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Human trafficking's dirty profits and huge costs

Poverty, unemployment and lack of opportunity force millions of people to look for a better life by moving away from the places they call home. In Latin America and the Caribbean, illegal emigration is a huge problem, and it goes hand-in-hand with people trafficking and exploitation—pointed out IDB modernization of the state specialist Nybia Laguarda, during a presentation at the Bank’s headquarters in Washington, DC.

According to the United Nations, “people trafficking” is defined as “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons (…) for the purpose of exploitation.”  It ranges from domestic servitude to forced labor, the removal of organs, prostitution or other forms of sexual exploitation.

Unfortunately, it is also big business, bringing in US $32 billion annually, worldwide. This makes people trafficking the most lucrative crime after drug trafficking, according to statistics from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2006). Every year, some 1 to 2 million children, women and men become victims of human trafficking; while traffickers make anywhere between $4,000 and $50,000 per person trafficked, depending on the victim’s place of origin and destination.

Besides the obvious human and legal rights violations of the victims, people trafficking also has a large negative impact on the world’s economy due to the significant loss of human and social capital. In addition, Laguarda said, people trafficking hinders the educational processes and capacity development for the victims, especially children and teenagers. Plus, it negatively affects the victims’ physical and psychological health, as they are sometimes excluded from society due to the trauma of their experiences of exploitation. On a more subtle level, Laguarda also pointed out how people trafficking jeopardizes each person’s integrity and tarnishes the reputations of the countries that allow it.

Despite the shocking statistics, people trafficking is a crime that still has not captured the attention of the public or made it to the top of political agendas in the region. Very few cases even make it to the courts.

Cases in Latin America and the Caribbean
The situation in Latin America and the Caribbean is a disturbing one. According to statistics of the Latin American Institute for Education and Communication (ILPEC, 2006), some 23,400 girls and young children were victims of illegal adoptions in Guatemala in the last decade.

In Bolivia, the intermediaries who traffic in illegal adoptions charge up to $30,000 per child. The Bolivian National Police have found only 18 percent of the children and youth who disappeared in 2005 and 2006 (IOM/OAS, 2004).

Child prostitution is a major problem in Brazil, where some 500,000 children work as prostitutes. Many of them are later sold to the gold mines of the Amazon, according to the Brazilian Center for Childhood and Adolescence.

In Colombia, more than 14,000 children are kidnapped each year and forced to become soldiers for the paramilitary or other militia forces, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Report, 2003.

The Inter-American Commission of Women’s Laura Langberg has indicated that Latin America and Africa are the most under-researched and under-funded regions in the world, when it comes to people trafficking. “These regions are particularly problematic because of the five Cs—corruption, collusion, cronyism, consumers and crime,” she said.

The IDB keeps up the fight
Governments, non-governmental organizations and international agencies are becoming increasingly concerned about the negative social and economic impacts of people trafficking. The IDB began its work on this regional problem in 2003, when it approved its first technical cooperation operation for US$150,000 to support the Ricky Martin Foundation in the fight against children's trafficking in the region.

In 2004, the IDB established an inter-institutional framework to define a plan of action and support the Latin American governments in fighting against this crime. To date, the Bank has approved eight technical cooperation operations—three of them regional in scope—to weaken people trafficking in 10 countries.

In addition, the IDB recently launched “Call and Live,” a regional campaign against human trafficking that promotes hotlines for prevention and victim protection.

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