Human trafficking in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced prostitution. To a lesser but increasing extent, Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to conditions of forced labor, particularly in the agriculture, construction, fishing, and domestic service sectors. Costa Rican women and children are forced into commercial sexual exploitation within the country, and to a limited extent, in Nicaragua and Mexico. Women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Colombia, and Panama have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of forced prostitution. Child sex tourism is a serious problem, particularly in the provinces of Guanacaste, Limon, Puntarenas, and San Jose. Child sex tourists arrive mostly from the United States, Germany, Sweden, and Italy. Young men from Nicaragua, Vietnam, China and other Asian countries, are subjected to conditions of forced labor in Costa Rica: during the reporting period, nine Vietnamese men were found in conditions of forced labor in the fishing industry. Costa Rica serves as a transit point for foreign nationals trafficked to Mexico, Canada, the United States, and Europe.
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. During the past year, the Government of Costa Rica continued to raise public awareness about human trafficking and trained many government officials, in addition to maintaining limited victim services. However, the government’s law enforcement efforts lagged with respect to holding trafficking offenders accountable for their crimes and in adequately addressing domestic cases of human trafficking.
The Government of Costa Rica sustained law enforcement efforts against human trafficking during the reporting period. 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, which does not fall within the international definition of 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. Articles 376 and 377 of the penal code additionally prohibit child sex trafficking, prescribing penalties of two to four years’ imprisonment. Law 8754, passed in July 2009, authorized the use of expanded law enforcement and investigative measures, such as wiretapping and the use of anticipated testimonies, when undertaking human trafficking cases. Insufficient familiarity with the new legislation, however, hindered the enforcement of these laws, and the government continued to use other statutes to prosecute trafficking offenders involved in the commercial sexual exploitation of children. During 2008, the latest period for which official statistics are available, the government investigated 18 potential cases of human trafficking and achieved five convictions for trafficking in persons crimes, compared with two convictions in 2007. The government operated a six-person smuggling and trafficking law enforcement unit, and worked closely with foreign governments in cases of transnational human trafficking. No government officials were prosecuted or convicted of trafficking-related corruption, although during the reporting period one government official was suspended and ultimately fired for his involvement in an alleged forced labor scheme involving Chinese youths; authorities were still investigating the case.
The Costa Rican government continued to ensure trafficking victims received access to a basic level of victim assistance during the reporting period. The government provided some officials with training on how to identify and treat trafficking victims; however, it reported no proactive efforts to search for trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as prostituted women or children. Although there were no government-provided shelter services dedicated to human trafficking victims, the government referred some victims to basic care at short-term government shelters for women and children. The government often relied on NGOs and religious organizations to provide specialized care for trafficking victims, and the only shelter available to adult male victims was the migration detention center. The government did provide services to some male victims, however, including the nine Vietnamese men found in conditions of forced labor in the fishing industry. Foreign victims were eligible for the same services as Costa Rican citizens. The government’s “immediate attention” protocol defined the steps for different government institutions to take to detect, identify, protect and provide integrated assistance to a victim, and the Immediate Action Team provided services to two potential trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government provided some limited legal and psychological assistance, though NGOs noted the need for greater government efforts to reintegrate victims into their communities. The government generally did not penalize victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Officials treated some adult migrants as illegal migrants, however, and deported them without taking adequate measures to determine if they were trafficking victims, and the majority of trafficking victims reported by the government were foreign citizens. Foreign nationals were eligible for work permits or refugee status, and the government had provisions in place to issue a special visa to foreign trafficking victims, though no victims received any of the above during the reporting period. A new immigration law, effective March 2010, authorizes temporary residency status specifically for foreign trafficking victims. Costa Rican authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, and the government created an enhanced witness protection program last year for victims of crime, though it was not yet fully operational.
The government sustained strong prevention efforts during the reporting year, training officials and employing partnerships with NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments to increase public awareness about human trafficking. The government, in partnership with UNICEF and other international organizations, continued the “Don’t Let Them Lie to You” anti-trafficking prevention campaign, which reached a projected fifty percent of the adult and adolescent population between October 2008 and June 2009. The campaign “No More Trafficking in Persons,” launched in partnership with IOM in July 2009, used media spots and a radio soap opera to highlight the realities of trafficking in persons. The government established an anti-trafficking directorate to coordinate its efforts to combat human trafficking. During the reporting period the government, in collaboration with NGOs and international organizations, trained almost 1,000 public officials about human trafficking, including police officers, immigration agents, and health workers. In addition to adding an anti-trafficking component to the police academy curriculum, the government instructed education officials on how to detect situations of commercial sexual exploitation of children in schools. Although public awareness of human trafficking crimes appeared to increase in Costa Rica, many officials continued to view it as a transnational, and not a domestic, phenomenon. The government reported no efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex or forced labor during the reporting period.