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ARGENTINA: Recruiting Celebs Against Trafficking in Women

Marcela Valente

BUENOS AIRES, Mar 15 2007 (IPS) - In order to rouse public indignation against trafficking in women for the purpose of sexual exploitation, popular Uruguayan actress and singer Natalia Oreiro, who lives in Argentina, launched a campaign Wednesday in conjunction with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

“I heard testimonies that were dreadful, appalling. I was really quite ignorant about the magnitude of the problem,” the actress said at the launch of the campaign, surrounded by photographers, officials, legislators, and representatives from the IOM and non-governmental organisations.

The campaign, “No to Human Trafficking, No to Modern-day Slavery”, aims to call the Argentine public’s attention to a criminal activity that affects 2.4 million people, most of them women, and rakes in some 32 billion dollars a year worldwide, according to the IOM.

Oreiro recorded a television spot and a video clip for her song “Esclava” (Slave Woman), to be broadcast on television and radio. “The idea is to show the video clip at public gatherings and fiestas in small towns where young women are taken in by fraudulent job offers, and end up being sexually exploited,” the actress said.

There will also be other publicity spots with survivors’ testimonies, and appeals to report these illegal practices by telephone.

At the campaign launch, the IOM also presented an exploratory study on human trafficking for sexual exploitation in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, carried out in 2006.

According to IOM figures, there are a variety of forms of slave labour in the world, and 85 percent of the victims are women and children caught up in sexual exploitation networks.

“It’s incredible. Women just disappear and no one can find them,” said Oreiro, who is participating in the campaign in an honorary capacity.

The IOM report is “harsh and realistic,” according to its authors, and describes the “characteristics and dimensions” of human trafficking for sexual exploitation. The researchers indicated that in Latin America, transnational trafficking organisations and domestic networks in each country find “ideal conditions” because of the lack of visibility of the problem.

According to studies by the Organisation of American States (OAS), few countries in the Americas have specific laws against this crime. Those that do are Canada, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Panama, Peru and the United States.

The legal vacuum is a loophole that allows procurement networks to expand.

The study points out that recruitment, trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and girls exist in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, but whilst in Argentina the problem has “medium” visibility because of the work of non-governmental organisations, in Chile its visibility is “limited,” and in Uruguay “non-existent.”

The IOM’s regional representative for the Southern Cone region, Eugenio Ambrosi, told IPS that “Uruguay is not exempt from this scourge, but not enough attention is paid to it there.” He added that the small South American country “has problems related to sex tourism.”

He said that in a few months IOM researchers would present the results of a study on sex tourism in the exclusive Uruguayan beach resort of Punta del Este, which is visited by tens of thousands of tourists from Argentina and the rest of the world every year.

The IOM study presented on Wednesday says that recruitment and trafficking of women for sexual exploitation occurs in Argentina, which is also a destination country for foreign women caught up in the same trade. There are 47 criminal trials under way for human trafficking, but there are “few convictions” and there are “concerns” about the “recurrent” involvement of public officials.

On the other hand, the researchers emphasised that this problem has become “a permanent fixture on the public agenda” in Argentina. A comprehensive draft law to prevent and combat this crime has been passed by the senate, and only requires the approval of the chamber of deputies to be put into effect.

The draft law provides for a secretariat of state within the executive branch to coordinate action all over the country, a programme of prevention and victim assistance, and changes to the criminal code to create more specific penalties for human trafficking.

One case that attracted public notice in Argentina is that of Marita Verón, 23, who was kidnapped in the northwestern province of Tucumán in 2002. Her mother, Susana Trimarco, has been looking for her ever since, and although she has not found Marita yet, her search has shed light on the nature of the trade, and has secured the release of many other young women.

Trimarco, honoured this month as a “Woman of Courage” by the U.S. State Department, infiltrated provincial brothels to find information which led to the rescue of nearly 100 young women, the prosecution of 24 members of recruiting networks, and the removal from office of a judge who was accused of being an accomplice.

However, she said there was a lack of political will to combat the organisations that dupe women with fancy job offers.

Trimarco said the information she has received from the families of other victims and from the police indicates that there are about 500 missing young women in Argentina who may have been trapped by human traffickers. One of them is her daughter Marita, who according to several testimonies collected by Trimarco is still alive.

The campaign launched by the IOM and Oreiro warns about these methods of fraudulent recruitment. It warns young women to be on their guard against advertisements promising easy money for work in different cities, provinces or countries, and encourages relatives and neighbours to report any suspicious activities, while informing the victims where they can turn to for help.

In support of the campaign, the National Institute Against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism (INADI) has made available a free hot-line that will receive calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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