In 2013, the number of human trafficking cases reported in Bolivia was more than 10 times higher than nine years ago, raising questions as to whether this represents a growth in criminal activity or an increase in the reporting of the crime.
Statistics by the Bolivian police show that in 2005 only 35 trafficking cases were reported in the country, while in 2013 this had shot up to 363, reported La Razon. Nonetheless, this number was down by around 20 percent from 2012, in which 456 cases were opened.
According to La Razon, a grave concern for the Bolivian government is that there have still not been any prosecutions for trafficking cases.
The director general of the human trafficking division of the Bolivian Interior Ministry, Freddy Cayo, attributed the growing trend to citizens shedding their fear of reporting such cases, rather than a rapid upsurge in the crime.
Cayo also told La Razon that before the 2012 Law Against Human Trafficking incorporated the illegal practice into Bolivia's Criminal Code, trafficking was recorded as a "violation of rights, kidnapping or disappearance." Now, depending on the type of crime, traffickers can now get prison sentences from five to 15 years.
The majority of victims are between the ages of 12 and 24, and are trafficked to Spain, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. Most men are used in forced labor, while women are sexually exploited, according to La Razon.
InSight Crime Analysis
Bolivia is a source and transit country for both domestic and international human trafficking. A large amount of victims are foreigners passing through the country, while other Bolivian nationals are trafficked to Spain, the United States and nearby countries such Brazil, Chile, Peru and Argentina.
The country's trafficking rate per 100,000 citizens reached 3.1 in 2009 -- far above the other regional figures reported by the United Nations Development Program (pdf).
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Trafficking
However, what is unclear is whether the rise in recent years is as a result of changes to the legal code and measures to promote awareness such as public service announcements and police-run school programs, or whether it is a sign of criminal groups increasing trafficking activities.
Although La Razon specifies that no trafficking cases have led to prosecutions so far, the US State Department's most recent Trafficking in Persons Report (pdf) states that four sex traffickers and one labor trafficker were convicted in 2012, with nine other offenders convicted in 2011.
Nonetheless, these figures remain low given the abundance of cases, demonstrating how Bolivia lacks effective enforcement and prosecution to deal with these networks. According to Cayo, "Of the 255 cases [30 percent of all cases] in La Paz alone, many aren't even advancing."