Within the last five years, there have been many cases of human trafficking throughout Panama. Human trafficking refers to the use of fraud or coercion in order to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act from a victim. Most trafficking victims in Panama are women from South and Central America, being exploited for sexual purposes. However, children and men are also victims.
Men from South and Central America, China and Vietnam are forced to work in construction, agriculture, mining and restaurants. Children are mainly used for domestic servitude and sexual exploitation. Tactics used include debt bondage, false promises and threats of reporting illegal immigration. In recent years, police have reported that some traffickers have even used illegal substances as a means to acquire victims. Below are five efforts to tackle the issues posed by human trafficking.
- UNODC: The UNODC, or the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, operates in Central America and the Caribbean to provide member states with technical assistance in the fight against serious and organized crime. In late January of 2020, the UNODC partnered with the General Secretariat of the National Commission against Trafficking in Persons to hold an informative breakfast in Panama to share its progress and challenges. The event also welcomed people to volunteer their support and funding through the Unit for the Identification and Care of Victims of Trafficking in Persons. There is hope that through events like this, the government of Panama will continue to make developments and advancements in putting an end to human trafficking. Hope remains that these efforts will also inspire more volunteering from those willing to work against the crime.
- National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Family: In 2019, Panama made efforts to reduce the likelihood and prominence of child labor throughout the country. One of these efforts included the implementation of the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence and Family (SENNIAF). This agency conducts inspections to identify children living through child labor practices. Shelters for victims of trafficking, as well as care plans for children who were previously used as child laborers, are also available through this agency.
- Reforms in Law: In 2011, the government of Panama enacted Law 79. The law deals with trafficking in persons and related activities, thereby providing the legislative framework regarding human trafficking. The law aims to provide victims with respect in regard to their status. The initial step of this process requires public servants to immediately report to the police if they believe a person may be a victim of human trafficking, as outlined by Article 44. After a person is confirmed to be a victim of trafficking, Article 47 states that the person is allowed to stay in the country for at least 90 days in order for the victim to both physically and emotionally recover. Possibly, the most significant provision that the government has implemented is in Article 37. The portion asserts that no victim of human trafficking may be detained, accused or processed for entering the country illegally.
- International Organization for Migration: Headquartered in Panama, the IOM works to support the efforts of the government in Panama to develop and implement plans to prevent, investigate and prosecute trafficking crimes, while protecting victims. In line with the annual World Day Against Trafficking in Persons on July 30, 2021, the IOM held a panel on raising awareness, victim protection and crime prevention. The event was attended by government authorities and members of civil society. Its main goal was to analyze the advances and challenges associated with the issue of trafficking, as well as to develop a perspective of human rights for the protection of trafficking victims.
- Districts Free of Child Labor Initiatives: The government of Panama created anti-child labor agreements such as the SENNIAF listed above. Through efforts made by these agencies, Panama has experienced an increase in victim identifications, as well as training and awareness of the issue among its population.
Three Key Improvements
As a result of many of these efforts, the following improvements have taken place.
- Child labor training was provided to 105 law enforcement officials, 55 prosecutors and 21 tourism authorities.
A local NGO identified 1,497 cases of child labor in 2019. Of the cases, 1,444 received care, scholarships and follow-ups from a program for 3 years in regard to academic work.
The Labor Inspectorate carried out 945 inspections for child labor.
The Road Ahead
Though much progress had been made in eliminating human trafficking within Panama, more work is required to see a definitive elimination in cases. A key way to work on eliminating the issue is by spreading awareness of the issue to others; human trafficking is no different. Through the work of many organizations and agencies, Panama has seen an increase in the knowledge of the matter, and the government keeps the hope that trafficking will no longer persist.
– Nia Hinson