Trafficking in Persons Report 2018 – Costa Rica – Tier 2 Watch List


The Government of Costa Rica does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government demonstrated increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; therefore, Costa Rica remained on Tier 2. The government demonstrated increasing efforts by investigating, prosecuting, and convicting more traffickers; addressing complicity by arresting a police officer for allegedly assisting a criminal trafficking network; identifying more trafficking victims than in the previous year; and approving a new protocol to improve identification of child trafficking victims. However, the government did not meet the minimum standards in several key areas. Distribution of government-funded resources to address trafficking remained insufficient, particularly in the area of victim protection and assistance, which remained uneven for male victims. Civil society organizations reported referral mechanisms were not always implemented in an effective or timely manner. Authorities did not convict any officials complicit in human trafficking or trafficking-related offenses.

Recommendations for Costa Rica 

Increase distribution of funds for victim services and provide specialized shelter and services for trafficking victims, including men and LGBTI persons, in partnership with civil society organizations; intensify efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, particularly labor trafficking cases, and convict and punish traffickers; increase victim identification and referral, particularly in cases occurring outside of the capital; conduct thorough and transparent criminal investigations of alleged government complicity in trafficking offenses and prosecute, convict, and punish complicit officials; increase efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict child sex tourists and others who purchase commercial sex acts from child trafficking victims; increase anti-trafficking training for police, prosecutors, and judges; and improve data collection on law enforcement and victim protection efforts.


The government increased law enforcement efforts. The Law against Trafficking and the 2013 Creation of the National Coalition against the Smuggling of Migrants and Trafficking in Persons did not criminalize all forms of sex and labor trafficking because it required movement to constitute a trafficking offense. It specifically criminalized the acts of promoting, facilitating, or assisting in the entrance into or exit from the country, or the displacement within the country of persons for prostitution, sexual or labor exploitation or servitude, slavery or practices similar to slavery, forced labor or services, forced marriage, forced begging, illegal extraction of organs, or illegal adoption as the crime of trafficking. Inconsistent with international law, the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors, rather than essential elements, of the crime. The law defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation and labor exploitation. Article 172 criminalized sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of four to 20 years imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other serious crimes. In addition to article 172, officials used trafficking-related offenses to prosecute trafficking cases; including aggravated pimping (article 170) and coerced pimping (article 171). These articles prescribed penalties ranging from two to 10 years imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other serious crimes, such as rape. Article 189 criminalized forced labor or services and prescribed penalties of four to eight years imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent. On May 8, 2018, the government adopted amendments to articles 172 and 189, which aligned the law’s definition of trafficking more closely with international law by removing the requirement of movement and establishing force, fraud, or coercion as essential elements of the crime except in the case of child sex trafficking where these means are not required.

The Attorney General’s Office reported investigating 62 cases of movement-based trafficking (article 172), coerced pimping (article 171), aggravated pimping (article 170), and forced labor or services (article 189), compared to 27 new cases in 2016. The government initiated 41 new prosecutions and convicted five traffickers under articles 172 and 189 to sentences ranging from five to 23 years imprisonment, compared to 39 new prosecutions and one conviction under article 172 in 2016. Notable cases included aggravated and coerced pimping in bars, forced labor as domestic servants, and transnational sex trafficking operations where traffickers recruited victims with false promises of employment in modeling agencies and restaurants and exploited them in commercial sex. Observers noted improvements in coordination between the Attorney General and judicial investigatory police, but a significant backlog of criminal cases, including trafficking cases, slowed prosecutions. Costa Rica’s judiciary began developing a “Strategic Plan for the Prosecution of Trafficking in Persons” to address its deficiencies and advanced key elements of the plan during a workshop in March 2018. The government provided anti-trafficking training to law enforcement, the judicial sector, child welfare officials, educational professionals, and civil society members. The government reported the former mayor indicted for establishing a trafficking network in 2011 still awaited trial. Authorities arrested a police officer for allegedly assisting a criminal trafficking network operating out of a bar during the reporting period; the officer remained in custody pending trial. The government did not convict any officials complicit in human trafficking or trafficking-related offenses.


The government maintained victim protection efforts. The government identified 34 trafficking victims (24 sex trafficking, nine forced labor, one both sex trafficking and forced labor) under the trafficking law, compared to 17 trafficking victims in 2016 (12 sex trafficking and five forced labor) and three sex trafficking victims in 2015. The government provided shelter and health, legal, and psychological services to 38 potential victims or their dependents during the reporting period, including 20 women, 4 men, 11 girls, and 3 boys. Potential victims and their dependents received immediate services, and all 38 were “accredited” under Costa Rican protocols. Law enforcement authorities used written procedures for identifying victims among vulnerable groups, such as migrants and individuals in prostitution, and referred identified victims to the government’s interagency anti-trafficking body, the National Coalition against Migrant Smuggling and Trafficking in Persons (CONATT) to coordinate service provision. In 2017, the government approved the “Institutional Protocol for the Care of Minors and Survivors of Trafficking in Persons,” which established the steps officials must take when detecting a crime, especially a possible case of trafficking.

CONATT coordinated assistance to trafficking victims, including emergency, short-term, and long-term assistance, which could include food, lodging, and health, financial, legal, and psychological services. The government assisted minor victims through a dedicated network of shelters for minors and two government-funded NGOs. Authorities had the discretion to refer victims to services on a case-by-case basis; not all victims received the same level of protection. Civil society organizations reported referral mechanisms were not always implemented in an effective or timely manner, and recommended the government provide transportation for victims to institutions providing assistance. The government, through the National Anti-Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants Fund (FONATT), disbursed 132 million colones ($234,000) to fund trafficking victim services in 2017, compared to 122 million colones ($216,310) in 2016. The child welfare agency provided direct funding and a per-victim subsidy for identified victims to an NGO-run shelter for child victims. The government also directed 97.4 million colones ($172,700) in lottery funds to an NGO providing services to trafficking victims, compared to 91 million colones ($161,350) in 2016. The government did not provide dedicated shelters or specialized services to male victims, although the emergency shelter and safe houses could be used for male or female victims. Observers reported that, despite dedicated government resources to anti-trafficking efforts, including victim services, the failure to fully distribute all of these resources hindered the country’s ability to address its trafficking problem. Costa Rican law permitted 17 victims to provide testimony outside of court proceedings in 2017 to avoid re-traumatizing the victims. The government granted temporary residency status, with permission to work or study, to two foreign victims in 2017. The government worked with one foreign government to repatriate one Costa Rican trafficking victim in 2017. There were no reports the government penalized trafficking victims for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking.


The government maintained prevention efforts. CONATT met periodically to review progress in the areas of research, protection, prevention, and prosecution; presented a public report on its accomplishments every four months; and funded an international organization to develop a new national action plan for 2018-2022. In 2017, the government allocated 1.6 billion colones ($2.8 million) and disbursed 1.03 billion colones ($1.8 million) to fund 11 anti-trafficking programs, including prevention campaigns, a community security program, purchase of vehicles, and training and technical support for government agencies. Authorities financed the UN Blue Heart national public awareness campaign through advertisements on billboards, buses, and in tourist facilities; publicized the 9-1-1 hotline with anti-trafficking messages on national lottery tickets; and held public events to warn about the dangers of trafficking. The Judiciary Police operated the 9-1-1 hotline available for general crime reporting, but did not report receiving trafficking calls. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor. The government worked to reduce the vulnerability of children of migrant indigenous workers in the coffee sector by expanding the availability of childcare centers. The government educated labor recruiters for international and domestic businesses about the consequences of violating the anti-trafficking regulations, but did not report investigating or penalizing any labor recruiters for illegal practices that contribute to trafficking. The government raised awareness of child sex tourism and integrated the international code of conduct related to commercial sexual exploitation in the travel and tourism industry into its national tourism program. The government continued to investigate and prosecute individuals that paid child trafficking victims for commercial sex, resulting in 62 investigations and three convictions compared with 35 investigations and at least one conviction in 2016. Working in collaboration with international partners, the government reported denying entry to all 57 foreign-registered sex offenders who attempted to travel to Costa Rica as tourists in 2017.

Trafficking Profile 

As reported over the past five years, Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Costa Rican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country, with those living in the north and central Pacific coastal zones being particularly vulnerable. Authorities have identified adults using children to transport or sell drugs; some of these children may be trafficking victims. Migrants en route to the United States remained vulnerable to trafficking. LGBTI persons, particularly transgender Costa Ricans, are vulnerable to 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. Child sex tourism is a serious problem, with child sex tourists arriving mostly from the United States and Europe. Men and children from other Central American countries are subjected to forced labor in Costa Rica, particularly in the agriculture and domestic service sectors. Nicaraguan men and women transit Costa Rica en route to Panama, where some are subjected to forced labor or sex trafficking. Indigenous Panamanians are also reportedly vulnerable to forced labor in agriculture in Costa Rica.