Human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transportation, or transfer of humans using any form of threat for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation could mean prostitution, forced labor or practices similar to slavery and servitude. In 2018, it was determined that the government of Mexico was not meeting the minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. While Mexico is making strides in the number of prosecutions made and the amount of support given to victims, in 2018 the government obtained fewer convictions than in previous years, identified fewer victims, provided more limited services to victims and maintained a disproportionately low amount of shelters compared to its magnitude of the human trafficking industry. The following 10 facts about human trafficking in Mexico provide further insight into its expansive presence in the country.
10 Facts About Human Trafficking in Mexico
- Mexico has the largest number of victims of modern slavery than any other country in the Americas. Mexico, along with the Philippines and the United States, was ranked one of the world’s worst places in terms of human trafficking in 2018. Mexico is also thought to be the largest source country for trafficking across international borders. According to the Global Slavery Index, there are approximately 341,000 victims of modern slavery in Mexico.
- Those most at risk are women, children, indigenous people, people with mental or physical disabilities, migrants and LGBTQ individuals. The United States estimated about 70 percent of human trafficking victims in the US come from Mexico, with 50 percent of those individuals being minors. Women and children are often used for prostitution and sex trafficking, while many Mexican men are coerced into forced labor, often for use by drug cartels. Additionally, individuals traveling or migrating alone are at a higher risk for trafficking.
- One major reason for the presence of human trafficking in Mexico is the social and economic disparity. Many victims are also victims of poverty, and they become trapped in trafficking after being lured from poorer regions with a promise of employment and income. In 2016, 43.6 percent of Mexican citizens were living below the poverty line. UNICEF reports that traffickers specifically seek out individuals who are financially vulnerable, as they are more likely to accept illegitimate job offers due to desperate circumstances. Solo migrants traveling without family or any other individuals are often the most vulnerable victims due to their isolation.
- Out of 150,000 children living on the streets in Mexico, it is estimated that 50 percent are victims of trafficking for sexual purposes. Many traffickers use Mexico as a route to smuggle children into the United States and Canada. Often, these children stay and become victims in Mexico, and the numbers of exploited children in Mexico continue to rise.
- In June of 2019, the Mexican government announced an end to funding for human trafficking non-government organizations (NGO’s). President Andrés Manuel López Obrador justified the cut with reasons of corruption, believing that the funding for these NGO’s would end up in the wrong hands. Instead, the new plan is to open government-funded and government-run shelters for victims of human trafficking. Many people question the ability of the government to run shelters and provide victims with the care and support needed. George Mason University professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, who has studied the connection between organized crime and trafficking, explains: “Any mention of the topic is really very general… it doesn’t seem to be a priority.”
- Victims of human trafficking are at very high risk for repeated trafficking due to Mexico’s policies of prioritizing arrests of illegal immigrants and individuals engaging in prostitution. As a result, victims often have very little chance of social services or legal aid, and instead, are put at a higher risk for re-victimization and repeated trafficking. Opportunities for help and support were mostly offered by NGO’s in Mexico, and without proper funding for these organizations, the Mexican government assigns a low priority to services for victims.
- Mexican trafficking victims are even more vulnerable to sex trafficking due to issues of forced migration. An overwhelmingly high number of victims come from unstable countries in Latin America. In 2017, 14,596 people applied for asylum in Mexico. Due to government instability, violence due to the presence of drug cartels, and conflict within the country, migrant victims are at higher risk for vulnerability in a new country, and therefore, at a higher risk for becoming a victim of human trafficking in Mexico.
- In March of 2019, the Mexican government released statements announcing their goal to probe into the current “failing” anti-human trafficking policies in place. The technical secretary of the Inter-Ministerial Commission Against Human Trafficking, Felix Santana, publicly recognized the shortcomings of previous policies. With more emphasis and government dedication to supporting victims and survivors, solutions are becoming more promising for ending human trafficking in Mexico.
- Another step in the direction of ending human trafficking is the raising of awareness and visibility of the issue, specifically for Mexican youths. For example, the Pan American Development Foundation facilitated a partnership between MTV Americas and the U.S. Department of State’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons to create a mass media campaign, including a documentary focusing on real examples of trafficked youth.
- In the meantime, there are many organizations in Mexico dedicated to ending human trafficking and assisting and supporting victims. For example, El Pozo de Vida provides a safe-house for victims and offers food, water, shelter, education, clothing and counseling. The creation of more organizations to assist in the rehabilitation of victims is crucial in alleviating the extreme damage done by human trafficking in Mexico.
It is believed that the number of victims of human trafficking in Mexico would decrease with strengthened law enforcement, acknowledgment of the expansivity of the problem and additional training for victim identification.
– Orly Golub