[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

COSTA RICA (TIER 2)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purpose of commercial sexual exploitation. To a lesser but increasing extent, Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked into forced labor, particularly in agriculture, construction, restaurant work, the fishing industry, and as domestic servants. Costa Rican women and children are trafficked within the country and to neighboring Central American countries, Mexico, and Japan, for commercial sexual exploitation. Foreign women and girls from Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Colombia, Russia, and Eastern Europe have been identified in Costa Rica as victims of forced prostitution. The government recognizes child sex tourism as 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, as well as Chinese nationals, are trafficked to Costa Rica for forced labor. According to anecdotal reports, young indigenous Panamanians may be trafficked to Costa Rica for forced panhandling. 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 approved national legislation to prohibit and punish all forms of human trafficking, and improved victim assistance and prevention efforts. However, effective law enforcement efforts to ensure that trafficking offenders are held accountable for their crimes remained lacking.

Recommendations for Costa Rica: Implement and enforce the new anti-trafficking law; intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; provide greater assistance for victims; increase efforts to reduce consumer demand for commercial sex acts; and improve data collection for trafficking crimes.

The Government of Costa Rica improved law enforcement efforts against human trafficking during the reporting period. In February 2009, the Costa Rican Legislative Assembly approved legislation to amend Article 172 of the penal code to criminalize all forms of trafficking in persons. The new law establishes a penalty of six to 10 years’ imprisonment for the movement of persons for the purposes of prostitution, sexual or labor servitude, slavery, forced work or services, servile marriage, begging, or other prohibited purposes; sentences may be increased to eight to 16 years’ imprisonment under aggravated circumstances, such as when the victim is a minor or a trafficker uses means of deception, violence, intimidation, or coercion. The new legislation came into force in April 2009, and closed a statutory gap relating to the internal trafficking of adults. 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. During 2007, the latest period for which official statistics are available, the government opened nine investigations into suspected transnational human trafficking, and secured two convictions against offenders. However, the government continued to suffer a low conviction rate on trafficking cases, as seven of the nine trafficking suspects were acquitted. In May 2008, the national judicial police formed a four-person smuggling and trafficking unit, which opened two investigations of international trafficking organizations; however, the unit’s effectiveness appeared hampered by unclear reporting lines to prosecutorial counterparts and lack of a dedicated budget. Moreover, it remained unclear which law enforcement entities had the lead in investigating and prosecuting internal human trafficking cases. The government significantly increased anti-trafficking training for law enforcement and public officials in 2008, training nearly 1,000 police, immigration agents, and health workers. The government increased regional cooperation by assisting neighboring countries on anti-trafficking investigations and hosting a large regional conference to share “best practices.” No confirmed allegations of trafficking-related corruption were investigated or prosecuted, though NGOs reported instances of street-level police collusion with traffickers.

The Costa Rican government improved victim assistance during the reporting period, though the overall availability of services remained limited. Trafficking victims can access basic care at government shelters for women and children. Shelter care is not available for men. The government relied on NGOs and international organizations to provide specialized care for trafficking victims, though the government provided limited funding for an NGO providing care for sex trafficking victims. In June 2008, the government’s anti-trafficking committee established an “immediate attention” protocol to identify and refer trafficking victims, on an emergency basis if necessary, to NGOs and other sources of assistance. The government generally did not penalize victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Officials treated some foreign adults as illegal migrants, however, and deported them without taking adequate measures to determine if they were trafficking victims. The government employed no formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as prostituted women. Costa Rican law did not provide temporary residency status for foreign trafficking victims, though foreign nationals were eligible for work permits or refugee status; the government granted refugee status to a trafficking victim for the first time last year. The government also can issue a special visa to foreign trafficking victims who assist with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, efforts which Costa Rican authorities encouraged.

The government increased prevention efforts during the reporting year, launching an awareness-raising campaign entitled “Don’t Let Them Lie to You” in October 2008, directed at families and young people across the country. The government dedicated $25,000 in funding for the widespread media effort, supplementing the assistance of UNICEF and other international organizations. The government’s anti-trafficking coordinating committee significantly stepped up activities last year, hiring an attorney to assist with drafting anti-trafficking legislation consistent with international standards. The government sponsored campaigns to reduce demand for commercial sex acts with minors by warning potential foreign “clients” of child prostitution that they will be prosecuted in Costa Rica. In 2007, the latest period for which official statistics are available, the government opened 99 investigations of suspects paying for commercial sex acts with minors, achieving three convictions of exploiters. By the end of 2008, approximately 240 tour companies in Costa Rica had signed a conduct code against the commercial sexual exploitation of children. Public awareness of human trafficking crimes appeared to be growing in Costa Rica, though some officials tended to view it as a transnational, and not a domestic, phenomenon.