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2017-2021 ARCHIVED CONTENT

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NICARAGUA: Tier 3

The Government of Nicaragua does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; therefore, Nicaragua was downgraded to Tier 3. Despite the lack of significant efforts, the government took some steps to address trafficking, including identifying slightly more victims than in the previous reporting period and prosecuting a trafficker. However, the government did not convict any traffickers, and victim identification efforts remained inadequate. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses, despite endemic official corruption and widespread complicity. The government did not cooperate with NGOs in the national anti-trafficking coalition or the provision of victim services. Prosecution, protection, and prevention efforts in the two Caribbean autonomous regions of Nicaragua continued to be much weaker than in the rest of the country.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS:

Significantly increase efforts to identify victims of sex and labor trafficking, including foreign nationals.Investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers, including complicit officials.Vigorously implement the National Strategy for Comprehensive Attention to Victims of Trafficking in Persons by identifying victims, including among vulnerable populations, and effectively refer victims to appropriate services.Partner with NGOs to provide victims short-term care, long-term care, and reintegration services.Amend the 2014 anti-trafficking law to include a definition of trafficking consistent with international law.Increase funding for victim protection, finance the trafficking fund, and provide specialized services for trafficking victims.Fulfill the requirement under Law 896 to include the Nicaraguan Coordinating Federation of NGOs working with Children and Adolescents (CODENI) to represent NGOs in the National Coalition against Human Trafficking (NCATIP).Increase training for government officials—including social workers, labor inspectors, and law enforcement officials—to facilitate increased victim identification and assistance, including securing restitution.Strengthen law enforcement and victim protection efforts in the Caribbean autonomous regions, especially through increased staff and funding.Annually report on progress in implementing the national action plan.

PROSECUTION

The government decreased law enforcement efforts. The Law against Trafficking in Persons of 2015 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties ranging from 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment; these penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with penalties prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, coercion, or deceit as an aggravating factor rather than an essential element of the crime; the penalties increased to 16 to 18 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses involving these factors. The penalty for child trafficking increased to 19 to 20 years’ imprisonment. The law also defined trafficking broadly to include all labor exploitation and illegal adoption without the purpose of exploitation.

Authorities reported initiating six investigations in 2019—all for sex trafficking—compared with four investigations in 2018 and five in 2017. The government made five arrests associated with trafficking but only prosecuted one trafficker, accused of sex and labor trafficking, during the reporting period, compared with zero prosecutions in 2018 and two in 2017. There were no ongoing cases from previous reporting periods. In 2019, the government did not convict any traffickers for the second consecutive reporting period. The government did not report any investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking offenses. Despite endemic official corruption, the government did not have policies to prevent official complicity in trafficking. However, officials within at least four of the government agencies in the NCATIP have perpetrated or authorized human rights violations, creating an environment of impunity and potentially decreasing the likelihood of victims reporting trafficking in persons. The government conducted fewer trafficking-related trainings for law enforcement officials than in previous years; in 2019, there were no specialized trafficking trainings for investigators, prosecutors, judges, or other law enforcement officials.

PROTECTION

The government further decreased its minimal protection efforts. The government identified eight trafficking victims, including four women and four girls, compared with six victims in 2018, 12 in 2017, 13 in 2016, and 30 in 2015. The government reported there were no additional victims identified by NGOs and other organizations; however, outside data indicated there were at least several dozen NGO-identified trafficking victims in 2019. Although the government claimed there were no foreign trafficking victims in 2019, an international organization arranged the repatriation of three victims to Guatemala, Panama, and Costa Rica. The government reported developing a new set of protocols for identifying child and adolescent trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; it did not, however, share further details or confirm implementation, and observers could not substantiate the reports. Officials did not identify any victims in the autonomous regions where one-sixth of the population resided and where identification and referral mechanisms were lacking.

The government provided medical and psychological attention, legal advice, and protection measures for the eight victims it identified, who were Nicaraguan nationals. The government reported there was an allocation for trafficking victim protection in the national budget, but it did not provide for specialized services or shelters and the government did not disclose a figure for these allocations. The government placed two adolescent victims in non-specialized shelters and returned the other two adolescent victims to their homes, despite risk of re-victimization. The government did not prioritize accessibility for disabled trafficking victims in care facilities. There were no shelters available for men. NGOs reported there was minimal, if any, formal coordination with the government on victim services provision.

According to the government, adult victims were free to leave shelters at will, but it was not clear whether they were permitted to do so without supervision. The government did not provide long-term care, and the availability of extended services from NGOs was limited. The government did not provide funding to or collaborate with NGOs that provided the majority of victim protection, sometimes leaving victims without vital assistance. Observers reported the government maintained an unofficial policy of placing victims with family members, which puts these individuals at risk of re-victimization by family members who may have been complicit in their exploitation. The Ministry of Family coordinated services for child trafficking victims, including medical and legal services and access to education. Both Managua and regions outside Managua largely lacked adequate services for trafficking victims.

Law 896 established a dedicated fund for victim protection and prevention activities to be financed through budget allocation, donations, and seized assets from traffickers. However, for the fifth year, there was no indication that the government made the fund operational. Law 896 provided victims the ability to testify in advance of the trial and allowed testimony via video or written statement to encourage participation and protect a victim’s identity; however, the government did not report using these provisions during the reporting period. Victims may obtain compensation by filing civil suits against traffickers; however, the government and NGOs reported that, in practice, victims had never exercised this right. The government reported one instance of limited collaboration with a foreign government to identify a victim. While there were no reports of identified victims penalized for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit, authorities frequently misclassified trafficking victims, potentially resulting in penalties for misidentified victims. The government did not report efforts to screen for or identify trafficking victims among migrant populations or individuals in commercial sex. Nicaraguan law provided for humanitarian visas for foreign trafficking victims, but the government did not recognize any foreign victims in 2019.

PREVENTION

The government decreased its efforts to prevent trafficking. The government reported the NCATIP led 16 working committees, although civil society reported the coalition and its committees were largely inactive, making little contribution to capacity building and awareness raising on trafficking. For a fifth consecutive year, the NCATIP did not fulfill the requirement under Law 896 to include CODENI to represent NGOs. While the NCATIP reported engaging with a select group of international civil society organizations, local organizations were excluded from the coalition’s activities. Observers considered the NCATIP to be inactive and ineffectual as an anti-trafficking entity and reported the apparent dissolution of a number of its regional bodies. The government had a national action plan for 2018-2022, which focused on awareness raising; increasing technical capacity to investigate, prosecute, and sentence traffickers; protecting the rights of victims and witnesses and providing assistance; and monitoring and implementing the plan. The government reported conducting research and monitoring its own efforts; however, it did not publicly release any research or assessments, and these reports were inconsistent with civil society observations. The government reported conducting national prevention campaigns targeting students, faculty, parents, indigenous communities, and community leaders along border towns and tourism destinations, but it did not provide details of these campaigns. Observers noted significantly fewer campaigns compared with previous years. The government reported maintaining two 24-hour crime hotlines that could process trafficking complaints and provide information on trafficking and gender-based violence, but it did not report whether any calls led to trafficking investigations or the identification of victims. During the reporting period, more Nicaraguans encountered problems obtaining national identification cards, which increased their vulnerability to trafficking and limited their ability to access public services. Nicaraguan law criminalized knowingly engaging in sex acts with a sex trafficking victim, but officials did not report having investigated, prosecuted, or convicted any suspects of such acts. The government required private employment agencies to register and established minimum wages and maximum hours for adult and adolescent domestic workers; it did not report identifying forced labor in these sectors. Labor inspectors conducted an unspecified number of inspections in bars and nightclubs suspected of engaging in trafficking, but the government did not report any cases of forced labor during these visits. The Ministry of Tourism had an agreement with Nicaraguan businesses to monitor and report suspected child sexual exploitation in the industry, but the government did not report any activity related to this program in 2019. The government mostly cooperated with the United States to deny entry to convicted sex offenders via land and air, though some entered via cruise ships. NGOs reported child sex tourism continued to be an issue in the country; however, authorities did not investigate, prosecute, or convict any tourists for the purchase of commercial sex acts with children during the reporting period.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Nicaragua, and traffickers exploit victims from Nicaragua abroad. Groups considered at heightened risk to human trafficking in Nicaragua include women, children, and migrants. Traffickers subject Nicaraguan women and children to sex trafficking within the country and in other Central American countries, Mexico, Spain, and the United States. Victims’ family members are often complicit in their exploitation. Traffickers increasingly use social media sites to recruit their victims, who are attracted by promises of high salaries outside of Nicaragua for work in restaurants, hotels, construction, and security. Traffickers also recruit their victims in rural areas or border regions with false promises of high-paying jobs in urban centers and tourist locales, where they subject them to sex or labor trafficking. Nicaraguan women and children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in the two Caribbean autonomous regions, where the lack of strong law enforcement institutions, rampant poverty, and a higher crime rate increase the risk to the local population. Nicaraguans who migrate to other Central American countries and Europe are reportedly vulnerable to and have been victims of sex and labor trafficking. In addition, experts report traffickers target children left by migrants in Nicaragua for sex and labor trafficking. Nicaraguan adults and children are subjected to labor trafficking in agriculture, construction, mining, the informal sector, and domestic service within the country and in Costa Rica, Panama, the United States, and other countries. Traffickers subject some children in artisanal mining and quarrying to forced labor. Observers report traffickers exploit children through forced participation in illegal drug production and trafficking. Children and persons with disabilities are subjected to forced begging, particularly in Managua and near tourist centers. Traffickers subject some male migrants from Central American countries transiting Nicaragua en route to Costa Rica and Panama in search of employment to labor trafficking in these destination countries. Nicaragua is a destination for child sex tourists from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe.

U.S. Department of State

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