Somewhere inside the sprawling U.S. embassy complex in Pavas, there are one or two persons struggling to provide the data for this year’s human trafficking report.
Usually the report is boiler plated with ample sections simply copied from the previous year’s report. The report comes out each June and is based on information for the year ending this month.
This year is different. Basing the analysis on the strictest definition of the term, some could believe that the government of Costa Rica and some Central American countries have been the biggest human traffickers. Costa Rica helped about 8,000 Cubans early last year and countless Haitians and Africans later to migrate toward the United States.
Technically, this was not a legal action because Costa Rica’s trafficking laws make no provision to legalize government actions. No one complained, but the embassy workers will have to figure out a way to justify these actions.
There also was widespread informal trafficking for a fee. Many migrants had to pay to enter the country, to travel through it and to leave it. There were no official government actions, but there were plenty of unofficial ones by officials.
The U.S. State Department that issues the report declines to recognize that adult prostitution is not criminalized here. That goes along with the department’s rule that forbids grants to organizations that encourage the legalization of prostitution.
Consequently, each year the report contains a glaring omission for Costa Rica as well as a handful of other countries. U.S. Embassy staffers decline to acknowledge the error that distorts understanding of the report. But they do obtain a lot of information from organizations that benefit from grants to rehabilitate failed prostitutes.
The report correctly notes that of nearly 1,000 prostitutes, agents of the embassy have failed to find one that has been trafficked, but the report blames the methodology and the interview process. The numbers of willing prostitutes would seem to make forced prostitution unnecessary here.
The Asociación La Sala eventually seeks to have prostitution recognized as a legitimate service enterprise where employees receive all the benefits given other members of the workforce. But this organization certainly will not receive U.S. funding.
What embassy staffers fail to report are the thousands of cases of incest, exploitation of the young or child marriages. Health officials report thousands of births to underage mothers each year.
Costa Rica just past what appears to be an unenforceable law that forbids marriage of those younger than 18. And there are criminal penalties based on the age differences of romantically involved couples.
The Spanish-language media seems to be reporting more on some of these situations, including the murder near Guápiles of a 16-year-old female companion by a man in his 40s over the weekend. The police report said that the girl had been living with the man for three years.
There also are several unresolved cases of long-term incest that rate news coverage in the newspapers and on television.
The trafficking report mostly is based on statements from government officials, news reports, and the input from those who benefit from the U.S. government’s grants. A clearer picture of the situation could be obtained by first-person research, but embassy staffers do not like to visit downtown San José.
Sex trafficking is the topic that draws the most interest in the State Department report. And in some countries there is forced prostitution or worse. But generally overlooked is the labor exploitation of domestic workers and others who are trafficking victims.