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

US-LATAM: Human Trafficking Scourge Needs More Than Policing

WASHINGTON, Sep 7 2011 (IPS) - South American experts and officials met in Washington this week to discuss current policy initiatives to combat human trafficking in their respective countries, part of a broader U.S.-wide tour to share information and strategies to deal with the issue.

In an event at George Washington University on Thursday, officials from throughout the region detailed not only their existing efforts, but also future goals in terms of legal policies and assistance for victims of human trafficking, stressing a multi-faceted approach to combat the issue.

An important element in combating human trafficking, officials said, was increasing communication of the goals that need to be accomplished, as well as creating a standard for evaluating progress.

“We need to coordinate the work that needs to be done among countries,” said Sebastian Bagini, a director at the National Immigration Directorate in Argentina. “And we need statistics to measure how well we’re doing in this fight.”

Sexual exploitation, enabled by human trafficking, is a social epidemic throughout South America, and the situation for women in Brazil is especially so, said Maria Araujo, executive coordinator of Coletivo Mulher Vida, an NGO that works on combating gender-based violence.

And because of upcoming world events like the Olympics and the World Cup, officials are worried about women and children being trafficked into the country to meet a demand for sexual tourism, Araujo said, which already ensnares more than 250,000 people in Brazil, according to UNICEF.

Recent policies in Brazil focus on social services for victims of violence and human trafficking, she said, because poverty plays a major role in the ability of women and children to escape, and often puts them at risk for exploitation.

“This foresees and attempts to diminish the impact of poverty in the life of people who are experiencing [this type of] violence,” Araujo said.

While designing and establishing a viable legal framework within which to address human trafficking is an obstacle, execution of these laws remains an even bigger challenge.

“It’s not going to be a question of passing the law, but implementing the law,” said Omar Pardo, a lieutenant in the Panama National Police, also a representative at the discussion.

Panama’s own efforts to combat human trafficking have been limited, Pardo said, with very few laws on the books that actually deal with human trafficking, versus only sexual exploitation, or smuggling.

And in the absence of government-sponsored support or feasible legal safeguards, the task of assisting victims in Panama falls largely to the police, Pardo added.

“In my country, if we as policemen have managed to save someone from a trafficking situation, we have to take care of all their needs,” Pardo said. “We have to find where they’ll spend the night, we have to find them something to eat, and we have to find where to send them abroad, as most are foreigners.”

This is one of the repercussions of human trafficking – an enormous number of new residents entering into a country without documentation, thereby affecting other levels and resources in a country, officials said. In Panama, Pardo said, more than 90 percent of victims are Colombian, and must be sent abroad.

Sending victims back to their country of origin is a common solution, but this does little to solve the actual problem, officials said. And often, sending victims back without the physical, emotional and legal support that they require will be detrimental for them.

Bagini, whose work at the NID deals with permanent residency for victims of human trafficking, said that Argentina’s efforts in this respect have been comprehensive, including landmark moves like the Patria Grande, or “Great Homeland”, law in 2006, which granted legal residency to over 400,000 undocumented immigrants from countries like Paraguay.

Argentina is also one of the few countries in the region to have five shelters specifically for rescued victims. This goes beyond simple criminalisation of human trafficking, Bagini said, by providing physical and legal support to victims during their transition.

“You have to give victims a different type of treatment,” said Bagini, who added that Argentina’s use of government policy in coordination with that of NGOs and police to provide support was crucial to any success it achieves.

Officials said they were optimistic about the result of the tour, hoping it would give them new ideas and methods to combat human trafficking.

“[We have the opportunity to meet with] people truly interested in exchanging information with us,” Bagini said. “This is the only way to create worldwide policies or global policies that would make it possible to fight against what is a global crime.”

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