The Impasse on Human Trafficking: No Data in a Digital World

Modern slavery and human trafficking are important global issues that violate fundamental human rights and are classified as serious crimes under both domestic and international law. Millions of people worldwide are impacted by these issues, and a large number of advocates and nonprofit organizations want to dismantle their clandestine networks. Unfortunately, a significant barrier to effectively addressing these crimes is the scarcity of statistics on human trafficking.

Human trafficking is one of the most lucrative types of international organized crime — with approximately 4.8 million victims of forced sexual exploitation and 27.6 million victims of forced labor globally. Despite these alarming figures, human trafficking and contemporary slavery receive scant media attention, with only a few reports on the subject having been published.

Because of this, it is challenging to comprehend the depth and complexity of the problem, due to the absence of adequate information about human trafficking in the community. For example, research published by the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service Institute of Georgetown University found a dearth of trustworthy data on trafficking, which impedes efficient strategic development. Furthermore, policymakers and campaigners cannot evaluate the efficacy of current policies or the effects on impacted groups without precise data.

In Latin America, human trafficking is caused by the widespread regional problem of economic disparity and poverty — which might leave people more open to slave trade. False promises of work and a better life may be used to entice people, only for them to be coerced into forced labor or sex trafficking. Furthermore, the prevalence of gender-based violence in Latin America is another significant role, including femicide, sexual assault and domestic abuse. Women and girls may be more susceptible to trafficking in this atmosphere.

Peru is a country where human trafficking originates, travels through and ends. More than an estimated 7,600 persons have been officially reported trafficked within the country since 2010. For policymakers and opponents of trafficking, the lack of data and information about human trafficking in Peru is a serious problem, considering that every year, local media entities report on the exponential rise of sexual exploitation and trafficking in rural regions — yet data is nonexistent

The paucity of information on human trafficking in Peru has resulted in a lack of community knowledge and comprehension of the problem, as well as insufficient resources and money for anti-trafficking programs. This is why the Peruvian government and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) have taken steps to prevent human trafficking, including developing the national plan documented as ‘Política Nacional Frente a la Trata de Personas y Sus Formas de Explotación al 2030’ and launching awareness campaigns.

An extensive national policy against human trafficking and its forms of exploitation in Peru has successfully been developed with the guidance of UNODC and other United Nations offices. It was approved by Supreme Decree N° 009-2021-IN and published on July 22, 2021. This also led to the establishment of Track4Tip, a user-friendly operational consulting document aiming to enhance criminal justice response in the region with Peru and nearby countries (i.e., Aruba, Brazil, Colombia, Curaçao, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago). Its main activities include improved victim identification mechanisms, smoother international cooperation between states to empower investigations/prosecutions, and offering dependable information on methods used by criminal networks to law enforcement and prosecutors in beneficiary countries.

“This is an important step forward in terms of victim protection, as well as actions to strengthen the criminal justice response, which is the objective of the Track4Tip initiative. We highlight this effort by the Peruvian State in the fight and response to trafficking in persons” said UNODC Representative for Peru and Ecuador Antonino De Leo.

However, this doesn’t hinder the fact that the lack of adequate data restricts future research, making it difficult to comprehend the underlying factors that contribute to human trafficking and contemporary slavery.

Reports show that throughout the country, sex traffickers take advantage of women, girls and, to a lesser extent, boys. Social media platforms are increasingly being used to lure victims by making fraudulent job offers or posing as romantic interests. With promises of lucrative career possibilities, women and girls from Bolivia, Peru and Venezuela are enticed to go to isolated mining and logging towns, where they later become victims of sex trafficking. 

Sex tourism is also prevalent, with visitors from the United States and Europe buying sex from children who have been trafficked in a number of locations, including Cusco, Lima and the Peruvian Amazon. Criminal organizations in the Loreto area also assist the boat transportation of international tourists to isolated areas where they traffic women and children for sex.

It is worthwhile to mention that Venezuelan migrants, LGBTQI+ people and indigenous Peruvians are particularly susceptible to trafficking. Many girls and women may not always have accurate or updated legal documents, and are more likely to be trafficked. The pandemic’s detrimental effects on economic prospects have increased trafficking and increased the hazards for these vulnerable groups.

Fundamental human rights are gravely threatened by the widespread global problems of human trafficking and contemporary slavery. However, experts have found the lack of trustworthy statistics on human trafficking can be addressed through other strategies. 

Jessie Brunner, Director of Human Trafficking Research at the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Stanford University, pointed out that “sectors in the anti-trafficking field are not always cooperating in a way that is allowing us to understand that data in aggregate or in comparison.” 

Thus, she proposes a change in data-gathering practices and the implementation of a technical baseline data-sharing protocol. She explains that “with data digitization, it’s much easier to pull together disparate data sources from NGOs and government agencies across different localities – and even countries – and do the analysis of what problems we are seeing, like migration routes and movements or the demographics of trafficking victims and the traffickers themselves”.

Given these challenges, it is essential to continue creating comprehensive laws, data collection methods and awareness campaigns to fight modern slavery and human trafficking in Latin American countries and everywhere else. We can only create focused and efficient interventions to destroy these covert networks by comprehending the core causes of human trafficking and modern slavery.

As we continue to grapple with these complex and multifaceted issues, a thought-provoking question arises: How can we, as individuals and as a society, work to raise awareness, collect reliable data, and develop effective interventions to combat human trafficking and modern slavery in Latin American countries and beyond?

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