Hans & Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law

6 April 2010

Human Trafficking in Argentina: a Step in the Right Direction but Still a Long Way to Go

Victor Piché, Buenos Aires

Here is the last article of a series about the Argentinean immigration policy [1].

The world is presently witnessing an increase in human trafficking, particularly of women and children for sexual exploitation. Too often, governments react in a repressive manner instead of guarantying the protection of victims, which are assimilated with “illegal” migrants and sent back to their country without protection as if they were criminals.

In Argentina, human trafficking is now part of the political agenda, not so much for its numerical importance as for its links with organized crime, a fact that has recently shocked the authorities after the arrival at Buenos Aires international airport of a group of undocumented Asian immigrants whose final destination was the United States [2]. In fact, in recent years, Argentina has become a country of origin, transit and destination for men, women and children caught in the nest of human trafficking for sexual exploitation and also for economic exploitation. One important characteristic of human trafficking in Argentina is that it is mostly internal, from rural areas (mostly from the northern region) to the big cities. Some of these victims are sent to neighboring countries and Western Europe for sexual exploitation purposes. These networks are part of organized crime and implicate Argentine victims as well as citizens of Paraguay and Brazil. Human trafficking, mostly of Bolivian and Peruvian workers, also involves economic exploitation, particularly in the textile and agricultural sectors. It is difficult to estimate the volume of human trafficking in Argentina: according to the NGO “Casa del Encuentro”, during the last 18 months more than 600 women have been abducted, but for each known case there are 6 others which remain invisible [3].

Official policy in Argentina has made important progress and demonstrates a real political will to deal with the problem of human trafficking. Over and above a migration policy geared toward the protection of human rights [4], Argentina has signed and ratified all UN conventions and protocols dealing with human trafficking and transnational organized crime. Furthermore, the Argentine government has amended its penal code in order to criminalize human trafficking. In October 2007, a national program for the prevention and elimination of human trafficking was set up.

If the political and legislative apparatus is well in place, many important problems still remain and considerably offset its effectiveness. The Argentine government, in collaboration with the International Organization of Migrations, has recently published a report on human trafficking. One of the authors has identified at least six crucial gaps in the fight against human trafficking [5]:

1) the absence of an active policy for criminal prosecution including concrete measures of prevention, investigation and punishment of offenses with respect to human trafficking: the majority of cases brought to justice have been done so by the victims themselves or third parties;
2) the lack of qualification of judiciary personnel and also the lack of knowledge concerning the dynamics of human trafficking networks and international and national instruments (treaties, laws, etc.);
3) the complicity of security forces involved in the protection of prostitution sites;
4) the absence of cooperation between judiciary personnel and security forces;
5) the lack of human and material resources to carry out adequate investigations;
6) the absence of programs for the middle and long term assistance to the victims and lack of protection for the witnesses.

According to Fabian Tunez of the Casa del Encuentro, over and above the existing measures and problems, there is the need for a stronger political will to seriously eliminate prostitution sites. In brief, there is still a long road ahead.

Footnotes

[1] The author would like to thank Diego Morales of the Centro de Estudio Legales y Sociales (CELS) for his precious comments.

[2] Texido, E., 2008, Perfil Migratorio de Argentina, Organizacion International para las Migraciones, Buenos Aires, Argentina, p.48.

[3] Cited in La Nacion, March 28, 2010.

[4] Victor Piché (2010), « Argentinean Immigration Policy Resolutely Geared to Human Rights », Hans & Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law, on-line, 10 February 2010 ; Victor Piché et Diego Morales (2010), « Immigration Policy in Argentina: Between Theory and Practice”, Hans & Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law on-line, 8 March 2010.

[5] Gonzalo Bueno (2009), « Informe Sobre el Tratamiento Judicial de Casos de Trata de Personas en la Argentina », dans Nuevo Escenario en la Lucha Contra la Trata de Personas en la Argentina, report prepared by the International Organisation for Migrations and the National Public Department, October 2009, pp.26-33.

  • Victor Piché

    Victor Piché is honorary professor at the department of demography of Université de Montréal, specialized in international migrations and migrant workers’ rights.

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