The government maintained inadequate law enforcement efforts. Law 263 of 2012—the Comprehensive Law against Trafficking and Smuggling of Persons—criminalized labor and sex trafficking and prescribed penalties of 10 to 15 years imprisonment for adult trafficking and 15 to 20 years imprisonment for child trafficking. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the definition of trafficking under article 281bis of the law required a demonstration of force, fraud, or coercion to constitute a child sex trafficking offense, and therefore did not criminalize all forms of child sex trafficking. However, article 322 of the law criminalized all commercial sex acts involving children, thereby addressing this gap. Article 322 prescribed penalties of 8 to 12 years imprisonment, which were also sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with other grave crimes, such as rape. Article 281bis defined trafficking broadly to include illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation, the sale of organs, and unlawful biomedical research. While Law 263 created separate criminal offenses for trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling, one government agency was responsible for both crimes; that agency often conflated the two crimes in its collection of data and response to perpetrators and potential victims of trafficking.
The government did not report trafficking-specific law enforcement data for the reporting period. The Ministry of Justice reported issuing sentences for 44 cases under Law 263, which included migrant smuggling, illegal adoption, and other non-trafficking crimes, between 2016 and 2017; however, some sources reported there had been only seven human trafficking convictions nationwide since Law 263 was enacted in 2012. In November 2017, sources reported Tarija department police were investigating a forced labor case involving 25 people from the Guarani indigenous group, including eight minors, exploited in the sugarcane harvest. The 2016 investigation and prosecution of an alleged trafficking ring based out of two popular nightclubs located in La Paz and Santa Cruz remained ongoing. In February 2017, authorities arrested two police officers, one municipal official, and a former migration unit police director for trafficking crimes in connection with the 2016 case. In August 2017, police arrested two individuals for attempting to bribe a victim in the case to retract her statement against the owner of the nightclubs. In April 2017, the department attorney general of Cochabamba reported sentencing an individual who exploited a minor in commercial sex to nine years imprisonment after he was convicted for “pimping.” Some police and prosecutors charged trafficking cases as non-trafficking crimes, such as pimping; this was sometimes due to a belief that trafficking cases were difficult to prove in court. Authorities also abused law enforcement resources to continue prosecuting two individuals on politically motivated trafficking charges, further bringing into question the veracity of the anti-trafficking data—and the resource constraints—reported by the government. During the reporting period, sources alleged complicity among law enforcement officials, such as some investigators reportedly stalling investigations and creating obstacles to prosecutors and judges, officers tipping off brothel owners to upcoming raids, and officials accepting bribes in exchange for dropping investigations. For the fifth consecutive year, no information was available regarding any government response to a 2013 report from the ombudsman’s office that two police officers allegedly forced female inmates into prostitution.
General backlogs in the judiciary, insufficient resources and personnel, and poor training of law enforcement officials impeded law enforcement efforts. Contacts reported each prosecutor is responsible for 800 to 1,000 cases. The judiciary backlog added pressure on prosecutors to try to resolve cases through alternatives means such as plea deals and reduced crimes, with some sources claiming that alleged traffickers received inadequate sentences. Additionally, law enforcement did not have adequate resources to conduct monitoring to ensure alleged perpetrators remained in country and appeared for trials. Sources reported this lack of pre-trial monitoring, coupled with lax border controls, resulted in a growing number of alleged perpetrators fleeing the country and avoiding prosecution.
In October and November 2017, the government provided technical support to three workshops implemented by an international organization and funded by a foreign donor that trained 101 law enforcement officials, prosecutors, judges, national and departmental anti-trafficking committee members, and civil society members on human trafficking. Authorities provided only brief theoretical training in the police academy without practical in-depth case studies. The La Paz police department’s anti-trafficking unit maintained 18 police investigators and other departments’ anti-trafficking units allotted three to five investigators. In April 2017, the Bolivian National Police (BNP) reported publishing a 26 page online report detailing the responsibilities of anti-trafficking units; some units used this report. Some new recruits to the anti-trafficking police units reportedly did not receive any orientation or training on human trafficking crimes but rather were tasked to teach themselves about the anti-trafficking law and trafficking investigative techniques on their own time. Police were rotated into new positions every three months to one year, resulting in a cyclical loss of institutional knowledge and impeding specialization in trafficking crimes. Due to resource limitations, anti-trafficking police units relied heavily on collaboration with NGOs to provide resources and intelligence for police operations.