In the last few decades, human trafficking has become rampant in many Latin American countries. Landlocked by Argentina, Bolivia and Brazil, Paraguay finds itself grappling with this issue, putting many of its citizens at risk of becoming victims of trafficking. For the year 2021, the U.S. State Department ranks Paraguay at Tier 2 in regard to the nation’s handling of human trafficking. This ranking means that Paraguay does not meet the minimum requirements for combating trafficking as outlined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 but “is making significant efforts to do so.”
Victims of Trafficking in Paraguay
According to the Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) of 2021, men, women and children are all susceptible to human trafficking in Paraguay. However, the most prevalent and concerning act of human trafficking in Paraguay involves the exploitation of children under a practice called “criadazgo,” which entails the exploitive labor of children as domestic workers.
A child, usually from an impoverished family, provides domestic work to middle and high-class families in exchange for “varying compensation that includes room, board, money, a small stipend or access to educational opportunities.” Estimates indicate that about 47,000 Paraguayan children work under this practice, often girls. However, this practice is a form of exploitation “similar to slavery.” In fact, many victims of criadazgo experience physical abuse and sexual abuse. Although officially outlawed in Paraguay due to child rights violations, the practice continues.
Barriers to Combating Human Trafficking in Paraguay
Law enforcement officials are often complicit in human trafficking crimes. Allegations include accepting bribes to overlook acts of trafficking in “massage parlors and brothels” and “issuing passports for Paraguayan trafficking victims exploited abroad.” According to the TIP, Paraguay’s national law against human trafficking does not “align with international law.” Furthermore, the official anti-trafficking unit lacks the resources to operate effectively. Considering the significant number of trafficking victims in Paraguay, the nation does not have adequate services and infrastructure in place to adequately serve victims.
The Good News
Paraguay developed the Ministry of Adolescents and Children (MINNA), which “maintains a unit dedicated to fighting child trafficking and a hotline to report cases of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children.” This unit also offers “social services” to child victims of trafficking.
MINNA created Program Abrazo (Embrace Program) in 2005 to aid children within exploitative child labor by supplying the children and their family members “with health and education services, food deliveries and cash transfers conditioned on children’s school attendance and withdrawal from work.” In 2020, MINNA collaborated with “local institutions” to “open new Embrace Program attention centers for street children and to strengthen services at existing centers.”
In 2017, Paraguay created a child trafficking awareness initiative to reduce “child commercial sexual exploitation” within the tourism industry. The initiative made use of flyers, banners and stickers “at hotels, airports and places of mass circulation” in Ciudad del Este, the second-largest city in Paraguay, as well as the Paraguay border area.
These efforts are placing the country on the right path for Tier 1 categorization as a fully compliant nation. It is important to raise awareness of human trafficking to help eliminate it. Human trafficking can put any one of the 7.6 million people residing in Paraguay at risk. Most importantly, the vulnerable population, such as children and impoverished people, face this risk at a higher proportion than anyone else. Through continued efforts to combat human trafficking in Paraguay, the government can safeguard the well-being of vulnerable Paraguayans.
– Kler Teran