By Christine Murray
MEXICO CITY, March 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Mexico's new government is reviewing the country's "failing" anti-human trafficking policy with a focus on providing better support for victims, a top official said, after academics and activists criticized previous efforts as lacking impact.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office in December, and has said little on the issue, but an official from the Inter-Ministerial Commission Against Human Trafficking promised to have an outline of a new plan ready in April.
Felix Santana, the commission's technical secretary, said the government lacked reliable data on trafficking and that some of the previous government's policies had shown poor results.
Support for victims was now a priority and would undergo a comprehensive review, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Something is failing, obviously something isn't working in our system to deal with this problem," Santana said.
Santana said combating trafficking was very complex because it takes more than 20 different forms under Mexican law - from labor to sexual exploitation to forced begging - and that public officials are not well-versed enough to respond effectively.
"Because it's so invisible, there are a number of complexities going from identification to prosecution."
Mexico is an origin, transit and destination country for trafficking, from women tricked and lured into sex work in the United States to young men forced to work for drug cartels.
Its first anti-trafficking law was passed in 2007, and the current one in 2012 with a broader definition of the crime.
The commission consists of 15 ministries who have voting power, as well as other government entities, civil society representatives and academics who do not have a vote.
Ex-members said it had brought different groups together on the issue and was relatively open to input from campaigners.
Anti-trafficking activist Rosi Orozco, president of non-profit Comision Unidos Contra la Trata de Personas, said that the commission did what it could with limited resources and manpower, but that victim protection was lacking in many states.
Campaigners and academics listed several problems with the body, from Santana's role being only part time to the lack of evaluation of anti-trafficking initiatives, and broad and soft targets like the number of officials who took training courses.
"It (the commission) is a very good idea, because if there's anything the fight against human trafficking needs, it's institutional coordination," said Maria Olga Noriega, a professor at the National Institute of Penal Sciences (INACIPE).
"The problem is there's no political will ... advances are very slow."
State and federal prosecutors opened 425 trafficking cases in 2017 and secured 87 convictions, according to the commission.
At least 970 possible victims received some kind of help in 2017 from authorities such as medical or psychological care.
Those figures compare to 539 cases in 2016, 89 convictions and 889 victims helped.
Several academics and advocacy groups said they do not trust the commission's figures, saying there is little interrogation of the poor quality data provided by states and ministries.
Rodolfo Casillas, an academic at the Latin American Faculty Of Social Sciences (FLACSO), was part of the commission for a year but did not stay on, saying it lacked clarity in its aims.
"I don't like to take part in shams, I don't validate it."
The previous government measured success in fighting trafficking in four ways; number of officials trained, states with a victim attention protocol, percentage of investigations leading to charges, and implementation of a database IT system.
Monica Salazar, head of non-profit Dignificando el Trabajo, said previous administrations were too broad in their objectives and that the new government should decide on manageable goals.
"It's this idea that there's no clarity on what we have, and wanting to have a huge ambition to save the world," she said.
Under Mexico's latest anti-trafficking law, states were required to update their legislation accordingly, but twelve out of 32 still have not done so, according to a speech last month by Alejandro Encinas, deputy interior minister for human rights.
Santana said the fact trafficking was an invisible issue meant it was tough to assign more money to tackle the problem.
There is no general government budget to fight trafficking, only small amounts for different programs across ministries.
"First we'll set out the objectives, then we'll assign the budget," he said. (Reporting by Christine Murray, Editing by Kieran Guilbert. 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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