Examples of Child Trafficking in Costa Rica

In Costa Rica, child trafficking can take many forms. Many different exploitative situations faced by children and adolescents can be child trafficking.

It is not always easy for victims to know whether they are a trafficking victim. If someone you know or interact with may be experiencing trafficking, they can and should receive help.

The case studies in this section are fictionalized examples of child trafficking in Costa Rica based on real life experiences.

“Maria” is a 16-year-old girl from a poor family in Nicaragua.

A Costa Rican couple “Mercedes” and “Andrés” were visiting her home village and offered to bring her to Costa Rica to be employed as a domestic worker in their home. When Maria arrived in Costa Rica, Mercedes took her passport “for safe keeping”. Maria is tasked with cleaning the house for long hours each day and caring for Mercedes and Andrés’ children but receives no payment for the work she does. Mercedes says that she won’t pay Maria because she owes her for the money she spent to bring her to Costa Rica. Each afternoon, Maria takes the children to the park to play. Although Mercedes has never hurt her, Maria is still afraid to ask anyone for help.

Maria is a victim of child trafficking.

Maria was recruited, transported, and housed by Mercedes and Andrés for labor exploitation, or forced labor, or servitude. Maria should be identified as a trafficking victim and provided with protection and assistance.

“Julia” is 14 years old. She lives with her parents and four younger siblings.

Her father works as a construction worker and her mother is a housewife. Her father’s salary is not enough to cover all of the family’s expenses and her parents struggle to support their family and to keep their children in school. As the oldest child, Julia feels responsible to help her family. One day, Julia saw an advertisement for girls to be part of a modeling academy. She convinced her parents to let her apply, although they did not like the idea and thought that she was too young to be a model. Julia applied and went to a casting session. In this “casting session”, she was forced to pose naked in sexual positions by the staff. She did not want to do it but she felt afraid. The staff paid her and told her that if she told anyone what had happened, they would hurt her family.

Julia is a victim of child trafficking.

Julia was recruited by the “modeling academy” staff for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This is child sex trafficking. Julia should be identified as a trafficking victim and provided with protection and assistance.

“David” is 15 years old and from Costa Rica. He was thrown out of his family home when his parents learned that he is gay.

With nowhere else to go, David went to live with his friend “Juan” (who is 25 years old) in a town along the coast. David soon became Juan’s boyfriend. Juan pressured David to work in tourism to earn money and cover their living expenses. David is in love with Juan and wants to make him happy. He also does not have many opportunities for work and so he accepted what Juan proposed. Juan has arranged for David to help tourists with travel and accommodation. He also arranges for David to provide sexual services to male tourists. David gives most of the money that he earns to Juan.

David may be a victim of child trafficking.

If Juan recruited or received David with the intention of exploiting him for sexual exploitation, this is child sex trafficking. Regardless, David is a victim of improper sexual relations and sexual exploitation. He should be identified as such and provided with protection and assistance.

“Sofía” is 17 years old. She lives in an area with a lot of tourists.

Sofía and her friend “Isabella” frequently go to nice restaurants with men from other countries and then go back to their hotel rooms with them to have sex. These men give Sofía and Isabella money and gifts. Sofía likes having nice clothes and going to fancy places and she likes that she can help her family pay for things that they need. Her mother knows that Sofía is exchanging sex for money with tourists but doesn’t say anything about it.

Sofía may be a victim of child trafficking.

This may be child trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Although there does not appear to be evidence of an “act”, Sofia is a victim of sexual exploitation by adult males. Determining whether Sofia is a victim of trafficking for sexual exploitation requires additional information. Regardless, Sofia should be identified as a victim of sexual exploitation and provided with protection and assistance. Her friend Isabella should also be protected and assisted.

“Sara” is 12 years old. She lives with her mother, father, and younger brother.

Last year, her uncle “Luis” lost his job and Sara’s parents invited him to live with them to help him. When Sara’s parents are not home, Luis takes care of Sara and her younger brother. Luis finds ways to be alone with Sara and films himself sexually abusing Sara. Luis sells these videos online. Sara wants him to stop and wants to tell her parents what’s going on, but Luis tells her that no one will believe her and that he will hurt her family if she tells anyone what is happening. Sara is afraid of Luis and doesn’t know what to do.

Sara is a victim of child trafficking.

Luis receives Sara for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This is child sex trafficking. Sara should be identified as a trafficking victim by authorities and provided with protection and assistance.

“Adrian” is 16 years old. At a family gathering a few months ago, he met one of his cousin’s friends, a young man named “John”.

John was wearing really nice clothes, had a brand new pair of sneakers, and a very expensive phone. John invited Adrian to come to a party that he was having at a house he had rented near the beach. Adrian didn’t know anyone else at the party, but he was excited to attend. The house was really fancy and there were a lot of pretty girls swimming in the pool. At the party, Adrian tried cocaine for the first time. A few days later, John texted Adrian and asked to meet up. When they met up, John told Adrian that they could make a lot of money if Adrian would sell drugs at his school. When Adrian said he didn’t want to, John told him if he didn’t do it he would tell his dad that he’d used cocaine. Adrian was scared and so he agreed.

Adrian is a victim of child trafficking.

John recruited Adrian for the purpose of selling drugs, which is a form of labor exploitation called forced criminality. Adrian should be identified as a trafficking victim and provided with protection and assistance.

“Carmen” is 13 years old and has a cognitive disability.

Her mother and father run a restaurant and often work late at night. Because Carmen cannot be left home alone, her parents have asked different neighbors to help out. One of her neighbors, a man named “Alvaro”, said that he would let Carmen come to his house to watch movies. During the nights that Carmen is at Alvaro’s house, other men come to the house and pay Alvaro to have sex with Carmen. Because of her disabilities, Carmen is unable to explain to her parents what is happening.

Carmen is a victim of child trafficking.

Alvaro receives and harbors Carmen for the purpose of sexual exploitation. Carmen should be identified as a trafficking victim and provided with protection and assistance.

“Eduardo” is 14 years old. His parents are migrant workers from Colombia who came to Costa Rica last year to work the harvest on a plantation.

They brought Eduardo with them to Costa Rica because they didn’t have anyone for him to stay with in Colombia. At the end of the season, the owner of the plantation where they were working said that Eduardo could stay and continue to earn money on the plantation and also go to school in Costa Rica. Eduardo did not want to stay but his parents thought this would be a good opportunity. Now Eduardo works full-time on the plantation and the owner sends his parents some money each month. Eduardo does not get any of the money that he earns and he is also not allowed to go to school. When he asked about school, the owner of the plantation told him that because he is underage and working in Costa Rica, if he goes to school he will be arrested.

Eduardo is a victim of child trafficking.

The owner of the plantation received and is harboring Eduardo for the purpose of labor exploitation or forced labor. Eduardo’s parents delivered him for the purpose of labor exploitation. Eduardo should be identified as a trafficking victim and provided with protection and assistance.

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The development of the IACT Learning Hub was funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of State. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the developers and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of State.