Human trafficking report lacks evidence for its claims

The United States downgraded Costa Rica and put the country on the so-called watch list in the annual human trafficking report released Monday.

The U.S. State Department managed to produce a 1,488-word summary of the trafficking situation here without once mentioning that prostitution is not prosecuted. The vast majority of foreign women come here of their own volition seeking money they cannot get at home.

A.M. Costa Rica documented a year ago the illegal way women from the Dominican Republic managed to get into the country. They had assistance from some public employees.

But they were not forced or coerced.

The U.S. summary also makes some wild statements:

“Child sex tourism is a serious problem, particularly in the provinces of Guanacaste, Limón, Puntarenas, and San José. Child sex tourists arrive mostly from the United States, Germany, Sweden, and Italy.”

That gives the impression of foreign tourists robbing cradles for their perverted desires. In fact, the bulk of sexual exploitation of children here comes from family member. And the only current case of “child sex tourism” one of an expats who is on trial for having relations with an underage women he found in a brothel. The man thought that the brothel operator would have checked the ages to make sure all the employees were over 18, according to his friends.

An analysis of the news

Expats who come here as tourists are well aware of the severe penalties for sex with those under 18 even though many Costa Rican prostitutes begin their professional life at 14 or 15.

The State Department report seeks to prove the seriousness of the problem here because there have been no convictions. People complain that prosecution is slow. Well, it is the same way for murder cases.

Editors keep a close eye on possible trafficking cases. There have been some arrests of persons driving a car or bus load of illegal Nicaraguans in the Liberia area. There also are numbers of persons who help Nicaraguans and others evade border controls to the north. The southern border also is patrolled loosely.

The State Department report read like a brief for some agency seeking a federal grant. It would be helpful next year for the local embassy personnel responsible for this annual document to do some legwork instead of regurgitating what the various non-governmental agencies say to win funding.

This is the U.,S. government’s summary of the human trafficking situation in Costa Rica:

Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking
and forced labor. Costa Rican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country, and
residents of the north and central Pacific coast zones are particularly vulnerable to internal trafficking. Women
and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and other Latin American countries have been identified in
Costa Rica as victims of sex trafficking and forced domestic service.

Child sex tourism is a serious problem, particularly in the provinces of Guanacaste, Limon, Puntarenas, and San José. Child sex tourists arrive mostly from the United States, Germany, Sweden, and Italy. Costa Rica is increasingly a destination for men from other Central American countries and from Asian countries subjected to conditions of forced labor, particularly in the agriculture, construction, and fishing sectors.

During the reporting period, more than 40 men from Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Vietnam were found in conditions of forced labor in the fishing industry, and authorities identified three men from El Salvador who were subjected to forced labor on a farm. Costa Rica serves as a transit point for migrants en route to the United States, some of whom may fall victim to human trafficking.

The Government of Costa Rica does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of
trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. These significant efforts included the government’s
implementation of procedures to identify and assist trafficking victims, increased staffing of the anti-trafficking police unit, and the creation of a special team to identify potential trafficking victims among migrants. Authorities,
however, failed to convict or sentence any trafficking offenders, did not maintain specialized services or shelters for trafficking victims, and made limited efforts to raise public awareness about human trafficking. The government did not demonstrate evidence of overall increasing efforts over the previous reporting period; therefore, Costa Rica is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.

Recommendations for Costa Rica: Intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; strengthen prosecutorial efforts, perhaps through creating a dedicated unit for
trafficking or through increased training and focus on trafficking cases; amend trafficking legislation to include
human trafficking cases not involving movement; increase funding for specialized services for trafficking victims,
particularly adults, possibly through the establishment of a shelter specifically for trafficking victims or through funding NGOs to provide services; continue to offer training to police officers, immigration officials,
prosecutors, and judges on how to identify and respond to trafficking cases; increase funding for dedicated antitrafficking units and for anti-trafficking awareness efforts; and improve data collection for trafficking prosecutions and convictions.


The Government of Costa Rica investigated and prosecuted several trafficking cases involving both foreign and
domestic victims during the reporting period, but failed to achieve any convictions. Article 172 of the penal code,
which was amended in April 2009, prescribes penalties of six to 10 years’ imprisonment for the movement of
persons both across borders and within the country for the purposes of prostitution, sexual or labor servitude, slavery, forced work or services, servile marriage, forced begging, or other forms of compelled service. This statute also prohibits illegal adoption, a crime separate from human trafficking. Sentences may be increased to eight to 16 years’ imprisonment under aggravated circumstances, such as the victimization of a child or a trafficker’s use of deception, violence, intimidation, or coercion.

The penalties set forth in amended Article 172 are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. There have been no reported successful prosecutions under this law. Articles 376 and 377 of the penal code additionally prohibit child sex trafficking, prescribing penalties of two to four years’ imprisonment. Law 8754 authorizes the use of extensive investigative measures such as wiretapping in human trafficking cases, and law enforcement officials used these tactics during 2010. Lack of familiarity with the new legislation impeded the enforcement of these laws. A draft law currently before the Congress contains robust victim protections and detailed descriptions of government responsibilities and interagency cooperation mechanisms. The definition of trafficking in the draft law, however, does not require force, fraud, or coercion as an element of the crime and requires movement for a crime to be considering trafficking.

The law enforcement anti-trafficking unit of eight investigators was strengthened during the year and reported conducting at least 20 investigations. Several law enforcement operations were conducted in partnership
with NGO staff. These efforts, however, did not lead to any successful prosecutions. Some NGOs and officials noted that prosecutors lagged in their understanding of the crime.

There was no specialized prosecutorial unit for trafficking crimes; rather, prosecutors from the sex crimes unit, the
organized crimes unit and the “various crimes” unit all handled trafficking cases. During 2009, the latest period for which official statistics are available, authorities prosecuted 41 trafficking cases and six cases of child trafficking under Article 172. There were no reported convictions for trafficking in persons crimes in 2009, compared with five convictions achieved in 2008. The Government of Costa Rica worked closely with foreign governments on several cases during the year, including the governments of China, Panama, Vietnam, and the United States. The government-run national coalition provided training to 207 public officials on human trafficking. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, convictions, or sentences of public officials complicit in human trafficking.


The Costa Rican government improved its efforts to identify and assist trafficking victims and identified a
record number of foreign victims, but again did not fund specialized services or shelters, relying on NGOs and
international organizations to provide most specialized victim care. The government continued to implement its
“immediate attention” protocol, which defined the steps for different government institutions to take in identifying, protecting, and providing integrated assistance to victims. During the year, officials created a team to detect
humanitarian issues, including human trafficking, among migrants. Authorities provided members of the national
anti-trafficking coalition with a model of integrated attention for trafficking victims and trained member
institutions on implementing the model, although an NGO noted that the majority of working-level officials and NGO staff were unaware of the model and that implementation was weak.

There were no government-funded shelter services dedicated to human trafficking victims. Authorities maintained short-term government shelters for female victims of domestic violence and for at-risk youth, and authorities reported that some child trafficking victims received services at these shelters during the reporting period. The government often relied on NGOs and religious organizations to provide specialized care for trafficking victims and did not provide funding to these institutions. It did maintain, however, a formalized referral process. All foreign male trafficking victims identified during the year were housed in hostels with funding and support from an international organization.

All 60 of the trafficking victims that the coalition reported identifying during the reporting period were foreign
citizens, despite NGOs and law enforcement officials identifying several Costa Rican victims. Foreign victims
were eligible for the same services as Costa Rican citizens. The government provided legal, psychological, and basic health assistance, though NGOs noted the need for greater government efforts to reintegrate Costa Rican victims into their communities.

The government generally did not penalize identified victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The government granted special visas or temporary residency status to several victims during the reporting period, though most victims preferred to return to their home countries. Costa Rican authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and some victims did so during the reporting period. An NGO reported that some victims, however, were unwilling to file police reports or to collaborate with investigations due to lack of confidence in the judicial system. Funding for witness protection increased but remained limited.


The Government of Costa Rica sustained limited prevention efforts during the reporting year. Authorities
continued to partner with civil society on awareness efforts, but did not fund any information or education
campaigns. The government’s anti-trafficking directorate, which coordinated the national anti-trafficking coalition,
was moved to the Migration Office during the year and continued to lead government efforts, though antitrafficking actors noted that the coalition rarely met rarely during the year. The coalition, however, did conduct an
extensive assessment of the government’s anti-trafficking efforts and created an action plan for 2011, though
these documents were not publicly distributed.

The National Commission to Combat the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents continued
to implements its national plan. NGOs reported that some officials continued to conflate trafficking with smuggling or only understand trafficking as a transnational crime. Authorities prosecuted a U.S. citizen for alleged commercial sexual exploitation of a child, though there were no reported convictions of child sex tourists during
the reporting period. The government reported no other efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor during the reporting period.

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