Prostitution in Panama


When traveling to any country, you are subject to local laws, and a serious violation may result in arrest and subsequent imprisonment. While it’s obviously best to steer clear of any known illegal activity altogether, you must also understand those laws applicable to you as well as those which may differ from the ones you are familiar with.

When it comes to the use and distribution of street drugs, Panamanian law is very clear. Because of its long history as a transcontinental shipping port for large quantities of illegal narcotics, Panama has earned a notorious reputation; one which they have made great efforts to repair in the last 20 years. Thus, the use and distribution of illicit substances is not taken lightly by Panamanian law enforcement, especially when foreigners are involved. It is always a dangerous endeavor to engage in the use of or to purchase illegal substances in Panama. Those charged with drug crimes can expect a jail sentence of up to 15 years.

While Panama’s drug laws are very strict, prostitution is decriminalized in Panama and regulated by local law enforcement. There are strict punishments, however, for those caught with a prostitute under the legal age of 18, so engaging in any activity with a prostitute is still somewhat risky, not to mention the risk of contracting a disease. That being said, there are several legitimate establishments, found in most major centers including brothels, massage parlors and nightclubs where your risk is minimized, somewhat.

Panama is considered to be fairly progressive for a Latin American country in terms of its views regarding homosexuality. And while public opinion has changed towards homosexuals, laws were much slower to change. It was not until 2007 that Panama decriminalized homosexuality. Attitudes and laws have changed, but discretion is still encouraged in public places, as this it is still considered somewhat taboo.


Other Laws To Consider

Panamanian law requires all individuals to carry official identification documents at all times. Failure to produce identification upon request may result in travelers being taken to jail and charged a fine.
Under the Panamanian Penal Code, knowingly transmitting sexually transmitted diseases is a crime.
There may be curfews for minors under 18 years of age in Panama City. Minors circulating alone late at night in Panama City may be detained by police until their parents can be contacted if the police judge that they are involved in suspicious activities. Fines may also be imposed.
It is illegal to walk around any town, city or public place, other than a beach, without a shirt. While this may sound more like a job for the fashion police, this law is enforce by Panama police. Although only punishable by fine, it is best to carry a light shirt with you, just in case.

Should you find yourself under arrest for a crime in Panama, it is wise not to panic. Under their current justice system, laws are in place to protect foreigners accused of a crime. You do have rights:

You have the right to contact the responsible government office (embassy, high commission, etc.);
The arresting officials have a responsibility to assist you in doing so;
Your local consular officials should be able to provide a list of local lawyers and translators upon request.
Legal proceedings and police investigations in Panama may differ from those in your home country. If accused of a serious crime, you can look forward to long delays. You would do best to comply with police and remain calm and patient. Your local government will probably not have the authority to intervene in ongoing legal proceedings, unless requested to do so by Panamanian authorities. Such requests are rare.

And under no circumstances should you offer money or bribes in an attempt to escape charges. While this may be acceptable in some Central American countries, in Panama you could find yourself facing additional charges.

If your arrest ultimately results in the worst-case-scenario, you might be pleased to know that conditions within Panamanian prisons are considered amongst the most humane in the entire region. Based on an American model, Panama’s prison system is very similar to that of the United States.

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