Although human trafficking continues to surge on the continent, improved legislation and the investment in social platforms are leading to higher human trafficking conviction rates in parts of Latin America. The 2018 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report shows that a group of countries in the Americas have considerably increased their conviction rate numbers between 2014 and 2017.
In 2014, the UNODC report showed that only 10 percent of prosecuted cases in Latin America resulted in convictions. This had risen to 26 percent in 2016, showing that ongoing efforts have been made at both ends of the scale by countries with once anemic conviction rates, and those with existing measures in place.
According to the UNODC report, Honduras saw the greatest improvement from 2014 to 2017 with a 31 percent increase in conviction rates, Ecuador came in second with 23 percent, Argentina third with 22 Percent, followed by Costa Rica and Guatemala who registered a 21 percent increase respectively.
But countries such as Bolivia, Uruguay, El Salvador and Venezuela registered conviction rates of less than five percent in 2017.
In Argentina, for example, conviction rates rose from 52 percent in 2014 to 74 percent in 2017, although prosecutions dropped from 138 cases to just 51. The government has credited legislature such as Law 26.842, which cracks down further on human trafficking and provides tools to assist victims.
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Ecuador has also shown a measure of improvement in the number of convictions, although prosecutions have not risen. In 2014, 192 people were prosecuted for human trafficking in the country. But only 14 of those cases resulted in a conviction, representing a rate of less than one percent. In comparison, 178 people were prosecuted in 2017 of which 43 resulted in convictions, resulting in a 24.5 percent rate.
In 2014, Ecuador established tougher human trafficking laws with the implementation of Article 91 of the Organic Comprehensive Criminal Code (COIP). This was accompanied by the creation of social entities, such as Casa Bonita, that provide health, education, psychological, and legal support to victims of human trafficking.
InSight Crime Analysis
Ecuador and Argentina are but two examples of regional efforts to combat a crime that affects more than 1.4 million people in Latin America. Their commitment is highlighted in their recent improvements that have been recognized by the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report by the US State Department.
This progress saw the US State Department list Argentina among Tier 1 Countries, stating that the country “had made key achievements,” such as increasing prosecutions, convicting complicit officials and improving data collection.
In addition, the Ministries of Security, Justice and Human Rights continue to allocate resources to create free hot-lines that facilitate the reporting of potential cases of human trafficking.
Alejandra Mangano, an Argentine prosecutor for the Attorney’s Office for People Trafficking and Exploitation (Procuraduría de Trata y Explotación de Personas – PROTEX), told InSight Crime that new laws have increased the current conviction rate by easing the judicial procedure to follow when prosecuting human trafficking suspects.
Ecuador remains a Tier 2 country. But the report acknowledges that “the government [has] demonstrated increasing efforts by prosecuting more suspected traffickers and formally establishing and funding the Directorate for the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons and Migrant Smuggling…to coordinate the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.”
Historically, Ecuador has also paid the price for lax immigration regulations, seeing thousands of migrants from other countries smuggled through its borders illegally. In 2016, a constant flow of Cubans arriving in Quito finally saw Ecuador change its stance, deporting migrants en masse back to Cuba and being accused of not giving them a fair hearing.
Despite considerable efforts, Latin America continues to register high levels of human trafficking. Certain worrying signs are also present. For example, in Central America and the Caribbean, the proportion of human trafficking victims linked to sexual exploitation rose from 55 percent to 75 percent in just two years from 2014 to 2016.
The region also continues to be used by human trafficking rings from all around the world, with nationals from 96 countries being detected in North American countries.
The drivers behind human trafficking are complex and difficult to isolate, although common solutions such as raising public awareness, following money laundering trails and cooperating transnationally have yielded benefits.
The socio-political and economic crisis in Venezuela and Nicaragua continues to put thousands, if not millions, at risk, which criminal groups seek to exploit. The criminal economy of human trafficking is expected to grow in 2019. It remains to be seen if the social investments and central institutions in the region will continue to make positive gains in regards to detecting, prosecuting and convicting criminal actors.