Cases Languish as Human Trafficking on the Rise in Bolivia

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Despite the fact that Bolivian has seen an uptick in human trafficking in recent years, just two trafficking cases in the last six years ended in a conviction, while more than 200 cases have been reported in 2012 alone.

La Opinion reports that according to Patricia Bustamante, the director of the Bolivian Womens’ Development and Service Center, human trafficking is met with near impunity in Bolivia. According to statistics from the Bolivian Human Trafficking Observatory cited by Bustamante, only two human trafficking cases have been successfully convicted since 2006. Meanwhile, the number of cases reported this year alone is 258, up from 190 in 2011.

Bustamante also said that the majority of human trafficking victims are young girls, from 10 to 14 years old, and are generally involved in the sex trade. Most come from major Bolivian cities like La Paz, El Alto, Santa Cruz and Cochabamba.

InSight Crime Analysis

In recent years, Bolivia has become a hub of human trafficking. In 2011 the government said that reported cases of human trafficking had increased by 26.4 percent since 2008. In 2006 the government passed a law calling for eight to 12 years’ imprisonment for those convicted of the crime, but a lack of both enforcement and effective prosecution mean that it is essentially toothless.

The United States Department of State’s 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report found that “a significant number of Bolivians are found in conditions of forced labor in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Spain, the United States, and other countries, usually in sweatshops and agriculture, as well as in domestic service.”

According to government officials and human trafficking experts, much of this has to do with the endemic poverty in the country, especially in rural areas. Initially lured by promises of steady pay, victims end up either forced into the sex trade or made to work involuntarily either in Bolivia or in other countries. Many of these are children, and there is evidence that minors can be “purchased” for as little as three to seven dollars in impoverished areas like the southern city of Potosi.

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