The government increased investigations and maintained prosecutions and convictions. Article 456 of the penal code did not criminalize all forms of sex trafficking and labor trafficking because it required movement to constitute a trafficking offense. It prescribed penalties of 15 to 20 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving an adult victim, and 20 to 30 years for those involving individuals under the age of 18 years old or other aggravating circumstances; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. 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. The government charged some child sex traffickers with non-trafficking offenses, which carried lighter sentences. Article 180 criminalized “the prostitution of minors” with penalties of four to six years’ imprisonment and a 5,200 balboas ($5,200) fine. Article 186 criminalized purchasing commercial sex acts from a child and prescribed penalties of five to eight years’ imprisonment.
Authorities initiated 32 trafficking investigations (25 for sex trafficking and seven for forced labor) involving 19 suspects, compared to 18 trafficking investigations involving 17 suspects in 2017 and seven sex trafficking investigations involving 13 suspects in 2016. The government prosecuted 12 suspects for trafficking, compared with 24 in 2017 and 13 in 2016. Panama transitioned from the inquisitorial to adversarial system in 2016, which prosecutors report resulted in a higher than average number of cases brought to prosecution in 2017 due to backlogs. Authorities convicted eight traffickers—seven sex traffickers and one labor trafficker—compared with seven traffickers in 2017 and two traffickers in 2016. The government sentenced these traffickers to four to 17 years’ imprisonment, compared to 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment in 2017 and six to 18 years in 2016. Law enforcement conducted an operation in a rural bar that resulted in the arrest and prosecution of six alleged traffickers, including an allegedly complicit government official, and the convictions of two of the perpetrators for trafficking and for renting out the space where the trafficking took place with sentences of four and six years’ imprisonment.
The Panamanian National Police provided specialized training in trafficking investigations to 30 officers and worked with the attorney general’s organized crime office to investigate cases, but it did not reopen a dedicated anti-trafficking unit closed in a previous reporting period. Panamanian authorities cooperated with Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic on two trafficking cases, which led to the identification of at least three victims. The government funded and provided anti-trafficking training to the national police and air naval service in three border areas and at least two island tourist destinations. The government collaborated with international organizations, which provided training on trafficking for immigration officials, law enforcement, the military, and taxi drivers.