Civil Society, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Migration & Refugees

LATIN AMERICA: Five Million Women Have Fallen Prey to Trafficking Networks

Emilio Godoy

PUEBLA, Mexico, Sep 22 2010 (IPS) - The fight against human trafficking in Latin America is ineffective and has led to the emergence of intra-regional markets for the trade, according to experts and activists meeting this Hjek in this Mexican city.

 Credit: Latin American Conference on Smuggling and Trafficking of Human Beings

Credit: Latin American Conference on Smuggling and Trafficking of Human Beings

“Responses to the trade in human beings have been more formal than real, as have the changes in legislation. Governments are not interested: it is not their priority,” Ana Hidalgo, from the Costa Rican office of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), told IPS.

Hidalgo is one of the 450 academics and activists taking part in the Second Latin American Conference on Smuggling and Trafficking of Human Beings, under the theme “Migrations, Gender and Human Rights”, Sept. 21-24 in Puebla, 129 kilometres south of Mexico City.

Ana Chávez, a lawyer with Argentina’s Peace and Justice Service (SERPAJ) said, “Victims are listened to, and criminal prosecutions are initiated, but no one is sentenced because of impunity. The consumers, that is, the pimps, clients or rapists, do not come into the equation.”

In Mexico some 20,000 people a year fall victim to the modern-day slave trade, according to the Centre for Studies and Research on Social Development and Assistance (CEIDAS), which monitors the issue.

The total number of victims in Latin America amounts to 250,000 a year, yielding a profit of 1.35 billion dollars for the traffickers, according to statistics from the Mexican Ministry of Public Security. But the data vary widely. Whatever the case, the United Nations warns that human trafficking has steadily grown over the past decade.


Organisations like the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC) estimate that over five million girls and women have been trapped by these criminal networks in the region, and another 10 million are in danger of falling into their hands.

The United Nations today defines human trafficking as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring, or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

Smuggling of persons, again according to the U.N., is limited to “the procurement of the illegal entry of a person into a state party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit.”

Latin America is a source and destination region for human trafficking, a crime that especially affects the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Colombia.

The conference host, David Fernández Dávalos, president of the Ibero-American University of Puebla (UIA-Puebla), said in his inaugural speech that human trafficking is a modern and particularly malignant version of slavery, only under better cover and disguises.

On Aug. 31, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged member states to implement a Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, because it is “among the worst human rights violations,” constituting “slavery in the modern age,” and preying mostly on “women and children.”

The congress coincides with the International Day Against the Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Women and Children on Thursday, instituted in 1999 by the World Conference of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW).

Government authorities and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Mexico concur that criminal mafias in this country have been proved to combine trafficking in persons with drug trafficking, along both the northern and southern land borders (with the United States and with Guatemala, respectively).

Most Latin American countries have established laws against human trafficking, and have ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime, in force since Sept. 29, 2003.

In Mexico, a federal Law to Prevent and Punish Trafficking in Persons has been on the books since 2007, but the government has yet to create a national programme to implement it, although this is stipulated in the law itself.

The Puebla Congress, which follows the first such conference held in Buenos Aires in 2008, is meeting one month after the massacre of 72 undocumented migrants in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, which exemplified the connection between drug trafficking and trafficking in persons, and drew International attention to the dangers faced by migrants in Mexico.

Miguel Ortega, a member of the Democratic Alliance of Civil Society Organisations, a Mexican umbrella group representing 50 NGOs, told IPS: “In first place, the problem is invisible, and until the state makes appropriate changes to the laws, there will be no progress. We want to see prompt and decisive action.”

IOM’s Hidalgo said, “our investigations and research have found that Nicaraguan women are trafficked into Guatemala and Costa Rica, and Honduran women are trafficked into Guatemala and Mexico.”

Women from Colombia and Peru have been forced into prostitution in the southern Ecuadorean province of El Oro, according to a two-year investigation by Martha Ruiz, a consultant responsible for updating and redrafting Ecuador’s National Plan against Human Trafficking.

SERPAJ’s Chávez said, “We have not been able to get governments to take responsibility for investigating these crimes. The states themselves are a factor in generating these crimes.”

Out of the 32 Mexican states, eight make no reference to human trafficking in their state laws. Mario Fuentes, head of CEIDAS, wrote this week in the newspaper Excélsior that the country is labouring under “severe backwardness and challenges in this field, because it lacks a national programme to deal with the problem, as well as a system of statistics.”

 
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