Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South and Central America

Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean*

Academic journal article Current Politics and Economics of South and Central America

Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean*

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND

Trafficking in persons (TIP) is considered to be one of today's leading criminal enterprises and is believed to affect virtually all countries around the globe. Despite limited data on the nature and severity of the problem, the U.S. government has cited estimates that some 27 million men, women, and children may be victims of trafficking at any given time.1 In 2012, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimated that there were some 20.9 million victims of forced labor at any given point in the period 2002-2011, including trafficking victims.2 The accuracy of these and other estimates, however, is difficult to assess given the clandestine nature of the crime.

Internal trafficking generally flows from rural to urban or tourist centers within a given country, while trafficking across international borders generally flows from developing to developed nations. Countries are generally described as source, transit, or destination countries for TIP victims. Many experts conclude that a country is more likely to become a source of human trafficking if it has recently experienced political upheaval, armed conflict, economic crisis, or natural disaster. For example, the hundreds of thousands of Haitian children who were orphaned or abandoned after a catastrophic earthquake hit that country in January 2010 proved vulnerable to trafficking.3

Studies have found that human trafficking disproportionately affects women and girls. A 2012 U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) study found that, on average, 55%-65% of human trafficking victims are women and 27% are minors.4 The ILO has estimated that women and girls account for 40% of victims in forced economic exploitation, such as domestic service, agricultural work, and manufacturing-and 98% of victims in forced commercial sexual exploitation.5 The vulnerability of women and girls is due to a number of factors in source, transit, and destination countries.6

This report describes the nature and scope of the problem of trafficking in persons in Latin America and the Caribbean. It then describes U.S. efforts to deal with trafficking in persons in the region, as well as discusses the successes and failures of some recent country and regional anti-trafficking efforts. The report concludes by raising issues that may be helpful for the 113th Congress to consider as it continues to address human trafficking as part of its authorization, appropriations, and oversight activities.

Definition

Severe forms of trafficking in persons have been defined in U.S. law as -sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or ... the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery."7 Most members of the international community agree that the trafficking term applies to all cases of this nature involving minors whether a child was taken forcibly or voluntarily. Trafficking in persons does not require the movement of victims from one place to another.

Trafficking vs. Human Smuggling

In 2000, the United Nations drafted two protocols, known as the Palermo Protocols, to deal with trafficking in persons and human smuggling.8 Trafficking in persons is often confused with human smuggling. This confusion has been particularly common among Latin American officials.9 Alien smuggling involves the provision of a service, generally procurement of transport, to people who knowingly consent to that service in order to gain illegal entry into a foreign country. It ends with the arrival of the migrant at his or her destination. The Trafficking Protocol considers people who have been trafficked, who are assumed to be primarily women and children, as -victims" who are entitled to protection and a broad range of social services from governments. …

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