Human Trafficking in El Salvador
El Salvador is the most densely populated nation in Central America, with a population of 6.375 million people and the size of 21,041 kilometers squared. Citizens of El Salvador are impacted by daily petty crimes such as thieft and pickpocketing, as well as more intense gang violence. El Salvador has the fifth-highest murder rate in the world, mainly caused by gang violence. Many gangs also partake in human trafficking, exploiting victims both domestically and abroad. These 10 facts about human trafficking in El Salvador aim to shed light on the main perpetrators, as well as steps taken to combat these abuses.

10 Facts About Human Trafficking in El Salvador

  1. Women, children, and LGBTQ people are at a higher risk of exploitation than men. Traffickers will often exploit El Salvadorans, as well as citizens from neighboring countries such as Nicaragua and Guatemala, who fall into those demographics. Transgender people are particularly at risk for sex trafficking as they are often dehumanized and fetishized in Latin America and other parts of the world.

  2. According to the United States Department of State, El Salvador does not currently meet the bare minimum standards for combating human trafficking. The government has made some small efforts, such as investigating an allegedly complicit government official and providing psychiatric services to female victims. These small efforts demonstrate a willingness to be on the right track, which makes El Salvador a strong candidate for potential growth in combating human trafficking.

  3. Gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha, more commonly known as MS-13, lure women into trafficking by offering them jobs. Women from poor backgrounds are baited and then forced into sex slavery. Experts are weary to pinpoint gangs as the main source for trafficking, as there is evidence of government officials and other people in power who also partake in trafficking whether for sexual or labor purposes.

  4. The Human trafficking network in El Salvador involves a lot of different members from the private sector, including transportation, tourism, media, entertainment and legal industries. Bus drivers, taxi drivers and truck drivers all take part in transporting victims. The media industry is also used to recruit victims by advertising fake jobs in newspapers and on the radio. These advertising methods are usually aimed at the aforementioned demographics, as they are often the most vulnerable in communities.

  5. The public sector is also very much involved in trafficking networks. Often, immigrants, police and other civil servants aid traffickers. Public officials provide false birth certificates and other legal documents. Border enforcement patrols are easily bribed into allowing victims to be trafficked to other countries. Suspects in human trafficking cases are often protected by public officials.

  6. The average age of trafficked victims ranges from between 9 to 15 years old. Teenagers and children are often recruited at school or within their own communities. Traffickers are able to brainwash children because of their young age, making them more malleable. Children are trained to murder, sell drugs or sell their bodies. Girls, in particular, are harassed and forced into relationships with gang members. Children are physically harassed, assaulted, threatened until they have no choice but to join a gang.

  7. Florida is the top destination for trafficked victims from El Salvador. Florida has high demands for human slaves, including both sex and labor slaves. Victims from El Salvador are forced into the commercial sex industry with the demand to make a profit for their traffickers. Victims are threatened to the point that they have no other choice but to comply.

  8. The root of human trafficking is the demand for victims. People are trafficked not because of the needs of human traffickers, but because of the demand of people who will pay for human services. In El Salvador, this manifests itself through a demand for prostitution and stripping. The growth of gang networks and the tourism industry has led to sec trafficking in El Salvador to become a multinational scheme.

  9. Many organizations are working to combat sex trafficking in El Salvador. The Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) started a campaign in 2013 called Tu Voz, which acmes to educate, alert, and support young people who are vulnerable to trafficking. The PADF worked with many other organizations to create the campaign, including MTV Latin America, the Inter-American Development Bank and its youth network (BID Juventud) and the Cinepolis Foundation (largest movie complex franchise in Latin America).

  10. The campaign has been incredibly successful so far, with over 150,000 people reached across 200 awareness events. Also, MTV produced and screened an anti-human trafficking documentary called “Invisible Slaves,” which had a successful impact across youth in danger of trafficking. The campaign also strengthened vulnerable youth to become activists against human trafficking. The success of the campaign demonstrates how empowering awareness and education campaigns can be, in combating some of the biggest villains in El Salvador.

Overall, minorities and women are the most vulnerable to be trafficked. There are many factors involved such as demand and poverty that contribute towards the human trafficking market. These 10 facts about human trafficking in El Salvador aimed to cover some of the reasons for the prominence of human trafficking in the region, as well as steps being taken to combat human trafficking. There has been an increase in effort from the international community, as well as the government of El Salvador to put an end to human trafficking. Education, advocacy and activism can all help to put an end to the atrocities of human trafficking in El Salvador.

– Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr