Defined as the illegal movement of people, usually for forced labor or sexual exploitation, human trafficking is a lucrative business and global issue. The International Labor Organization estimates that human trafficking generates $150 billion per year, with $99 billion coming from sexual exploitation. Traffickers often approach potential victims with enticing offers, such as jobs, educational opportunities, or even marriage abroad. Upon accepting such offers, victims are told they must pay back the cost of traveling to their destination. Upon arrival, they often find themselves trapped in forms of modern-day slavery, with little to no chance of escape.
It is estimated that there are currently 20.9 million trafficking victims worldwide, of which one point two million are children. 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year, 80 percent of which are female and 50 percent of which are minors. Human trafficking is a much larger problem than many realize: it is the fastest growing form of international crime. It is the second largest source of illegal income worldwide, behind only illegal drug trafficking. However, human trafficking is appealing to many organized crime groups as it can bring a higher profit than drug trafficking.
For decades, human trafficking in Cuba has been at the center of the trade. Adults and children alike have been tricked into prostitution and forced labor. The most vulnerable group is young people between the ages of 13 and 20, who are often victims of child prostitution or sex tourism. There have been reports of forced labor with Cuban government work missions abroad, which the government denies. Some claim these missions were completely voluntary and well paid, while others say they were coerced or forced by government officials who withheld their passports or restricted their movements.
Historically, Cuba has not complied with minimum standards for preventing human trafficking, but in recent years, the nation has been making significant efforts to combat sex trafficking. The U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, released in July, no longer lists Cuba as a country that fails to combat human trafficking. Since 2013, the Cuban government has prosecuted and convicted numerous sex traffickers and provided services to their victims. The Ministry of Labor and Social Services is leading a committee to combat gender and sexual violence, including sex trafficking. Furthermore, the Federation of Cuban Women, an NGO, is providing outreach to victims and information about the abuses that female trafficking victims experience.
These efforts are important, but there is much more work to be done. Currently, the government does not recognize forced labor as a widespread issue and has not reported significant efforts to stop forced labor. Actions against trafficking need to be more extensive and new legislation prohibiting all forms of trafficking needs to be drafted, passed, and enforced. Authorities must continue investigating and prosecuting those responsible for trafficking and all victims should have access to support services. These recent improvements have benefitted many, especially sex trafficking victims, but more efforts are needed to prevent other forms of forced labor in Cuba.
– Jane Harkness