[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

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

Venezuela is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Venezuelan women and girls are trafficked within the country for commercial sexual exploitation, lured from poor interior regions to urban and tourist areas such as Caracas and Margarita Island. Victims are often recruited through false job offers, and subsequently coerced into prostitution. Some Venezuelan children are forced to work as street beggars or as domestic servants. Venezuelan women and girls are trafficked transnationally for commercial sexual exploitation to Mexico, in addition to Caribbean destinations such as Trinidad and Tobago, the Netherlands Antilles, and the Dominican Republic. A common trafficking route is for victims to transit Curacao en route to The Netherlands and other countries in Western Europe. Men, women, and children from Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, and Asian nations such as the People’s Republic of China are trafficked to and through Venezuela, and may be subjected to commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. A more recent trend appears to be increased human trafficking activity in Venezuela’s Orinoco River Basin area and border regions of Tachira State, where political violence and infiltration by armed rebel groups are common.

The Government of Venezuela does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Despite these overall significant efforts, the government did not show evidence of progress in convicting and sentencing trafficking offenders and providing adequate assistance to victims; therefore, Venezuela is placed on Tier 2 Watch List.

Recommendations for Venezuela: Amend existing laws to prohibit and adequately punish all forms of trafficking in persons, particularly the internal trafficking of men and boys; intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders; investigate reports of trafficking complicity by public officials; provide greater assistance and services to trafficking victims; consider designating a coordinator to lead the government’s anti-trafficking efforts; and improve data collection for trafficking crimes.

The Government of Venezuela made limited anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts over the last year, though Venezuelan law prohibits most forms of human trafficking. In 2007, the government enacted the Organic Law on the Right of Women to a Violence-Free Life. Article 56 of this recently enacted law prohibits the trafficking of women and girls for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labor, slavery, irregular adoption, or organ extraction, prescribing punishments of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Articles 46 and 47 prohibit forced prostitution and sexual slavery, and carry penalties of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment. These anti-trafficking provisions, however, do not address the internal trafficking of adult males or boys. Article 16 of the Organic Law Against Organized Crime, enacted in 2005, prohibits trafficking across international borders for labor or sexual exploitation, and prescribes penalties of 10 to 18 years’ imprisonment. The above penalties are sufficiently stringent, and commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. Prosecutors also can use Venezuela’s Child Protection Act and various articles of the penal code to prosecute the internal trafficking of children, though many of these statutes carry extremely low penalties -- typically a maximum of three months in jail or fines. Despite existing legal tools for punishing many forms of human trafficking, the Venezuelan government did not report any convictions or sentences of trafficking offenders in 2008. However, the government opened six investigations of transnational sex trafficking, one investigation of transnational labor trafficking, and one investigation of suspected internal trafficking. International organizations indicated that the government cooperated with INTERPOL on transnational trafficking cases, and increased screening for potential trafficking crimes at airports and borders. There were no confirmed reports of government complicity with human trafficking in 2008, though corruption among public officials, particularly related to the issuance of false identity documents, appeared to be widespread. Moreover, many Venezuelan law enforcement officials reportedly did not distinguish between human trafficking and alien smuggling offenses.

The government sustained limited efforts to assist trafficking victims during the reporting period. The government did not operate shelters accessible to or dedicated for trafficking victims, relying on NGOs and international organizations to provide the bulk of victim assistance. The government operated a national 24-hour hotline through which it received trafficking complaints, and directed trafficking victims to NGOs for care. Government-provided psychological and medical examinations were available for trafficking victims, but additional victim services such as follow-up medical aid, legal assistance with filing a complaint, job training, and reintegration assistance remained lacking. The government reportedly increased, however, the availability of psychological services for trafficking victims during the past year. Police reported that most trafficking victims were reluctant to testify in court against their traffickers because of long court delays and fear of reprisals. According to NGOs, the government did not have a formal mechanism for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution. There were no reports of victims being jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The government reportedly had a policy of providing refugee status or other legal protections for foreign victims who faced retribution if returned to their country of origin. The government also assisted with the repatriation of 28 Chinese nationals who had been subjected to labor trafficking last year.

The Venezuelan government increased its efforts to prevent human trafficking over the year by providing some funding to NGOs for education activities, conducting widespread public awareness campaigns about the dangers of human trafficking, and continuing anti-trafficking training for government officials. The government advertised its hotline number, aired public service announcements, and widely distributed materials against commercial sexual exploitation, forced labor, and child sex tourism. The government collaborated with NGOs and international organizations on other anti-trafficking efforts, but relations with these organizations were reportedly mixed. Moreover, high turnover of government personnel, particularly lack of an anti-trafficking coordinator, appears to have hampered the government’s anti-trafficking progress. While many government officials acknowledge that human trafficking is a problem in the country, some tended to view the nation as principally a transit point, demonstrating less recognition of internal trafficking concerns, such as children trafficked for commercial sexual exploitation. No specific activities to reduce demand for commercial sex acts or forced labor were reported.