COSTA RICA (Tier 2)
The Government of Costa Rica does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Costa Rica remained on Tier 2. These efforts included convicting a labor trafficker for the first time since 2019; identifying more victims, including six male victims; and notably increasing funding allocations for victim services. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Funding for anti-trafficking efforts remained inadequate, particularly funding for prevention measures and campaigns to raise awareness of trafficking. The government investigated and prosecuted fewer trafficking cases than in the previous reporting period.
- Increase victim identification and referral, particularly in coordination and collaboration with local, interagency, and civil society partners.
- Increase funding for victim services and provide specialized shelter and services for trafficking victims in partnership with civil society organizations.
- Train local prosecutors to recognize trafficking cases and seek support from the national prosecutor.
- Intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, including forced labor and child sex tourism, and seek adequate penalties for convicted traffickers, which should involve significant prison terms.
- Reduce bureaucratic obstacles to the disbursement of funds allocated to anti-trafficking efforts.
- Fund and implement the judicial action plan to improve the investigation and prosecution of trafficking cases.
- Further reduce the backlog of trafficking cases in the judicial system.
- Conduct thorough and transparent criminal investigations and prosecute government officials complicit in trafficking offenses.
- Increase anti-trafficking training for police, judges, and municipal officials.
- Improve data collection on judicial, law enforcement, and victim protection efforts.
The government decreased law enforcement efforts. Article 172 of the penal code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of six to 10 years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim and eight to 16 years’ imprisonment for those involving a child victim. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation, inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law. In addition to Article 172, officials used trafficking-related offenses to prosecute trafficking cases, including aggravated pimping (Article 170) and coerced pimping (Article 171), both of which prescribed penalties ranging from two to 10 years’ imprisonment. Article 189 criminalized forced labor or services and prescribed penalties of six to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Costa Rica had two police forces involved in trafficking investigations – the Judicial Investigation Police (OIJ) and the Migration Authority’s (DGME’s) Professional Migration Police (PPM). Both units worked closely with the Attorney General’s anti-trafficking office (FACTRA), which prosecuted trafficking crimes and oversaw trafficking investigations. FACTRA reported investigating 46 cases under Article 172, including 26 sex trafficking investigations, six forced labor cases, and 14 for unspecified forms of trafficking. This compared with investigating 70 cases in 2021 – including 42 trafficking cases under Article 172, 23 child sex trafficking cases (Article 170), and five cases of forced labor or services (Article 189) – and 103 in 2020. The government initiated prosecutions against six accused sex traffickers under Article 172, compared with prosecuting nine accused sex traffickers under Article 172 in 2021 and four accused traffickers in 2020. In 2022, the government began prioritizing use of the anti-trafficking statute (Article 172) in trafficking cases, including prosecutions of individuals who paid child trafficking victims for commercial sex, which it previously prosecuted under Article 160; the government did not specify how many, if any, prosecutions under Article 172 involved defendants paying to engage in commercial sex acts with children, compared with three prosecutions fitting this description (under Article 160) in 2021. Courts convicted three traffickers – two sex traffickers and one labor trafficker – in 2022, compared with convicting one sex trafficker in 2021 and five traffickers in 2020. In one case, a judge convicted an accused labor trafficker of abuse against a potential trafficking victim, although forced labor charges levied in the same case were unsuccessful, and sentenced him to 14.5 years’ imprisonment; prosecutors filed to appeal the acquittal of trafficking charges. Prior to this conviction, the government had not prosecuted or convicted any labor traffickers since it prosecuted one labor trafficker under Article 189 in 2019. Courts sentenced one sex trafficker to four years’ imprisonment and the other to eight years’ imprisonment. The government reported courts ruled to uphold the convictions against three traffickers in appeals to trafficking cases decided in previous years.
Officials reported pandemic-related mitigation measures, while in effect, continued to strain law enforcement capacity and limited resources to combat trafficking. The government tasked law enforcement officials, including trafficking investigators, with enforcing vehicle use restrictions, capacity limits, and business closures; the government lifted relevant restrictions in March 2022. Additionally, generalized funding shortages restricted law enforcement activity, including regular monitoring and anti-trafficking patrols. The government reported several ongoing cases involving officials allegedly complicit in trafficking crimes, including a 2011 investigation still awaiting trial, involving a local mayor accused of sex trafficking; a 2018 investigation involving 12 officials accused of sex trafficking; and a 2022 investigation involving one official for unspecified forms of trafficking.
The judicial sector’s chronic backlog of cases continued to delay processing for all cases, including trafficking cases. FACTRA oversaw 13 provincial task forces which served as a platform for coordination between local and national prosecutors and facilitated trafficking casework. The Supreme Court had a judicial branch action plan with a dedicated budget, developed in 2018, to build capacity and raise public awareness on how to identify trafficking, but the government again failed to implement the plan. The government reported training PPM officials, OIJ investigators, and prosecutors on identifying and investigating trafficking cases. It also trained officials from the National Coalition against Illicit Smuggling and Trafficking of Migrants’ (CONATT’s) member institutions to recognize trafficking indicators and refer potential victims to services. Law enforcement officials, including those supporting anti-trafficking efforts, served short rotational assignments. Institutional capacity to combat trafficking varied across the country, with national-level officials demonstrating greater familiarity with trafficking than municipal counterparts. Observers noted some local level prosecutors were unfamiliar with trafficking cases and did not know to request support from FACTRA in building a case. FACTRA reported collaborating on trafficking cases with Costa Rican, Guatemalan, and Nicaraguan officials; in the course of a joint child sex trafficking investigation, Costa Rican officials coordinated with Panamanian law enforcement to arrest four suspected child sex traffickers, all women, and identify nine potential sex trafficking victims in Panama.
The government increased victim protection efforts. The government identified 38 trafficking victims (13 sex trafficking victims, 11 labor trafficking victims, five victims of sex and labor trafficking, and nine victims of unspecified forms of trafficking), compared with 21 victims in 2021 and 50 in 2020. Officials reported there were 18 adult female victims, 14 girl victims, one adult male victim, and five boy victims. Of the 38 identified victims, 20 were Costa Rican nationals and 18 were foreign; officials reported identifying foreign victims from the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela. The government reported there were several instances of familial trafficking, where traffickers exploited both parent and child; in some of these cases, the children were born into situations of trafficking and subsequently exploited. The government reported NGOs identified two of the reported victims, a mother and daughter exploited in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploited one of the reported victims, a Venezuelan man, in forced begging in Colombia; when Costa Rican officials learned of his exploitation, they formally identified him as a trafficking victim and provided him services, including lodging, basic care, and a cash subsidy.
Through the Immediate Response Team (ERI), a specialized inter-institutional body within the CONATT, the government provided initial services to all 38 identified victims and four victims’ dependents. The Office of Attention and Protection of Crime Victims (OAPVD), which served victims of all crimes, reported providing services to 60 trafficking victims, including victims identified in previous years, compared with serving 41 trafficking victims in 2021 and 75 in 2020. The National Women’s Institute identified and provided services to seven female victims in 2022, compared with supporting 20 female victims in 2021 and 47 victims in 2020. OAPVD coordinated with the national child welfare institution (PANI) to arrange shelter and services for all child victims identified in 2022; by comparison, in 2021, PANI arranged shelter for one child victim, a boy, not supported by other providers. Some victims may have received services from more than one provider. Specialized law enforcement units, PANI, and national immigration authorities used written procedures for identifying victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrants and individuals in commercial sex, and referred identified victims to CONATT to coordinate service provision. Observers reported officials in rural areas were often unfamiliar with referral procedures. Public officials used the “Comprehensive Care Model,” “Institutional Protocol for the Care of Minors and Survivors of Trafficking in Persons,” and the “Interagency Manual of Attention of Minors in Sexual Trafficking, Child Labor, and Dangerous Work,” which established the steps officials must take when identifying a possible case of trafficking. ERI and FACTRA continued to work with an international organization to update guidance on victim identification and referral. The government reported it identified victims through its routine screenings of vulnerable populations – including individuals in commercial sex and women heads of households below the poverty line – for trafficking indicators but did not report how many victims it identified through these efforts. Observers noted labor inspectors lacked training to identify situations of trafficking, and that labor officials referred few, if any, trafficking cases to ERI or FACTRA.
The government could provide victims with access to health care providers, psychological services, legal counsel, financial aid, law enforcement liaisons, and other services, including detoxification treatment, for up to three years. CONATT coordinated emergency, short-term, and long-term assistance for victims, often via the OAPVD. ERI arranged short-term services for newly identified victims, including shelter, food, and medical care. There was one trafficking-specific shelter in the country, an NGO-run emergency facility capable of housing victims for up to 30 days. The government reported it could refer victims to the emergency shelter; however, authorities infrequently referred victims to NGO facilities, preferring to house victims in government safe houses. CONATT could also place victims in a civil society-operated safe house or a longer-term non-specialized shelter serving women and children. The government assisted child victims through PANI, which had a network of shelters for children and could place girl victims at an NGO facility able to provide long-term shelter. The government did not have shelter options for male or LGBTQI+ victims; authorities housed male and LGBTQI+ trafficking victims in hotels on a case-by-case basis. In 2022, the government rented a hotel room to accommodate one adult male victim. CONATT designated one of its constituent agencies to oversee victims’ service provision on a rotating basis. The designated agency had the discretion to refer victims to services based on individual needs; not all victims received the same level of protection. Civil society organizations reported authorities did not always implement referral mechanisms in an effective or timely manner and recommended the government provide transportation for victims to institutions providing assistance; civil society observed slower provision of victim services in rural areas. The National Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Fund (FONATT) disbursed 54.9 million colones ($92,840) to fund services for identified victims and their dependents, compared with disbursing 71.6 million colones ($121,080) for this purpose in 2021 and 7.41 million colones ($12,530) in 2020. The government allocated 4 million colones ($6,760) in additional funding to cover emergency services and initial care for potential victims; by comparison, it allocated 7.42 million colones ($12,550) in additional funding for this purpose in 2020, the most recent year for which data was available. OAPVD spent an additional 423,000 colones ($715) from its general fund on services for trafficking victims. FONATT funding was tied to a tourism tax; the government attributed reduced expenditure on anti-trafficking efforts to decreased tourism and government-wide financial austerity measures linked to the pandemic. The government allocated 171.3 million colones ($289,670) to two NGO-managed shelters, one serving child victims and another serving adult victims and their minor dependents, compared with 1.25 million colones ($2,115) in 2021. PANI also provided a per-victim subsidy for identified victims to the NGO managing the shelter for child victims. Observers reported failure to disburse all of the allocated resources hindered anti-trafficking efforts, despite dedicated government resources, including for victim services.
Costa Rican law allowed victims to obtain temporary residency status and work permits, leave the country, file civil suits against traffickers, and provide testimony outside of court proceedings. The government reported courts did not order restitution be paid to any victims in 2022. The government reported issuing or renewing 75 temporary residence permits to trafficking victims in 2022, compared with issuing 58 temporary residence permits in 2021. Victims could testify outside of court proceedings; the government did not report any victims utilizing this provision in 2022 or 2021, compared with two in 2020. The government did not support the repatriation of any trafficking victims in 2022, compared with coordinating with an NGO to facilitate one victim’s repatriation in 2021. The government reported offering several training opportunities for a range of officials, including social workers and medical staff, on referring and supporting trafficking victims according to national protocols; an international organization provided unspecified support for some of these trainings.
The government maintained prevention efforts. CONATT, chaired by DGME, integrated and coordinated anti-trafficking efforts among 22 public institutions, key NGOs, and international organizations, and it maintained sub-commissions focused on attention to victims, prevention, justice, investigation and analysis, and project management. CONATT met regularly to review progress in the areas of research, protection, prevention, and prosecution; in 2022, it relied on both in-person and virtual meetings to maintain interagency coordination. However, in 2022, officials reported DGME withdrew a technical staff member seconded to CONATT, reducing the institution’s full-time staffing to six officials; officials attributed the withdrawal to increased workload associated with increased migration. CONATT continued to publish quarterly public reports on its anti-trafficking efforts. The government continued to implement its 2020-2030 NAP. Through the FONATT, the government reported a total of 1.12 billion colones ($1.9 million) in anti-trafficking expenditures, a significant increase over reported expenditures of 107 million colones ($180,940) in 2021 and 620.45 million colones ($1.05 million) in FONATT funding in 2020. These expenditures included major projects to strengthen interagency protocols to identify, refer, and provide services to trafficking victims and to implement biometric screening at international border crossings to deter organized criminal activity, including trafficking. The government primarily financed its anti-trafficking activities through the FONATT, but bureaucratic impediments hindered use of these funds. In 2022, the government disbursed 70 percent of allocated FONATT funds, compared with 64 percent in 2021 and 13 percent in 2020. The government funded the FONATT primarily through a national exit tax; consequently, funding for anti-trafficking efforts fluctuated with travel to and from Costa Rica, which remained reduced due to the pandemic. The government did not allocate funding for preventing efforts in 2022, marking the third consecutive year without prevention programming, compared with allocating 171.5 million colones ($290,010) for prevention programming and 1.37 billion colones ($2.3 million) for other anti-trafficking events and projects in 2019. The government reported it did not fund prevention and awareness-raising programming due to financial austerity and government-wide resource limitations. Consequently, awareness-raising programming remained limited, although anti-trafficking officials continued to promote trafficking awareness through low-cost social media posts. The government did not make trafficking-specific allocations to DGME, the Ministry of Public Education, or other agencies in 2022.
OIJ operated two emergency hotlines to receive reports of all crimes, including trafficking; the government reported OIJ received at least 34 trafficking-related calls in 2022, compared with receiving 153 trafficking-related calls in 2021. The Judiciary Police also operated a 9-1-1 hotline available for general crime reporting, but did not report how many hotline-related calls this hotline received.
In 2022, the government reported working with an international organization to train labor recruiters for 35 businesses on ethical labor recruitment and the consequences of violating the anti-trafficking regulations; the government did not report investigating or penalizing any labor recruiters for illegal practices that contributed to trafficking in 2022, 2021, or 2020. The government promoted an international code of conduct related to commercial sexual exploitation in the travel and tourism industry. The government collaborated with civil society to offer training sessions for tourism sector staff on identifying and referring trafficking victims. The government did not report efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts in 2022. In addition to prosecuting individuals that paid child trafficking victims for commercial sex, the government made efforts to reduce the demand for participation in international sex tourism by working with international partners to deny entry to 76 foreign-registered sex offenders who attempted to travel to Costa Rica as tourists in 2022.
As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Costa Rica, and traffickers exploit victims from Costa Rica abroad. Traffickers subject Costa Rican women and children to sex trafficking within the country, with those living in the Pacific coastal zones and near the northern and southern borders being particularly vulnerable; the normalization of exploitative situations, including child sex trafficking, in these communities increased women and children’s vulnerability to trafficking. Government officials report traffickers often operate independently, without a connection to organized crime, to exploit Costa Rican victims. Many victims are related to or otherwise know their traffickers. Authorities suspect adults use children to transport or sell drugs; some of these children may be trafficking victims. Traffickers exploit LGBTQI+ persons, including transgender persons, in sex 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 domestic servitude. Traffickers subject migrant adults and children, primarily from Nicaragua, to forced labor in agriculture and domestic service or to sex trafficking. Criminal organizations recruit and coerce individuals experiencing homelessness to smuggle contraband into prisons for the purpose of further criminal activity. As a result of pandemic-related restrictions on public spaces, traffickers began exploiting sex trafficking victims in apartments and other private residences, as well as more typical venues like bars and brothels. Traffickers prey on migrants, some en route to the United States, from other Central American countries, the Caribbean, the People’s Republic of China, and South America. Child sex tourism is a serious problem, with child sex tourists arriving mostly from the United States and Europe.