The government increased prosecution efforts. The Comprehensive Anti-Trafficking Law 4788 of 2012 criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of up to eight years’ imprisonment for cases involving adult victims and two to 20 years’ imprisonment for those involving child victims; 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, Law 4788/12 established the use of force, fraud, and coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime; penalties were increased to two to 15 years’ imprisonment under such circumstances. Article 139 of the penal code, which relates to pimping crimes, could be used to prosecute child sex trafficking offenses; it prescribed penalties of eight years’ imprisonment for offenses involving children, which are significantly lower than the penalties described under the anti-trafficking law. The PNPTU was responsible for investigating trafficking crimes, while the Anti-Trafficking Unit (ATU) was the lead prosecuting agency. In 2019, authorities initiated 141 trafficking investigations, 74 for sex trafficking and 67 for forced labor, compared with 110 investigations in 2018. The ATU reported 66 trafficking investigations involving child victims. Authorities filed preliminary charges against 53 traffickers, compared with 25 in 2018 and 53 in 2017. There were 127 additional trafficking cases from previous reporting periods that remained ongoing. The courts convicted 22 traffickers under Law 4788/12, compared with 15 in 2018. The government did not report the number of traffickers convicted of sex trafficking as opposed to labor trafficking, nor did it disclose sentencing data for those convicted. At least six, but perhaps more, convicted traffickers had their sentences commuted to two years’ probation without imprisonment.
Anti-trafficking law enforcement operated with low budgetary allocations for a second consecutive reporting period; similar budgeting shortfalls impacted much of the government in 2019. The PNPTU’s staff of specialized trafficking officers decreased to 36, compared with 38 in 2018 and 50 in 2017. In 2019, the ATU cooperated with Argentina, Brazil, and Spain on trafficking cases. In one instance, Paraguayan officials conducted a joint investigation with Spanish counterparts, leading to the arrest of nine traffickers and the identification of 12 victims, 11 of whom were Paraguayan. The government announced a bilateral agreement with Brazil to facilitate cross-border collaboration on trafficking issues during the reporting period. With assistance from a foreign government, the ATU participated in five training sessions on labor trafficking for 200 government officials, including judges, prosecutors, investigators, labor inspectors, and immigration officials.
Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement action during the year. The government did not report investigating any instances of official complicity, though civil society organizations continued to allege police involvement in trafficking activities. Such reports included officials taking bribes from massage parlors and brothels where trafficking crimes allegedly occurred, or to issue passports for Paraguayan trafficking victims exploited abroad. The government did not open a formal investigation into allegations that police facilitated sex trafficking of women and girls on barges operating along the Paraguay River.