The government increased law enforcement efforts in some areas but did not prosecute or convict any traffickers. Articles 171 and 173 of the new code criminalized sex trafficking and labor trafficking and prescribed penalties of two and a half to five years’ imprisonment, which were sufficiently stringent and, with regard to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as kidnapping. Prosecutors could also charge traffickers using Article 260 for engaging a person in prostitution through the use of force or the threat of force or fraud, which was punishable by a fine or imprisonment of three to five years if the victim was an adult, five to 10 years’ imprisonment if the victim was 14-17 years old, and 10 to 15 years’ imprisonment if the victim was younger than 14 years old. Investigators frequently downgraded trafficking crimes to lesser charges to ease investigation and prosecution, which lead to lesser penalties.
The government initiated eight trafficking investigations (one sex trafficking and seven labor trafficking) under Articles 171 and 173 in calendar year 2019, compared with two in 2018 and four in 2017. The government reported initiating 25 additional investigations under Article 171, all of which involved adoption fraud with no evidence of exploitation. For the second year, the government did not prosecute any sex trafficking or forced labor cases. The government prosecuted 11 suspects under Article 171; however, all 11 were involved in fraudulent adoption rather than trafficking offenses, compared with eight in 2018 (all eight were also involved in fraudulent adoption rather than trafficking offenses). The government reported that Kyrgyz courts convicted 11 individuals under Article 171; however, all 11 were involved in fraudulent adoption rather than trafficking offenses. The majority of those convicted received fully suspended sentences. The government reported convicting five traffickers in 2018 and seven traffickers in 2017. In addition, the government opened 14 investigations, prosecuted seven, and convicted eight trafficking-related crimes, including child exploitation, pimping, and brothel maintenance.
Victim advocates reported a general lack of proactive investigation, especially if victims did not self-report a specific complaint. However, the new NRM looked to address this gap, allowing civil society and international organizations to file criminal complaints on behalf of the victim. Civil society actors continued to report the need for systemic training for law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges, particularly on how to identify victims, work with them as witnesses, and gather evidence outside of victim testimony. The government, in conjunction with international funding and partners, conducted seven training sessions on the identification of victims and 14 sessions on anti-trafficking and related crimes, which trained 1,119 Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) officials, compared with 1,112 in 2018. The government provided training to 40 prosecutors in 2019. Despite the increasing number of vulnerable Kyrgyz migrants abroad, the government did not report any international investigations; MVD officials indicated difficulties in conducting international investigations due to a lack of effective bilateral law enforcement relationships. Corruption and official complicity in trafficking cases remained significant concerns, inhibiting law enforcement actions during the year. NGOs and international organizations reported law enforcement officials and judges accepted bribes to drop cases and sometimes warned suspects prior to raids; legal researchers reported the changes to the criminal procedure code would reduce the likelihood that such bribes would be successful; however, there was no evidence of such a reduction. Traffickers were reportedly also able to avoid punishment by offering victims payment to drop cases.