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2012 Trafficking in Persons Report: Panama
PANAMA (Tier 2)
Panama is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Although Panamanian women and girls reportedly have been subjected to sex trafficking in other countries in the Western Hemisphere, most Panamanian trafficking victims are exploited within the country. Most foreign trafficking victims found in Panama are adult women from Colombia and, to a lesser extent, from neighboring Central American countries and the Dominican Republic. Some victims migrate voluntarily to Panama to work, but are subsequently exploited in sex trafficking through the entertainment industry or in domestic servitude. During the year, authorities identified several East European women working in nightclubs as potential sex trafficking victims. NGOs report that some Panamanian children, mostly young girls, are subjected to domestic servitude. Some Chinese men and women have been smuggled into the country to work in grocery stores and laundries, apparently in situations of debt bondage.
The Government of Panama does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the year, authorities passed comprehensive anti-trafficking legislation, increased the number of sex trafficking investigations, and identified a significant number of potential trafficking victims. However, the government provided no funding for specialized victim services, did not report how many victims were assisted, and, for a second consecutive year, convicted no trafficking offenders.
Recommendations for Panama: Increase funding for specialized victim services, particularly for adult victims, possibly through funding a dedicated shelter; intensify law enforcement efforts to investigate and prosecute both labor and sex trafficking crimes and convict and sentence trafficking offenders, including complicit officials; strengthen government-provided training for police officers, immigration officials, social workers, and other government officials in anti-trafficking laws and victim identification and care; develop formal guidelines for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, particularly women in prostitution and migrant workers, in order to standardize victim identification efforts; increase funding and training on how to investigate trafficking cases for anti-trafficking police and prosecutors; and strengthen interagency coordination mechanisms.
The Government of Panama increased investigations of trafficking crimes and strengthened its legal framework during the reporting period, although it achieved no trafficking convictions during the year. In January 2012, authorities enacted a law prohibiting all forms of trafficking, with prescribed sentences ranging from six to 30 years’ imprisonment, depending on the nature of the offense. These punishments are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The new law also prohibits moving people for the purposes of prostitution and illegal adoption, offenses that are not considered trafficking under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. Previously, Panamanian law had not criminalized forced labor.
During the reporting period, authorities investigated nine sex-trafficking cases and initiated the prosecution of four accused trafficking offenders. However, authorities reported that no trafficking offenders were convicted during the year. During the previous reporting period, authorities initiated five prosecutions, but convicted no traffickers. Authorities maintained a small law enforcement unit to investigate sex trafficking and related offenses, but the unit remained understaffed. The organized crime prosecutorial unit continued to be responsible for trafficking cases and increased its staff from two to 12 prosecutors. The lack of systematic data collection for trafficking crimes remained an impediment. Authorities continued to prosecute six former immigration officials for their roles in a possible trafficking case. In addition, officials opened investigations against two senior immigration officials for complicity in trafficking-related offenses, but charges were subsequently dropped. In 2011, the government trained 80 government tourist officials on how to identify trafficking victims. Other Panamanian officials participated in training on how to investigate trafficking cases provided by international organizations and foreign governments in collaboration with Panamanian authorities.
Despite increased victim identification and the efforts of individual Panamanian officials to assist some victims during the year, specialized services for trafficking victims remained virtually nonexistent in the country. Authorities did not employ formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as detained undocumented migrants and people in prostitution. However, authorities investigating drug crimes collaborated with organized crime prosecutors when conducting raids on commercial sex sites in order to assist identification of trafficking victims. Officials reported identifying 80 potential trafficking victims, but did not report how many of these victims received services. While authorities reported referring some victims to NGOs and other institutions providing care services, it is unclear if they did so in a systematic fashion. Specialized services for trafficking victims remained inadequate, and authorities did not report funding NGOs to provide services or shelter. NGO and government shelters for child victims of abuse and violence could provide services to child trafficking victims, although there were no reports that they did so in practice in 2011. In the absence of shelters for adults, authorities noted that they could house adult victims in hotels on an ad hoc basis, although they did not report doing so in practice during the year, and some victims identified by authorities had to pay for their own lodging after being rescued.
Officials reported that victims identified by law enforcement officials received a psychological evaluation as well as medical, psychological, and legal services, although these services were not continuous. There were no long-term services available to trafficking victims. Panamanian authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of trafficking offenders, although officials reported difficulties in obtaining victim participation in investigations and did not report how many victims they assisted during the year. The new anti-trafficking law provided legal alternatives to the removal of foreign victims of trafficking to countries where they might face hardship or retribution. However, authorities did not provide information on the number of victims, if any, who received such immigration relief during the reporting period. Law enforcement officials facilitated the voluntary repatriation of some foreign victims, paying out of their own pocket for travel expenses in at least one case. Trafficking victims were not penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Due to the lack of victim identification guidelines, not all foreign victims may have been identified before their deportation.
During the reporting period, the Government of Panama, in partnership with an international organization, maintained efforts to prevent human trafficking through a campaign to raise awareness about the commercial sexual exploitation of children. The new law established an anti-trafficking committee, which met twice during the reporting period and began drafting a national anti-trafficking action plan. Child sex tourism is prohibited by law, and authorities partnered with an NGO and the tourism sector to raise awareness about this problem. However, there were no investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of child sex tourists reported during the year. The government did not undertake any other efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts or initiatives to reduce the demand for forced labor.