It’s no secret Costa Rica is both a source and destination for the trafficking of persons for sexual exploitation, and children are among those who are trafficked and prostituted.
The U.S. Department of State mentioned this in a report earlier this year (see box). What remains unclear – despite national efforts in recent years to address this issue – is just how widespread the problem is.
A new tool, however, may help clear this murky picture. Paniamor, one of Costa Rica’s leading
child advocacy organizations, recently announced the launching of a new information system that will, for the first time, unite the data, statistics and case files from prosecutors’ offices that pursue sex offenders.
Until now, the 10 prosecutors’ offices around the country that focus on sex crimes against children had separate, unconnected computer databases, said Nidia Zúñiga, the Paniamor official who has overseen the program’s development. That has meant prosecutors working with the same alleged victims or investigating the same alleged perpetrators would not know they were overlapping each other’s work, Zúñiga explained.
The new system compiles extensive data on the investigation and prosecution of crimes linked to commercial sexual exploitation of children and stores it in one central database to which all the sex crimes prosecutors will soon have access. It is now up and running in the Chief Prosecutor’s Office in San José while technicians work out the final kinks. Zúñiga said all the other offices should be connected by October.
The System for Following Cases of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Boys, Girls and Adolescents (SISCESCO), as the new database is called, will track individual cases from the first complaint through the judicial process to the trial – both by perpetrator and by victim. Attached to the file will be a long list of other bits of information, creating for the first time a national database on the fight against commercial sexual exploitation of children.
“One of the most interesting things is that it helps you see which modus operandi is used most in these crimes, with objective data,” Zúñiga said, adding that prosecutors have been limited to speculation until now.
“It’s not just what one prosecutor thinks, but the statistics: these crimes happen more in this area, more with this children of this age.”
“You can systematize the information, which will help with criminal policy,” Zúñiga continued.
The system will also allow prosecutors to see if a victim in his or her case has been a victim in the past, whether the child has been sent to the Child Welfare Office (PANI), and if so, when, where and why.
Paniamor has been developing the program for three years, Zúñiga explained, with help from the international police agency Interpol, PANI, the Public Security Ministry, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), ECPAT International and others. The Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid for the $35,000 cost of developing the program through its cooperation program.
Public Security Ministry advisor Paul Chávez, an expert in law enforcement against sexual exploitation who helped create the database, told The Tico Times the new system will ease the work of the country’s law enforcement agencies.
“Having a single vision” will make these agencies more powerful, he added. SISCESCO represents the latest project to come from Paniamor’s Action Program against the Trade in Boys, Girls and Adolescents for Sexual Purposes, an ongoing program to strengthen the societal and institutional fight against the trafficking of minors for sexual purposes.
Earlier this year, as part of the same program, Paniamor launched an advertising campaign aimed at educating potential targets, mainly adolescent girls, to resist what could be tempting offers of work or travel that end in sexual exploitation (TT, Feb. 17).
Human Trafficking Plagues Country
Costa Rica is a source, destination and country of transit for the trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation, according to this year’s annual Trafficking In Persons Report, published by the U.S. State Department.
According to the report, released in June, women and girls from Nicaragua, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Cuba, Peru, China, Russia and the Philippines are brought to Costa Rica for the purpose of sexual exploitation, while Costa Rican women and children are trafficked within the country for the same purposes.
In addition, people are trafficked, most often within the country, for “forced labor as domestic servants, agricultural workers and workers in the fishing industry.”
According to the report, Costa Rica “does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.”
The government was praised for its work to investigate numerous reports of minors trafficked for sexual exploitation, its cooperation with international trafficking investigations and the launching of a public awareness campaign aimed at girls and women vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation (TT, Feb. 17).
However, the report found, Costa Rica lacks a specific anti-trafficking law and showed “only limited success in enforcement efforts against traffickers.”
In addition, the Costa Rican government’s efforts to protect trafficking victims “remained extremely limited,” largely because of limited resources.
The report covers the year from April 2005 to March 2006, and addresses a variety of types of human trafficking, but focuses on severe forms of the practice, which include sex trafficking, involuntary servitude and slavery.