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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, even considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, if any, on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Paraguay remained on Tier 2.  These efforts included convicting considerably more traffickers, awarding restitution to two trafficking victims for the first time since 2018, drafting and implementing a protocol to support trafficking victims departing the shelter via at-home visits, and translating existing trafficking awareness materials into braille to expand accessibility.  However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas.  The government identified significantly fewer trafficking victims and newly prosecuted only two alleged traffickers.  The government did not establish the dedicated anti-trafficking agency or funding source required by law and reported limited efforts to implement the NAP to combat trafficking.  There were no shelter options for male victims, and the government only provided shelter to a subset of female trafficking victims.  Further, the government remained without effective approaches to tackling the abusive practices and working conditions common in situations of criadazgo, a practice which amounted to child domestic servitude.

  • Increase efforts to identify trafficking victims, including among vulnerable populations.
  • Fund and expand access to adequate specialized victim services, including for male victims.
  • Investigate and prosecute alleged traffickers, including complicit officials, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should include significant prison terms.
  • Fund and fully implement the 2020-2024 NAP, including its provisions to establish the national anti-trafficking secretariat and fund.
  • 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.
  • 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 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 adopt or develop a case management database for trafficking cases.

The government increased 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, was used during the reporting period to prosecute child sex trafficking offenses; however, it prescribed penalties of up to eight years’ imprisonment for offenses involving children, which are significantly lower than the penalties described under the anti-trafficking law.

The PNPTU and the public prosecutor’s Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU) shared responsibility for investigating trafficking crimes; the ATU also acted as the lead prosecuting agency.  In 2022, authorities initiated 126 trafficking investigations – 99 for sex trafficking, 16 for labor trafficking, and 11 for unspecified forms of trafficking – compared with 144 investigations in 2021 and 106 in 2020.  Officials continued to investigate 81 ongoing cases initiated in previous years.  Authorities filed preliminary charges against two suspected traffickers (one for sex trafficking and one for labor trafficking), compared with four suspected traffickers in 2021 and 21 in 2020.  There were five ongoing prosecutions, involving five accused traffickers, initiated in previous reporting periods; compared with 25 ongoing prosecutions, involving 16 accused traffickers, in 2021 and 105 in 2020.  Judges convicted 16 traffickers (12 sex traffickers and four labor traffickers), compared with convicting three traffickers in 2021.  These traffickers, 12 men and four women, received sentences ranging from two to 20 years’ imprisonment.  Courts heard an appeal of a 2021 decision to convict two traffickers accused of exploiting a Paraguayan woman in sex trafficking in the People’s Republic of China (PRC); the court ruled to uphold one trafficker’s conviction, reaffirming the lower court’s 10-year sentence, and overturned the other.

Judges specializing in organized crime adjudicated Paraguay’s trafficking cases.  Although the government did not report the budget allocated to anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, government and civil society commentators indicated the PNPTU, like the other law enforcement units, continued to operate with insufficient resources, marking the unit’s fifth consecutive year of limited funding.  The PNPTU comprised 47 specialized trafficking officers in 2022; this compared with 41 officers in 2021 and 2020, and 36 in 2019.  Observers indicated the unit needed more staff and additional offices in high-risk areas, including border zones and the international airport, to adequately perform its duties.  In 2022, the ATU cooperated with authorities from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Spain on 10 suspected trafficking investigations, culminating in nine arrests and identification of 59 trafficking victims.  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 general concerns.  The government coordinated with external organizations to arrange training for law enforcement officers and prosecutors on victim identification and other topics.

The government decreased protection efforts.  The government lacked a centralized database to aggregate information 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 65 victims in 2022.  By comparison, the government reported identifying 166 victims in 2021; 299 victims in 2020, an increase attributable to screening returning migrant workers during a required quarantine; 86 victims in 2019; and 70 victims in 2018.  Traffickers exploited 28 of these identified victims in sex trafficking and 37 in forced labor.  Among the 65 victims identified, there were 24 women, 15 girls, 22 men, and four boys; two identified victims were Bolivian, 24 were Paraguayans exploited within the country, and 41 were Paraguayans exploited abroad in Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico, and Spain.  Officials reported the two Bolivian victims were women exploited in domestic servitude.  The government’s interagency anti-trafficking roundtable directed a national referral mechanism for prosecutors, police, labor inspectors, and border officials.  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.  MINNA maintained SOPs for the identification of child trafficking victims at national borders; the government did not report identifying any child trafficking victims at national borders in 2022.  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 unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked.

There were three dedicated trafficking shelters with combined capacity for up to 38 female trafficking victims, one managed by the MWA for adults and two shelters for girl victims managed by MINNA; an NGO co-managed one of MINNA’s shelters.  MWA could also serve female trafficking victims at its two domestic violence shelters, although it did not report whether any trafficking victims stayed at these shelters in 2022.  The government reported providing some form of support services to 125 trafficking victims, many of whom were identified in previous reporting periods; it reported referring at least 12 victims to the MWA shelter.  In the absence of sufficient shelter capacity, most victims returned to their homes, where they sometimes 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.  The government maintained an interagency working group to support provision of services to trafficking victims outside of government shelters; the group met six times during the year.  The MWA developed a new SOP to conduct at-home visits for victims leaving its shelter; it conducted nine visits between the SOP’s implementation in July 2022 and the end of the reporting period.  The government did not report providing cash transfers to support victims’ basic needs in 2022, compared with providing 39 transfers in 2021.  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 entrepreneurship program for trafficking survivors, awarding small business seed grants to 28 victims in 2022, compared with 36 in 2021; MWA also provided six victims with equipment for their businesses.  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 before facilitating the return of male victims to their community of origin.  In 2022, the ATU provided food support to two boy victims; no male victims received shelter during the year.  The ATU earmarked internal funding for male victims’ lodging expenses for the first time in 2022.  Aside from some funding provided to the NGO operating the MINNA shelter, the government did not provide assistance to or coordinate with NGOs providing victim services.  Civil society observers indicated a lack of routine, substantive cooperation with the government limited their ability to support victim service provision.  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 provided by other parts of the government.  However, victim support was outside the ATU’s purview as an arm of the public prosecutor’s office; it did not receive government funding for victim assistance and relied on occasional allocations from an NGO-managed victims’ services fund.  This fund supported the government’s case-by-case provision of food assistance, direct cash transfers, and reintegration programming for trafficking victims.  The MWA reported a new coordination effort with other agencies to fund and distribute additional food and hygiene supplies to 16 victims.  Government officials reported funding was insufficient to assist victims adequately.  Although the government lifted pandemic-mitigation measures funded by emergency budgetary reallocations in December 2021, observers noted funding for anti-trafficking efforts did not return to pre-pandemic levels in 2022.  MINNA provided approximately $38,500 in 2022 to the NGO that operated the specialized shelter for underage victims, compared with the same amount in 2021 and 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 three victims in 2022, including the two Bolivian victims identified during the year, compared with one victim in 2021, and one in 2020.  Law 4788/12 outlined a procedure to award victims restitution when the courts convicted traffickers; victims could also file civil suits with the support of a government attorney to obtain compensation.  Courts ordered traffickers to pay restitution to two trafficking victims:  a sex trafficking victim awarded 30 million guarani ($4,104) and a labor trafficking victim awarded 100 million guarani ($13,681); prior to 2022, the government had last reported compensation or restitution to trafficking victims in 2018.

The government maintained 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 2022, the roundtable held five sessions, compared with three in 2021.  Law 4788/12 did not require participation of civil society in the roundtable, and authorities provided such stakeholders a limited, non-voting role.  Although the roundtable’s plenary sessions were officially open to civil society, some 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 NAP guided the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.  However, officials reported poor coordination, internal disputes, and funding limitations hindered efforts to implement the plan, including 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.

In 2022, the government launched an online campaign to increase awareness of fraudulent recruitment tactics and trafficking risks and continued to post awareness materials in bus terminals, airports, border crossings; however, the government largely relied on civil society, businesses, and trade unions to run trafficking awareness campaigns.  The government created and distributed new braille awareness materials, in addition to its Spanish and Guarani products.  The government maintained hotlines to report crimes against women and children, including trafficking crimes, as well as a webpage for filing complaints about trafficking and other crimes; it did not report the number of trafficking-related reports filed via these means.

The Ministry of Labor’s 23 labor inspectors had training to identify trafficking victims during inspections and could refer them to services through the interagency roundtable, but the government did not report the inspectors referring any victims to the roundtable in 2022; inspectors referred one case of labor trafficking to the ATU for criminal prosecution.  Inspectors conducted 455 on-site labor inspections in 2022, identifying 15 child labor violations, some of which may have amounted to trafficking.  The Ministry of Labor imposed fines for violations in 11 of these cases.  Observers noted the monetary fines commonly levied against employers for child labor violations were insufficient to discourage the practice.  The government remained without effective approaches to tackling the abusive practices and working conditions common in situations of criadazgo.  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 reports of foreign citizens engaging in commercial sex acts with children as potential child sex tourism or 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 a 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 the practice mainly affects young girls, boys represent 30 percent of children in criadazgo.  Traffickers exploit children from rural areas in sex trafficking and forced labor in urban centers.  Child sex trafficking cases often involve a familial trafficker.  Boys are often victims of forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, and criminality.  Children engaged in street vending, begging, mining, brick making, and ranching are vulnerable to trafficking.  Traffickers exploit Paraguayan children in forced labor in the cultivation and sale of illicit drugs.  Traffickers also recruit Paraguayan women to transport illicit drugs across international borders and may subsequently subject them to sex trafficking.  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, girls, and boys in sex trafficking within the country, including aboard vessels 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, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, the PRC, Colombia, Germany, Spain, and other countries.  Traffickers move female trafficking victims regionally and to Europe via transit countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Spain.  Foreign victims of sex and labor trafficking in Paraguay are mostly from other South American countries.  The lack of regulatory measures and insufficient transnational cooperation, combined with numerous unofficial border crossings, contribute to increased trafficking risk in and around the Tri-Border Area between Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay.  Civil society and victims alleged some officials – including police, border guards, judges, and public registry employees – facilitated sex trafficking by taking bribes from brothel owners in exchange for protection, extorting suspected traffickers to prevent arrest, or producing fraudulent identity documents.

U.S. Department of State

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