The government maintained protection efforts. As in previous years, services remained cursory and efforts insufficient. The government identified more victims, but it did not make efforts to provide shelter or adequate care for adults and victims of forced labor. The government identified 181 victims of trafficking, of whom 112 were exploited in sex trafficking, 18 in forced labor, two in forced begging, eight in indentured servitude, and 32 unknown. In addition, the government reported identifying nine individuals in servile marriage, but it was unclear if these individuals were forced or coerced to marry for the purposes of exploitation. Of these victims, 39 were men, and 14 identified as LGBTQI+. This compared with 100 victims identified in 2020, of whom 71 were exploited in sex trafficking, four in forced labor, nine in forced begging, two in indentured servitude, four in servile marriage, and 14 unknown. Immigration authorities identified 21 victims of trafficking. In addition, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) identified 170 child soldiers, compared with 63 in 2020. Other government entities and stakeholders also reported work with this population, and there may be overlap within this data. Some data was duplicative or contradictory, as no single agency was responsible for maintaining comprehensive protection or law enforcement data, and because Colombia’s law was broad, it was unclear if the cases reported constituted trafficking as defined in international law.
In previous years, the government reported that law enforcement officials used a victim identification protocol developed by an international organization; however, many law enforcement officials working on trafficking cases were unaware of any protocol to identify victims. Experts indicated that in some cases, law enforcement officials retrieved data from victims’ phones for evidentiary purposes and did not refer the victims to adequate services. In July 2021, the constitutional court ordered the government to develop a victim identification protocol to help officials identify victims, including among migrants. However, authorities did not report finalizing the victim identification protocol by the end of the year.
In 2021, the Operating Center for the Fight Against Human Trafficking (COAT) began operating as a centralized entity to refer cases involving children using the existing protocol developed by the Colombian Institute for Family Wellbeing (ICBF). The government did not have referral protocols in cases involving adult victims or anyone exploited in forced labor. In 2020, authorities adopted victim referral protocols in 13 departments but did not indicate how many officials the government trained or how many victims it referred to services using these protocols. With the support of an international organization and a foreign government, authorities finalized the victim identification protocol for labor inspectors that was pending since 2016. The MOL disseminated the protocol to 136 labor inspectors in seven regions but did not train the labor inspectors to use it, despite the government’s concern with forced labor in sectors such as legal and illegal mining, emerald extraction, coal, domestic service, agriculture near the coffee belt, cattle herding, and crop harvesting. The protocol did not include a referral mechanism for criminal prosecution if inspectors detected indicators of forced labor. In addition, the government offered some training on victim identification and assistance as part of its prevention campaigns.
Authorities provided emergency assistance to the 181 victims identified, including 54 who received temporary shelter. Of the 181 victims identified, 158 received at least one service from the available medium-term assistance provisions. Immigration officials did not report referring the 21 victims they identified to care, and it was unclear what services were provided to the 170 child soldiers identified by the MOD. The government did not provide shelter to forced labor victims or adult trafficking victims. The ICBF reportedly assisted 158 child soldiers in 2021, compared with 144 in 2020, 180 in 2019, and 196 in 2018. An international organization verified 106 children were recruited by illegal armed groups, compared with 66 in 2020, 99 in 2019, and 292 in 2018. To the same international organization, ICBF officials reported assisting 77 demobilized children that separated from illegal armed groups between January and September 2021, compared with 192 in 2020, 180 in 2019, and 196 in 2018. The ICBF did not provide details of the assistance provided to victims of child sex trafficking or forced child labor.
The Ministry of Interior (MOI) and the ICBF were responsible for victim protection; the former was responsible for protecting adult victims, and the latter was responsible for protecting and assisting child victims. Victim services included emergency assistance, including medical and psychological examination, clothing, hygiene kits, issuance of travel and identity documents, and shelter for five days with a maximum extension of five additional days. In fewer cases, and after administrative approval, authorities provided medium-term assistance, including educational services, job skills training, assistance with job placement, economic support, and legal assistance, including witness protection. Year to year, authorities allocated funding for victim protection and assistance under the national budget and mainly used it for victim repatriation and technical assistance for regional and municipal trafficking in persons committees. Funding was not used to provide shelter or meaningful care directly to victims, given that by decree, national authorities relied solely on individual departments and municipalities for the provision of services. This led to an inconsistent approach across the country that often left victims unprotected and unable to navigate access to adequate and necessary services for their recovery.
ICBF authorities did not fund physical spaces where child victims could go and, as a result, coordination for services was left to the last minute, making it unreliable and difficult to obtain. The ICBF partially funded two shelters for child victims, at least one of which had a multi-disciplinary team trained to work with victims of sexual abuse, including sex trafficking; however, funding was insufficient to provide the comprehensive assistance victims needed. Local ICBF officials in Bogota operated a shelter for underage victims of commercial sexual exploitation that could provide care for trafficking victims but did not report how many victims received care in 2021. Authorities sometimes placed victims in hotels on a case-by-case basis. Lack of funding for civil society organizations hindered the government’s ability to mitigate the crime; victims who did not receive adequate care were less able and willing to assist authorities in the case against their traffickers and less likely to provide input for the improvement of the overall response. The government did not have shelter services for adult victims or anyone exploited in forced labor.
Government officials did not report deporting trafficking victims during the reporting period. In 2021, immigration authorities reported screening migrants for trafficking indicators; however, the absence of a formal victim identification protocol to screen migrants for trafficking indicators, particularly near border crossings, could have led to the deportation of unidentified victims. Venezuelan women in commercial sex—many of whom may have been victims of trafficking—were not screened for trafficking indicators, and if believed to be working in the country illegally, authorities often deported them back to Venezuela, punishing them for immigration violations and crimes that their traffickers may have compelled to commit. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) received 31 requests for repatriation but did not indicate how many it approved. This compared with 17 repatriations in 2020, 33 in 2019, and seven in 2018. MFA officials did not indicate how much funding the government provided for the repatriation of victims.