The Government of Nicaragua does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Nicaragua remained on Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including passing a new NAP. However, the government continued to minimize the severity of the trafficking problem in Nicaragua through unreliable reporting; it did not have shelters or allocate funding for specialized victim services; it made negligible efforts to address labor trafficking, which remained a serious concern; and victim identification efforts remained inadequate. The government did not convict any traffickers and did not support Nicaraguan trafficking victims identified in foreign countries. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses, despite endemic corruption and widespread official complicity. The government did not make provision for specialized shelter or protection services for trafficking victims and, in the absence of government-furnished services, did not cooperate with civil society to fund or refer victims to them for support. The government did not report efforts to address the heightened vulnerability to trafficking of communities in Nicaragua’s two Caribbean autonomous regions.
Significantly increase efforts to identify trafficking victims, especially labor trafficking victims and foreign national victims.
Investigate; prosecute; and convict traffickers, including complicit officials.
Vigorously implement the National Strategy for Comprehensive Attention to Victims of Trafficking in Persons by identifying victims, including among vulnerable populations, and effectively referring victims to appropriate services.
Partner with NGOs to provide victims short and long-term care and reintegration services and include them in National Coalition against Trafficking in Persons (NCATIP) meetings.
Increase funding for victim protection, finance the trafficking fund, and provide specialized services for trafficking victims.
Implement the NAP.
Increase training for government officials – including social workers, labor inspectors, and law enforcement officials – to facilitate increased victim identification and assistance.
Strengthen law enforcement and victim protection efforts in the Caribbean autonomous regions, especially through increased staff and funding.
Amend the 2015 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of trafficking in persons consistent with international law.
The government decreased law enforcement efforts. The Law against Trafficking in Persons of 2015 (Law 896) criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, coercion, or deceit as an aggravating factor rather than an essential element of the crime; the penalties increased to 16 to 18 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving these factors. The penalty for child trafficking increased to 19 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law also defined trafficking broadly to include all labor exploitation and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation.
Observers questioned the validity of government reporting on human trafficking, including law enforcement statistics; some alleged the government obscured or intentionally misclassified trafficking cases to minimize trafficking statistics. The government did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any traffickers in 2022, compared with initiating four sex trafficking investigations, prosecuting eight alleged sex traffickers, and convicting four sex traffickers in 2021. However, the media reported on two sex trafficking cases involving five suspected traffickers in 2022; in one case, an official investigation led to the arrest of two alleged traffickers and the identification of four child trafficking victims. According to media, officials reportedly prosecuted and convicted one trafficker, a woman accused of exploiting her children in sex trafficking, and sentenced her to 19 years’ imprisonment. The government reportedly deported the other suspected trafficker, a foreign man accused of paying to engage in commercial sex acts with the children, without charges. Officials did not indicate whether they continued to investigate or prosecute any ongoing cases initiated in previous reporting periods. The government did not report whether it held any accused traffickers in pre-trial detention; in 2021, it reportedly held seven accused traffickers in pre-trial detention.
The government did not report any law enforcement efforts to combat labor trafficking for the third consecutive year, nor did it report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking crimes. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. Although corruption was endemic, the government did not have policies to prevent official complicity in trafficking, contributing to an environment of impunity and potentially decreasing the likelihood of victims reporting trafficking crimes. The government did not report any instances of international coordination or cooperation on trafficking cases.
The government further decreased its already minimal protection efforts. Government reporting on victim identification and protection was unreliable and inconsistent. The government did not report identifying any trafficking victims in 2022, compared with two victims in 2021 and one in 2020. Media reporting, however, suggested officials encountered at least four child trafficking victims in November 2022. The government did not report any Nicaraguans exploited abroad, despite media and other sources documenting the exploitation of Nicaraguan trafficking victims in other countries, including Costa Rica and Spain. The government did not report implementing or training officials to use its National Strategy for Comprehensive Attention to Victims of Trafficking, or other protocols reputedly available to facilitate victim identification and referral. Officials did not report any efforts to screen for trafficking indicators or otherwise identify victims in the Caribbean autonomous regions, where endemic poverty and limited official presence contributed to significant trafficking vulnerability.
The government did not report providing support services of any kind, including shelter, to trafficking victims in 2022. The government did not report any spending associated with victim protection, although it indicated in past years that the national budget included agency-specific allocations for trafficking victim protection. Law 896 required the government to establish a dedicated fund for victim protection and prevention activities to be financed through budgetary allocation, donations, and assets seized from traffickers. However, for the eighth consecutive year, there was no indication that the government made the fund operational. Although civil society organizations identified and assisted dozens of victims in recent years, government entities did not coordinate with these organizations on victim protection and, according to NGOs, had not done so since 2018. The government did not fund or otherwise support any NGOs providing victim protection services in the country. The government’s restrictive stance towards civil society likely inhibited these organizations’ ability to identify and assist trafficking victims during the reporting period.
There were no trafficking-specific shelters in Nicaragua and, in general, capacity for long-term services was minimal. The government could not provide extended shelter, and NGOs had limited, if any, ability to provide such care. The government’s unofficial policy of placing victims with family members, in the absence of shelter options, put trafficking victims at risk of re-victimization by family members who may have been complicit in their exploitation. There were no shelters accessible to men and the government did not indicate whether it could provide appropriate shelter and other services to male victims, victims with disabilities, or LGBTQI+ victims. The Ministry of Family was responsible for providing services for child trafficking victims, including medical and legal services and access to education; officials could refer child trafficking victims to “special protection centers,” but the government often returned child victims to their families’ care, despite risk of re-victimization. Observers identified a lack of adequate services across the entire country.
Law 896 permitted victims to testify in advance of the trial and allowed testimony via video or written statement to encourage participation and protect a victim’s identity; however, the government did not report using these provisions in 2022. Victims could obtain compensation by filing civil suits against traffickers; however, NGOs reported lengthy case timelines made the process unduly burdensome. There was no record that victims had ever exercised this right. Due to frequent misclassification of trafficking cases and a lack of formal identification procedures, authorities likely detained, arrested, and deported some unidentified trafficking victims. The government did not report efforts to screen for or identify trafficking victims among migrant populations or individuals in commercial sex. Nicaraguan law provided for humanitarian visas for foreign trafficking victims, but the government had not identified any foreign victims since 2018.
The government maintained its minimal efforts to prevent trafficking. By law, NCATIP must lead the government’s coordination on anti-trafficking efforts and its 17 working committees, one for each region. NCATIP did not meet regularly in 2022, compared with reported monthly meetings in 2021. While the government previously reported NCATIP engaged with a select group of international civil society organizations, government bodies maintained a contentious relationship with the broader civil society community and it did not appear NCATIP coordinated with any local organizations during the reporting period. Law 896 required NCATIP to include the Nicaraguan Coordinating Federation for NGOs working with Children and Adolescents (CODENI) in its proceedings; however, the government revoked CODENI’s legal status in 2022, preventing the organization from operating lawfully in Nicaragua. Observers considered the NCATIP to be ineffectual as an anti-trafficking entity. Although NCATIP once oversaw 17 regional working committees, observers noted very few, if any, remained functional. The government extended its 2018-2022 NAP to cover the period 2023-2027. The plan outlined objectives to improve interagency coordination and technical capacity to investigate, prosecute, and sentence traffickers; raise awareness of the trafficking crime; protect and assist trafficking victims; and monitor the plan’s implementation. However, the government did not report any efforts to implement the NAP. The government did not report efforts to research or monitor trafficking in the country. Neither did it report trafficking awareness events through NCATIP’s working committees or other means. The government continued to maintain two 24-hour crime hotlines to process trafficking complaints and provide information on trafficking and GBV, but it did not report any investigations or identified victims associated with hotline calls.
During the reporting period, Nicaraguans continued to encounter problems obtaining national identification cards, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking and limited their ability to access public services. The law required private employment agencies to register to permit government oversight and established minimum wages and maximum hours for adult and adolescent domestic workers; the government did not report making efforts to identify forced labor in these sectors. The government did not report any efforts to inspect bars or nightclubs suspected of engaging in trafficking or any efforts to reduce demand for commercial sex. The government did not report any actions to reduce demand for child sex tourism; observers considered it likely the government discontinued a previously reported Ministry of Tourism program to increase awareness of child sexual exploitation in the tourism industry. Observers remained concerned about child sex tourism in the country; authorities did not report investigating, prosecuting, or convicting any tourists for child sex trafficking. The government did not report providing anti-trafficking training to its diplomatic personnel.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Nicaragua, and traffickers exploit victims from Nicaragua abroad. Women, children, and migrants in Nicaragua are especially vulnerable to trafficking. Traffickers subject Nicaraguan women and children to sex trafficking within the country and in other Central American countries, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Victims’ family members are often complicit in their exploitation. Nicaraguans who migrate, or are forcibly displaced, to other Central American countries and Europe have been victims of sex and labor trafficking, both in transit and after they reached their destinations. Traffickers take advantage of Nicaraguans’ desire for economic opportunity through fraudulent offers of higher pay for work in restaurants, hotels, domestic service, construction, and security in urban centers and tourist locales abroad. Traffickers increasingly use social media sites to recruit their victims. Traffickers often recruit victims in rural areas or border regions, where economic opportunity is limited. In addition, experts report traffickers often target Nicaraguan children whose parents leave the country to work abroad, seeking to exploit them in sex and labor trafficking. Nicaraguan women and children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in the two Caribbean autonomous regions, where the lack of strong law enforcement institutions, rampant poverty, a higher crime rate, and lingering impacts of natural disasters increase the vulnerability of the local population. Traffickers exploit Nicaraguan adults and children in labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, mining, the informal sector, and domestic service within the country and in Costa Rica, Panama, Spain, the United States, and other countries. Traffickers force some children to work in artisanal mines and quarries. Observers report traffickers exploit children through forced participation in the production and transportation of illegal drugs. Children and persons with disabilities are subjected to forced begging, particularly in Managua and near tourist centers. Traffickers subject male migrants from Central American countries transiting Nicaragua en route to Costa Rica and Panama to labor trafficking. Cuban nationals working in Nicaragua may have been forced to work by the Cuban government. Nicaragua is a destination for child sex tourists from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.