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ARGENTINA: Clamping Down on Human Trafficking

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Nov 8 2006 (IPS) - After two years of reports of isolated incidents, and a sustained effort by civil society to make human trafficking a visible phenomenon, the Argentine government has announced a policy for its prevention, helping its victims and punishing those responsible for the crime.

A comprehensive bill aimed at curbing this crime and modern-day form of slavery was debated at an international seminar on trafficking of persons, attended Tuesday in Buenos Aires by government officials, lawmakers, non-governmental organisations and victims’ relatives.

The bill would create a state secretariat within the president’s office that would coordinate action against trafficking throughout the country, draw up a programme for prevention and victim aid, and introduce heavier and more specific penalties in the criminal code for crimes related to trafficking.

Every year men, women and children, most of whom are poor and from developing countries, are recruited with false promises of employment or entrapped by other means and used in networks of labour or sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, practices similar to slavery, illegal adoptions or organ theft.

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), there were about 1.32 million victims of forced labour in Latin America and the Caribbean in 2005, 118,000 of whom had fallen prey to sexual exploitation networks. Half of them were under 18 years old.

Susana Trimarco, whose daughter was kidnapped in 2002, told IPS that the proposal for a specific policy is an encouragement to her in her search for her daughter.

Trimarco, who attended the seminar, was able to prove that her daughter Marita Verón, 24, fell into the hands of a sexual exploitation ring. After she was kidnapped, her mother obtained testimonies from other teenagers and young people, also victims of trafficking, who had seen her in different places of captivity in several provinces in the country.

Although she has not been able to find her daughter, the investigative work she and other activists have carried out has led to the rescue of 94 people.

“After several enquiries we found Argentine, Brazilian, Paraguayan and Dominican women. In every province, two or three young women have gone missing. So we put our heads together with their relatives, exchange information, telephone numbers, places of prostitution, and when we have solid leads we go to the prosecutor’s office,” she explained.

This unofficial and unorthodox method of searching, motivated by the interest of family members and not always successful, could receive strong government backing now.

The bill also envisages awareness-raising campaigns in the media, schools and universities about techniques used by traffickers.

Legislator Stella Maris Córdoba of the Front for Victory – the faction of the Justicialista (Peronist) Party to which President Néstor Kirchner belongs – with the support of other political parties, presented the initiative to create a specific secretariat, a prevention programme, and fitting penalties for the crimes.

Although Argentina has signed and ratified the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime and the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, it does not have a specific law on such crimes, she noted.

“Our country’s commitments are not being honoured. We have a legal vacuum,” Córdoba commented. “We need a strong state that will work together with non-governmental organisations, train officials for prevention work in areas where traffickers carry out recruitment efforts, and coordinate actions in different districts.”

“Before now, trafficking wasn’t seen as a structural problem, but as a series of isolated cases,” and this fallacy was based on the nature of the crime, which requires concerted action by security forces and offices within the ministries of Justice, Social Development, the Interior and Foreign Relations.

Psychoanalyst Eva Giberti, coordinator of the (female) Victims against Violence programme at the ministry of the Interior, explained that her office is working together with legislators to promote the bill, which she said was certain to have the backing of the national government. “This is a state commitment,” she said at the seminar.

“We need a law to make this a federal crime, and also a programme to help us raise awareness about the problem, because indifference leads to society’s complicity, not only with the traffickers, but with users of the services that trafficking provides,” she said.

The director of the Organisation of American States (OAS) Department of Public Security, Christopher Hernández Roy, celebrated the Argentine initiative. Unfortunately, only a few OAS countries have specific laws, he said. Those which do are Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and the United States.

Traffickers take advantage of the absence of laws, knowledge and coordination, and run a low-risk, highly profitable business, said Hernández Roy. Out of the 35 OAS member states, only 23 have signed and ratified the U.N. Convention; six have signed but not ratified it, and another six have not even signed it, he said.

Luis Bogado, adviser to the International Organisation for Migration regional delegation for the Southern Cone of Latin America, also said that very few countries in the region have specific laws to deal with trafficking.

“Often the government response is to restrict migration, instead of identifying the victims of trafficking crimes,” he said.

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