Colombia must focus more on tackling internal human trafficking - report

by Anastasia Moloney
Monday, 18 November 2013 15:05 GMT

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates 70,000 people are trafficked a year in Colombia

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - In Singapore, a Colombian woman is promised a job as a model and ends up locked and beaten in a brothel and forced to take heroin. In Colombia, a girl takes a job as a domestic worker and then finds herself coerced to work as a prostitute, her earnings taken away.

These are just some of the ways women and girls get caught in sex trafficking rings, according to a report by Women's Link Worldwide, a global women's rights group, which says human trafficking inside Colombia has become an 'endemic practice'.

Ariadna Tovar, the report's lead author, said Colombia was not only a country of origin for trafficking with victims transported to other Latin American countries, Asia and Europe, it was also a transit country and a country of destination - for mainly indigenous women and girls from Ecuador forced into sexual exploitation.

"But what's less known is that Colombia is a country with high levels of internal trafficking, a problem that's invisible," Tovar told reporters in Bogota on Friday.

"Human trafficking isn't seen as a problem inside Colombia, but something that occurs beyond its borders. The efforts of state agents are more targeted towards victims of transnational trafficking than internal trafficking," she added.   

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) estimates 70,000 people are trafficked a year in Colombia.

Until recently, Latin America was known as a region from which people were trafficked, but more people are being trafficked through countries in Latin America and it's a region where trafficking victims are increasingly ending up, IOM says.

Inside Colombia, the sexual exploitation of women and girls in certain parts of the country is on the rise, the report said.

Improved security and a waning guerrilla insurgency has fuelled a mining boom - both legal and illegal - drawing male labourers from across the country who typically leave their wives and partners behind to work in remote, inhospitable areas where organised crime networks operate.

"There's human trafficking going to mining areas, including gold mining areas, like in the Choco province. There's a flow of women to mining areas where there's sexual exploitation going in," Tovar said.

Greater security has also attracted record numbers of tourists to the country which in turn is driving a growing demand for sex tourism, particularly along its Caribbean coast.


Women and girls who are poor and unemployed are most vulnerable to being sexually exploited because they are more likely to be lured by a recruiter's false promises of money and a better life, the report said.

Once caught in trafficking rings, it is hard to escape, the report said. Victims can be held captive or trapped by threats to themselves or their families and children.

"Some are locked up, as in the cases of (Colombian) women we've come across trafficked to Singapore and Japan, where they're forced to take drugs so it's easier to control them." Tovar said. "In Colombia, some victims are sometimes allowed to return home for a limited time. But they're threatened and told that if they don't come back or phone their traffickers at certain times, their children or family will be harmed."

Sex trafficking often results in debt bondage, which involves a women being held against her will until she earns enough money to repay the trafficker for travel and other expenses.

The debt, however, usually becomes impossible to pay off.

"There're cases where traffickers will pay for dental braces and plastic surgery, which only means victims get more into debt," Tovar said.


Women and girls who have been driven from their homes by fighting between government troops, leftist rebels and right-wing paramilitary groups that has lasted 50 years are at heightened risk of human trafficking, the report found.

The report based on 2012 research in two areas of Colombia - the Valle de Cauca province along the Pacific coast and its coffee-growing region - found local attitudes to prostitution, which is legal in Colombia, fuelled sexual exploitation.

"Because of high unemployment and poverty rates in the regions where we did our research, prostitution is seen as a job option and it's seen as something that's normal and commonplace," Tovar said.

"As prostitution is legal in Colombia it makes it difficult for society and state authorities to see prostitutes as possible victims of sex trafficking. It also makes it difficult for victims to see themselves as victims of sex trafficking."


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