The Government of Bolivia does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. These efforts included adopting a new NAP for the elimination of trafficking and reportedly sentencing three traffickers who had been in pretrial detention since 2016. However, the government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts compared with the previous reporting period. Officials did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting traffickers and did not report identifying or referring victims to care. Therefore Bolivia was downgraded to Tier 2 Watch List.
The government decreased prosecution efforts. Authorities did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting cases of trafficking, making it difficult to assess progress. 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 crimes involving adults, 12 to 18 years’ imprisonment for crimes involving children ages 14 to 18, and 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for crimes 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 crimes involving victims 14 to 17 years of age. Penalties increased by one-third for crimes 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 trafficking victims.
Authorities did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any traffickers, compared with the previous reporting period when officials reported 419 open complaints filed with the national police, 62 trafficking investigations, 22 trafficking prosecutions (12 for sex trafficking, five for labor trafficking, and five for other forms of servitude), and 12 trafficking convictions (five for sex trafficking and seven for labor trafficking). The media indicated authorities had received 420 trafficking-related complaints in the first seven months of 2022.
The government had specialized prosecutors in all nine departments focused on human trafficking and migrant smuggling cases; however, according to civil society organizations these prosecutors also prosecuted other crimes. Officials did not provide information on the activities of the specialized prosecutors in 2022. Authorities did not have dedicated funding to combat trafficking crimes, and only 0.5 percent of the federal budget was devoted for the entire judicial system, which left entities combating trafficking crimes depleted and heavily under resourced. 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. In 2022, the media reported authorities convicted three traffickers prescribing 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment – after serving six years in pre-trial detention – for their role in a trafficking ring based out of two popular nightclubs located in La Paz and Santa Cruz. 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. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any government employees complicit in human trafficking crimes. Civil society organizations reported low-level official complicity in trafficking crimes persisted. According to stakeholders, the government, with the support of international organizations, trained law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges on human trafficking investigations and prosecutions. Authorities did not report coordinating with foreign governments to investigate trafficking cases, assist victims, or when appropriate, repatriate them.
The government decreased protection efforts. Officials did not report identifying, protecting, or referring trafficking victims to care, compared with identifying 594 trafficking victims in 2021. An NGO reported authorities referred an unknown number of victims to care in 2022. NGOs noted a significant increase in Venezuelan trafficking victims and cases of trafficking facilitated by a Venezuelan transnational criminal gang. The government had a victim identification protocol and NRM; however, authorities did not report using the protocol to identify or refer victims. 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 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 trafficking victims, including three located and funded by department-level authorities in Cochabamba, Potosi, and Santa Cruz, and two NGO-operated shelters in La Paz. A sixth shelter in La Paz for underage female trafficking victims was not operational. Law enforcement officials were often unable to secure safe accommodations for trafficking victims, particularly in departments without multi-use facilities. Law enforcement officers could provide support for temporary stays in hotels. 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 and faith-based 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 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 trafficking victims received humanitarian visas, if any, NGOs reported authorities treated foreign trafficking victims fairly and according to legal standards; foreign victims had access to the same services as Bolivian victims. According to civil society organizations, 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 repatriating any victims, compared with repatriating 20 Bolivian victims in 2021. 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.
The government maintained prevention efforts. The Plurinational Council against Human Trafficking and Smuggling, chaired by the Ministry of Justice, was responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts at the national level and met 17 times. Two sub-ministerial units were responsible for coordinating anti-trafficking efforts at the technical level. In 2022, the government – with the support of international organizations and civil society actors – approved the 2021-2025 NAP, which focused on prevention of the crime, victim protection and care, prosecution of traffickers, and the improvement of international and national coordination. According to observers, officials shared the plan with all nine departments but did not report dedicating funding for its implementation. An international organization and civil society contacts reported authorities were working on updating the anti-trafficking law. According to stakeholders, some of the changes would establish a funding mechanism for victim protection services, expropriation of assets of convicted traffickers, improve efforts to distinguish between trafficking and smuggling crimes, and include the Ministries of Defense and Public Works into the interinstitutional committee for the fight against trafficking. In the past, observers noted a lack of interagency coordination, in part due to overlapping mandates. The government had a federal registry of employment agencies; authorities required all agencies to be registered 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 conducted inspections in 2022, but officials did not report identifying any victims of forced labor. Labor authorities reported conducting awareness campaigns to educate the public on the worst forms of child labor, which likely included trafficking crimes against children. Authorities did not report training officials on the identification of victims of forced labor. Authorities in the La Paz metropolitan area maintained a hotline for citizens and victims to report trafficking crimes. However, observers noted concern over the functionality of the hotline, as no one answered when they called. The autonomous department of Cochabamba launched a new hotline to report trafficking crimes. Authorities did not report identifying any victims or starting any investigations as a result of calls to the hotlines. 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 creation of the certification. The media reported 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. According to a 2022 report from the Ombudsman’s Office, 63 percent of victims identified were female, and 28 percent were male. 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. Child sex tourists exploited children in sex trafficking 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. Rural to urban trafficking, including within departments, remains the most common form of domestic trafficking. 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; the media 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, brickmaking, 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.