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Impunity remains largest hurdle for human trafficking in the Americas, says UN

December 3, 2014

There are more laws on the book than ever in Latin America criminalizing human trafficking, but these laws rarely lead to prosecutions or convictions, according to a report from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

Organ trafficking may grab the headlines, but reported cases are extremely rare when compared to the number of people trafficked for sex or forced labor.

The 2014 “Global Report on Trafficking in Persons” found that impunity is high despite legislative progress, and conviction rates in the Americas remain very low. While the United States and Peru registered more than 50 convictions for the crime, some countries in the Caribbean and Central America did not report a single conviction. Other countries reported less than 10 convictions per year. The conviction rate in the Americas is “well below” 0.1/100,000 people, according to the report.

During a regional meeting on human trafficking in Central America held in San José in August, Immigration Administration Director Kathya Rodriguez said there are five human trafficking cases under investigation in Costa Rica.

An illegal kidney trafficking ring allegedly run by the former head of nephrology at the public Calderón Guardia Hospital in San José caught the attention of Costa Rican and international media, but these cases are very rare compared to other kinds of human trafficking reported by the UNODC. Globally, trafficking victims for the purpose of illegal organ removal accounted for 0.3 percent of the total number of cases, compared to 53 percent for sexual exploitation and 40 percent for forced labor.

Trafficking victims in North and Central America and the Caribbean were nearly evenly split between sexual exploitation and forced labor at 48 and 47 percent, respectively. While the majority of victims in the region were adults (69 percent), the report highlighted the troubling fact that there was a relatively larger percentage of child victims in Central America compared to North America and the Southern Cone, between 2010 and 2012. The report noted this trend was “clearly increasing” across North and Central America and the Caribbean while other countries in South America showed mixed results. Two out of three children trafficked in the region are girls.

Other issues highlighted in the region are the high number of people trafficked for forced labor — a topic that experts lamented as underreported in August — and the relatively large number of female traffickers compared to the rest of Latin America, a fact the report suggested could be linked to the larger numbers of child trafficking victims.

The U.S. State Department has previously recommended Costa Rica take more steps to help victims once they are rescued from exploitative situations, but there are some groups working to rehabilitate trafficking survivors in Costa Rica.

Recommended: Saving hearts: A halfway house rescues girls from slavery

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