinated direct cash transfers for 39 victims in 2021, compared with the ATU and MWA providing transfers for 50 victims in 2020. In addition to shelter and food, the government had a limited ability to provide psychological support, social assistance, legal advice, and reintegration programs for some victims. The ATU, MINNA, and MWA collaborated to prioritize victims most in need of these services. The government continued its entrepreneurial program for trafficking survivors, awarding small business seed grants to 36 victims (32 women and four men) in 2021, compared with six such grants in 2020. The government did not have a shelter to assist male trafficking victims; however, the ATU could provide psychological assistance, food, and immediate shelter at hotels on an ad hoc basis before facilitating the return of male victims to their community of origin. An interagency working group—created to support provision of services to trafficking victims outside of government shelters—met several times during the year but did not report any substantive outcomes. Aside from some funding provided to the NGO operating the MINNA shelter, the government did not provide assistance to NGOs providing victim services. Lack of substantive cooperation with civil society limited the government’s ability to provide comprehensive care. The overall quality of care for victims, particularly in rural areas, was inadequate due to limited resources and the lack of qualified personnel.

The ATU continued to provide basic assistance to trafficking victims due to insufficient victim services provision by other parts of the government. However, the ATU did not receive government funding for victim assistance and relied on occasional allocations from an NGO-managed victims’ services fund. This funding supported the government’s case-by-case provision of food assistance, direct cash transfers, and reintegration programming for trafficking victims. Government officials reported funding was insufficient to assist victims adequately. The government’s 2020 emergency budgetary reallocation measures—which redistributed funding from across the government, including anti-trafficking funding, to support pandemic measures—remained in effect until December 31, 2021. In addition to shelter capacity limitations, government entities reported pandemic restrictions interrupted in-person services; MWA used virtual consultations to minimize disruption. MINNA provided approximately $38,500 in 2021 to the NGO that operated the specialized shelter for underage victims, compared with the same amount in 2020 and approximately $50,000 in 2019. Foreign trafficking victims were eligible for residence permits to remain in Paraguay; however, civil society reported high administrative fees made the application process burdensome for victims. The government helped repatriate one victim in 2021, compared with one in 2020 and five in 2019. Law 4788/12 outlined a procedure to award victims restitution when the courts convicted their traffickers; victims could also file civil suits with the support of a government attorney to obtain compensation. The government did not report any trafficking cases where victims received restitution or compensation. MINNA provided training for its officials on safe repatriation for child trafficking victims; otherwise, the government did not train officials on victim identification, referral, or care.

The government slightly decreased its prevention efforts. The Directorate for the Attention of the Overseas Paraguayan Community (DACPE) was the government entity responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking programs and convening an ongoing interagency roundtable that included intermittent participation from 16 government agencies. In 2021, the roundtable held three sessions, compared with 14 in 2020 and six in 2019. Law 4788/12 did not require participation of civil society in the roundtable, and authorities provided such stakeholders only a limited role. Although the roundtable’s plenary sessions were officially open to civil society, a number of NGOs reported they did not receive consistent notification of meetings. Poor and informal interagency coordination continued to limit the government’s ability to monitor, collect, and report statistics. The 2020-2024 National Plan for the Prevention of Trafficking guided the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. However, officials reported poor coordination and funding limitations hindered efforts to implement the plan, which included a measure to establish the dedicated anti-trafficking secretariat mandated under Law 4788/12. Observers reported that the absence of a dedicated agency or secretariat continued to limit the effectiveness of the government’s national anti-trafficking efforts. Law 4788/12 also required the government to have an anti-trafficking fund, but the government reported the account—the intended funding source for the plan’s implementation—did not exist. Two NGOs served as liaisons between the roundtable and civil society, although government engagement with civil society remained minimal.

The government did not allocate funds for public awareness campaigns; instead, it relied on civil society, businesses, and trade unions to run campaigns in high-risk areas. However, the government continued to distribute brochures and posters in bus terminals, airports, border crossings, and on social media to promote awareness of trafficking. The government maintained hotlines to report crimes against women and children, including trafficking, as well as a webpage for filing trafficking and exploitation complaints. Authorities did not provide a comprehensive report on trafficking calls received via these sources but suggested the government identified at least one victim via the hotline during the reporting period. The government did not report identifying victims through its trafficking-specific email inbox and hotline web application, meant to facilitate reporting of trafficking crimes, since their creation in 2019. The Ministry of Labor’s 25 labor inspectors were trained to identify trafficking victims during inspections and could refer them to care services through the interagency roundtable. Although the 296 labor inspections conducted in 2021 focused heavily on pandemic sanitation protocols, inspectors identified nine child labor violations, some of which may have amounted to trafficking. The Ministry of Labor levied fines for violations in four of these cases and referred one case to the ATU for criminal prosecution. In four cases, the offenders and victims settled privately. Observers noted the monetary fines commonly levied against employers for child labor violations were not sufficient to discourage the practice. The government remained without effective approaches to tackling the abusive practices and working conditions common in situations of criadazgo, which amount to child domestic servitude. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government continued to grant certifications to hotels and other tourism-sector companies that complied with certain anti-trafficking measures; however, it did not identify or investigate crimes of child sex tourism in Ciudad del Este and the Tri-Border area as trafficking crimes. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs trained diplomatic staff to recognize trafficking indicators in a consular setting; however, the government did not provide anti-trafficking training for all diplomats deployed abroad.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Paraguay, and traffickers exploit victims from Paraguay abroad. The practice of compelling children to labor as domestic workers, criadazgo, is perhaps the most common form of trafficking in the country. Middle- and upper-income families in urban and rural areas take on children, almost exclusively from impoverished families, as domestic workers and provide varying compensation that may include room, board, money, a small stipend, or access to educational opportunities. An estimated 47,000 Paraguayan children work in situations of criadazgo; many of these children are highly vulnerable to sex and labor trafficking. Although criadazgo mainly affects young girls, boys are increasingly at risk; government sources estimate 30 percent of children in criadazgo are boys. Traffickers exploit children from rural areas in sex trafficking and forced labor in urban centers. Boys are often victims of forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, criminality, and in some cases as horse jockeys. Children engaged in street vending, begging, and working in agriculture, mining, brick making, and ranching are vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers exploit Paraguayan children in forced labor in the cultivation and sale of illicit drugs. In the Chaco region, traffickers exploit adults and children in debt bondage.

Traffickers increasingly utilize social media to recruit victims. Indigenous persons are particularly vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers exploit Paraguayan women and girls in sex trafficking within the country, including aboard ships and barges navigating the country’s major waterways. Transgender Paraguayans are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Paraguayan victims of sex trafficking and forced labor have been identified in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, PRC, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, Spain, France, and other countries. Traffickers move female trafficking victims regionally and to Europe via transit countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Spain. Traffickers also recruit Paraguayan women as couriers of illicit narcotics to Europe and Africa, where they subject them to sex trafficking. Foreign victims of sex and labor trafficking in Paraguay are mostly from other South American countries. The lack of regulatory measures, insufficient transnational cooperation, and fluidity of illicit goods and services contributed to increased trafficking risk in and around the Tri-Border Area between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. Civil society and victims reported instances of officials—including police, border guards, judges, and public registry employees—facilitating sex trafficking, including by taking bribes from brothel owners in exchange for protection, extorting suspected traffickers to prevent arrest, and producing fraudulent identity documents.

U.S. Department of State

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