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US State Department report on human trafficking highlights troubles in Costa Rica

June 20, 2013

A new report from the U.S. State Department identifies Costa Rica as a “source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor,” according to the investigation’s chapter on the country.

The State Department ranks Costa Rica as a “tier 2” country, one that does not meet the “minimum standards” for stopping human trafficking but makes “significant efforts” to comply.

The report highlights the provinces of Guanacaste, Limón, Puntarenas and San José as the country’s most serious offenders for child sex tourism. Most sex tourists come to Costa Rica from the United States and Europe, according to the country’s chapter. 

The investigation also notes that men and children from other Central American countries and Asia, as well as indigenous Panamanians, are forced to work in industries like agriculture, construction and fishing.

The report expressed concern over the relatively small number of prosecutions and convictions against human trafficking suspects considering the large number of victims identified. Costa Rican authorities identified 22 trafficking victims and assisted 85 child victims of commercial sexual exploitation in 2012.             

Four tourists from the United States were deported from Costa Rica for their involvement in the child sex trade in 2012 as part of a joint U.S.-Costa Rica operation, resulting in two convictions. There were, however, no local prosecutions for child sex crimes during the reporting period. The government convicted two people for labor trafficking during the same time.

The report had mixed reviews of the Tico anti-trafficking law, lauding it for raising the penalty for human trafficking (four to 20 years in prison) while criticizing its definition of a victim, which requires the individual to be displaced. It also criminalizes other offenses the report deems less serious than forced labor.

One of the report’s major recommendations was increased support for victims. The government does not fund or provide shelter or services for trafficking victims, relying on nongovernmental and religious organizations to fill the gap. While resources for victims are scarce in San José, they are almost nonexistent outside the capital, the report said.

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