BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tens of thousands of women and children across Latin America are trafficked every year, yet few receive the support they need to rebuild their lives and conviction rates for the crime remain extremely low, rights experts said on Tuesday.
They told a conference hosted by the Washington-based Organization of American States (OAS) that victims of trafficking often face severe trauma and low self-esteem, and need long-term psychological care, job skills training, and access to healthcare and education to recover.
But they said there were few government-run shelters exclusively for trafficking survivors in the region, and almost none for men and boys.
“If the state doesn’t provide the integral care survivors need, it’s very difficult for them to recover their lives and not to fall back into trafficking rings,” Carmen Martinez, regional legal director at rights group Women’s Link Worldwide, told the conference.
Trafficked women can be reluctant to seek help and protection in shelters because such centers often do not allow survivors’ children to live there with them, Martinez said.
Across Latin America, the most common form of human trafficking involves women and children forced into sex work.
In Colombia, there are no government-run shelters just for trafficked victims, while there is just one shelter in both Ecuador and Paraguay, according to a report launched by Women’s Link Worldwide at the conference.
While most countries in Latin America have introduced anti-slavery laws in the past decade, few traffickers are put behind bars.
In Colombia, for example, of the 900 investigations on trafficking carried out by state prosecutors from 2011 to 2016, only around 50 resulted in a conviction, Martinez said.
Around three in five victims in the region sold into sexual exploitation and forced labor are trafficked to other countries in Latin America or across continents.
Claudia Paz y Paz, head of the OAS department that promotes cooperation among member states, said one reason why conviction rates are low is because there is little coordination between police and judicial officials within countries and across the region on human trafficking.
“We would be much more effective ... if we were to create ways of sharing information that would allow us to identify and prosecute members of crime networks,” said Paz y Paz, a former attorney general of Guatemala.
Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Emma Batha.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org