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Human Trafficking in Mexico

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.”
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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
Photo: Flickr

End Modern SlaverySlavery is never an easy problem to confront. It is uncomfortable and unpleasant to think about, a complex jumble of economics, politics, culture, and dozens of other areas. It is also very uncomfortable to address the possibility that many western clothes and electronics are made by slaves. However, poverty cannot end completely without ending slavery, and slavery will not end without an end to poverty. They feed off one another, so in order to end poverty, people must end modern slavery as well.

Society tends to imagine slavery as an issue of the past, a horrible chapter of human history that closed with the ban on the slave trade in Europe and the emancipation proclamation in America. But slavery has continued, and today, there are more people in slavery than at any other time in human history. Twenty-seven million people are enslaved today, 79 percent of whom are women and children. Almost every country in the world is somehow involved in human trafficking and slavery, either as a country of origin, transit or destination.

Many people who become trapped in slavery are the people who are already trapped in poverty. People in extreme poverty often try to find ways out of their desperate situation, and many are lured into the slave trade with promises of education, steady work and a better life. Instead, they are sold into slavery, often for as little as $90 a person, and imprisoned with literal chains or psychological pressure. They can then be forced into different types of slavery, including sexual exploitation and prostitution, forced labor, being compelled to act as beggars, benefit fraud and organ removal.

There are laws and international protocols against the slave trade, but they are poorly enforced and often ineffective. Victims fear coming forward to the authorities because of stigmas and the risk of imprisonment or deportation, even when they are the victims, not the criminals. The victims are often the ones to carry the social shame and punishments while the conviction rate for the slave traders remains low.

Ending modern day slavery feels like a difficult task. There is no open slave trade to end as there was in the 1700s and 1800s. The U.N. is one of the many organizations working to free people and give them a new life. Since the early ’90s, it has freed more than 90,000 people by working to prevent trafficking and protect victims. However, there are still millions more to free and prevent from becoming victims in the first place. The State Department has devised a strategy of prosecution, protection and prevention, the “3 P’s” that are aimed to end modern slavery.

One of the most important ways to end modern slavery is by preventing it. Both slavery and poverty are about “excluding people from economic and social justice,” so addressing economic and social issues deals with slavery and poverty together. By preventing individuals from falling into the desperate situations of poverty, they are less vulnerable to slave traffickers. Preventing social exclusion and discrimination is also an important step to stop slavery. Slowing the supply of victims by addressing these social and economic causes is a crucial step to ending modern slavery. Since many of these problems are also related to global poverty, this is a win-win situation.

Protection is another key way to end slavery. The movements of refugees and migrants have made many people more vulnerable, so safe migration and trade unions can help keep workers from becoming susceptible to the slave trade. Those already trapped in the slave trade should receive the proper treatment and legal action. This leads to the final P, which is prosecution of those running the slave trade. The low prosecution rates provide little deterrence for those involved with the slave trade, so cracking down on prosecution can act as a form of further deterrence.

Compared to the number of people in poverty, about 10 percent of the world’s population, the number of people in slavery is small. However, these 27 million people deserve far better treatment. Addressing the issues of poverty that cause the desperation can help end modern slavery, and ending modern slavery helps end poverty.

Rachael Lind