November 14, 2019 / 12:21 AM / a month ago

Exclusive: Mexico mulls human trafficking overhaul that may protect sex workers

MEXICO CITY (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Sex workers could benefit from plans to reform Mexico’s much-criticized human trafficking law, outlined in an interior ministry document obtained by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Commercial sex is legal in Mexico but people who gain from prostitution, such as landlords and pimps, can be jailed under the 2012 law, while sex workers are also often wrongly swept up in police raids, Mexican trafficking campaigners say.

Maria Olga Noriega, a trafficking expert at Mexico’s National Institute of Penal Sciences, described the need for legal reform as “urgent”.

“There is impunity because they’re not prosecuting human trafficking,” she said.

While the United Nations defines trafficking as an act that involves force, deception or coercion, Mexican law - which the U.N. has said should be changed - considers a person who exploits someone else a trafficker, even if its consensual.

Mexican authorities opened 425 investigations relating to 672 possible trafficking victims in 2017, mostly women who were believed to have been sexually exploited, government data shows, although activists say the true number of victims is higher.

Responding to a request for comment, Mexico’s interior ministry said the plan was being revised by the Inter-Ministerial Commission Against Human Trafficking and required finance ministry approval before it was rolled out.

Trafficking victims in Mexico work as forced laborers in agriculture, construction, domestic servitude, mining and begging, although prosecutions tend to focus on sexual exploitation.

The 62-page internal draft includes plans to amend the law to differentiate trafficking from exploitation, as well as improving victim protection and training for public servants.

“After seven years of implementation (of the law), the difficulties in its application ... are obvious,” said the national plan to combat human trafficking, dated Oct. 1.

“It’s imperative to push for a reform of the General Law ... that clearly defines human trafficking.”

Fierce debate has stymied previous reform efforts as some feminists and religious-backed groups have supported the current definition of trafficking, which they say has boosted prosecutions and protects women from exploitation.

Teresa Ulloa, Latin America director for the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, said she did not believe Mexico should require proof that victims were tricked, coerced or forced to secure a trafficking conviction.

“It’s more difficult to prove because some of the things that show vulnerability are subjective,” she said, while adding the law could be improved with tougher sentences.

Both houses of Mexico’s Congress, currently backed up with hundreds of legislative proposals, would need to approve any changes to the law but they have been focused on other issues like corruption and rising insecurity.

Federal Deputy Adriana Davila Fernandez, who spearheaded previous amendment bids, said political will was key.

“If the president doesn’t see that the issue of trafficking is important for the national agenda, we won’t get the chance to improve things,” said Davila, who is from the center-right National Action Party (PAN).

Reporting by Christine Murray. Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org

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