Human trafficking victims lack government support in Latin America

U.N. officials said Cuban migrants are especially vulnerable to labor and other forms of human trafficking. (Coast Guard News/Flickr)

Rights experts called on governments to better support survivors of human trafficking in Latin America, a region with one of the world’s highest rates of the illicit practice.

They told a conference hosted by the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) that the region has too few government-run shelters for trafficking victims, especially for men and boys, Reuters reported.

“If the state doesn’t provide the integral care survivors need, it’s very difficult for them to recover their lives and not to fall back into trafficking rings,” said Carmen Martinez, regional legal director at rights group Women’s Link Worldwide, according to the news agency.

She added that trafficked women are often reluctant to seek help and protection in shelters because their children are not always allowed to live there with them.

Latin America has nearly 2 million of the world’s human trafficking or forced labor victims, according to the U.N.’s International Labor Organization. The region has the world’s third-highest trafficking rate regionally after the Asia-Pacific and Africa.

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A 2016 report by a U.S. government think tank warned that the prevalence of the illicit crime is growing. The report found that Latin America has become a primary source region for people trafficked to the United States, and serves as a major transit region for Asian trafficking victims.

Over the last few years, most governments in the region have taken steps to combat trafficking. The majority have signed and ratified several international protocols such as the U.N. Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons and the ILO Conventions on Abolishing Forced Labor and the Worst Forms of Child Labor, and in 2015, six countries in the region passed new or amended anti-trafficking legislation.

But some experts say Latin America’s governments lack the resources and political will to fund and implement such programs. They say public corruption remains a major obstacle to effective anti-trafficking programming, and that there is too little coordination between police and judicial officials.

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“We would be much more effective … if we were to create ways of sharing information that would allow us to identify and prosecute members of crime networks,” Claudia Paz y Paz, head of the OAS department that promotes cooperation among member states, said at the conference.

As a result, conviction and prosecution rates for traffickers are low compared to other regions, according to reports. A U.N. report last year found that trafficking children for sexual exploitation is something of a crisis in Guatemala, with 30,000 victims every year, yet the number of trafficking convictions in Guatemala remains low. The report revealed that the country had only two prosecutors hired to work on sex trafficking cases.

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Lisa Nikolau

Lisa Nikolau is a Madrid-based reporter for Humanosphere, covering gender equality, indigenous rights and poverty in Latin America and worldwide. Find her on Twitter at @lisanikolau, email lisa.nikolau@humanosphere.org or see her latest work at www.lisanikolau.com