Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Slavery in the 21st Century

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Slavery in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

"From one minute to the next my life was never to be the same again," recalls Sara. Six years ago, Sara's world collapsed when she was kid napped as she walked to school in Managua, Nicaragua.

Now eighteen, Sara wants to give a personal account of her experience. She wants governments, parliaments, and diplomats, as well as the public to confront cite of the most degrading crimes a human being Call experience: to be sold like merchandise.

Trafficking in persons is a modern manifestation of the ancient crime of slavery. Deceit also has claimed many victims, most of them attracted by offers of work or study overseas. According to experts, trafficking in persons is an illegal business comparable to other transnational crimes such as arms trading or drug dealing. Traffickers earn between U854,000 and $50,000 per person, depending on the place of origin and destination of the victim. Such is the case of Sara, according to Colombian investigator Juan Sanchez, who has traveled throughout Central America interviewing victims of trafficking.

Sara's story began on a day like any other, when she left her house very early to catch the school bus. She was walking alone, as she did every morning, to meet with ten or more other children who got together to chat about their daily activities. A taxi stopped by and the driver asked her about an address. Sara remembers nothing more.

She woke up hi an unfamiliar place where there were other young girls guarded by three women. What followed could be the story of thousands of children, adolescents, and women used for commercial sexual exploitation in its various forms: prostitution, pornography, sexual tourism, and other criminal activities within the bounds of human trafficking.

Sara's parents went to the police and lodged a complaint, but as time went by inquiries yielded no positive results. They knocked on all possible doors: national security services, private investigators, the church, and any others that might shed light on their daughter's whereabouts.

The youngster, who at twelve could not understand what was about to happen to her, lived a nightmare. In less than a week, Sara was sold to some men who in turn sold her to others, until she was brought to the United States and made to serve in a brothel.

"I did whatever I could to get out of that place when I was eighteen, after being dragged front place to place and passed from hand to hand. Someone helped me to go to the authorities, but they deported me because I had no documents to prove that I was legal. I'm home again, but I lost the best years of my life and my adolescence. I'm not the same. But the worst part of it is that I was not tricked; I was kidnapped. I was taken away, and no one can give me back everything I lost," says Sara.

According to a recent State Department report, the United States was the country of destination of between 18,000 and 20,000 trafficked persons. The same report gives annual estimates ranging from 800,000 to 900,000 persons trafficked worldwide.

Even though many governments and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have committed themselves to examining this issue, studies show that human commerce has yet to be recognized throughout the Americas as an offense against humanity rather titan as a social problem.

A pilot study carried out at the OAS by the Inter-American Commission of Women (CIM) in partnership with the Inter-American Children's Institute (IIN) and Chicago's DePaul University reveals that trafficking in persons, especially in women and children, has its origins in multiple issues and involves a great many agents. The study included nine countries of this hemisphere: Belize, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama, some of them countries of origin, transit, or destination in human trafficking.

Laura Langberg, a CIM specialist on human trafficking, explains the complexity of the problem: "Poverty and violence plus gender and age discrimination have been some of the individual factors contributing to the increase in human trafficking, along with external aspects like corruption. …

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