Human trafficking in Mexico
Mexico is a large source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to trafficking in persons, specifically forced prostitution and forced labor. Government and NGO statistics suggest that the magnitude of forced labor surpasses that of forced prostitution in Mexico. Groups considered most vulnerable to human trafficking in Mexico include women, children, indigenous persons, and undocumented migrants. Mexican women, girls, and boys are subjected to sexual servitude within the United States and Mexico, lured by false job offers from poor rural regions to urban, border, and tourist areas. Mexican trafficking victims were also subjected to conditions of forced labor in domestic servitude, street begging, and construction in both the United States and Mexico. In one case, 107 trafficking victims, both Mexican and foreign citizens, were freed from a factory disguised as a drug rehabilitation center in Mexico City; many of them had been kidnapped, and all were subjected to forced labor.
The vast majority of foreign victims in forced labor and sexual servitude in Mexico are from Central America, particularly Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; many transit Mexico en route to the United States and, to a lesser extent, Canada and Western Europe. However, trafficking victims from South America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa are also found in Mexico, and some transit the country en route to the United States. Unaccompanied Central American minors, traveling through Mexico to meet family members in the United States, fall victim to human traffickers, particularly near the Guatemalan border. Mexican men and boys from Southern Mexico are found in conditions of forced labor in Northern Mexico, and Central Americans, especially Guatemalans, are subjected to forced labor in southern Mexico, particularly in agriculture. Child sex tourism continues to grow in Mexico, especially in tourist areas such as Acapulco and Cancun, and northern border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Most child sex tourists are from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, although some are Mexican citizens. In addition to Mexican drug cartels, organized crime networks from around the world are reportedly involved in human trafficking in Mexico.
The Government of Mexico does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Mexican authorities increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts and achieved the first convictions under the 2007 anti-trafficking law, in addition to opening a government-funded shelter dedicated to sex trafficking victims. The Secretariat of Government assumed more active leadership of the interagency trafficking commission and the Mexican Congress created its own trafficking commission. Given the magnitude of the trafficking problem, however, the number of human trafficking investigations and convictions remained low. While Mexican officials recognize human trafficking as a serious problem, NGOs and government representatives report that some local officials tolerate and are sometimes complicit in trafficking, impeding implementation of anti-trafficking statues.
The Government of Mexico’s overall law enforcement response to human trafficking increased during the reporting period, though efforts were uneven across the country. In 2007, the government enacted federal legislation to prohibit all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties of six to 12 years’ imprisonment. Under aggravated circumstances, such as when the victim is a child or lacks mental capacity, penalties increase to nine to 18 years imprisonment; when the convicted offender is a public official, penalties increase by onehalf. The above penalties are sufficiently stringent and exceed those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law does not include a clause rendering victim consent irrelevant if any of the means defined in the crime, such as threat, abduction, abduction or fraud, were used; therefore, the burden of proof regarding consent can be shifted to victims over 18 years of age. However, it is unclear to what extent this could weaken prosecution of trafficking offenders, as the issue has yet to be raised in a federal prosecution. In Mexico’s federalist system, state governments investigate and prosecute some trafficking cases that occur wholly within the country. Federal jurisdiction is invoked, however, in cases involving organized crime, trafficking crimes involving government officials, cases involving three or more individuals, international or inter-state trafficking, and trafficking occurring on federal territory. Twenty-two Mexican states and Mexico City have enacted at least partial anti-trafficking laws prohibiting some or all forms of trafficking, and the statutes in seven states make victim consent irrelevant if any of the means of trafficking are established. As many judges are not familiar with human trafficking laws, some cases of human trafficking may have been prosecuted under other laws, such as rape or child prostitution statutes, under which convictions are easier to achieve.
During the reporting period, the federal government investigated 48 trafficking cases. The Attorney General’s Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA). FEVIMTRA handles federal trafficking cases involving three or fewer suspects, while the Office of the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime (SIEDO) investigates cases with more than three suspects. With only 10 lawyers dedicated to both cases of violence against women and human trafficking, FEVIMTRA faced challenges in moving from investigations to convictions. As a result of a SIEDO investigation, in December 2009, a federal judge achieved the first convictions under the federal anti-trafficking law in a case involving six trafficking offenders. Five of the six were convicted for trafficking Mexican women and girls to the United States for commercial sexual exploitation; four remain in custody awaiting sentencing and one is serving prison time in the United States. One trafficking suspect, believed to be the ringleader, remains at large. Also during the reporting period, Mexico City’s Special Prosecutor for Trafficking sentenced a trafficking offender to 10 years in prison, producing the first sentence under Mexico’s federal anti-trafficking law and Mexico City’s local anti-trafficking law. In Mexico City, the Office for the Attorney General’s Deputy Prosecutor for Victim’s Assistance conducted four raids of brothels suspected of involvement in human trafficking so far this year. The Mexican federal government continued to provide significant assistance to the U.S. government on cross-border trafficking investigations last year and extradited one Mexican citizen to face trafficking charges in the United States.
NGOs, members of the government, and other observers continued to report that corruption among public officials, especially local law enforcement and judicial and immigration officials, was a significant concern. Some officials reportedly accepted or extorted bribes or sexual services, falsified identity documents, discouraged trafficking victims from reporting their crimes, or tolerated child prostitution and other human trafficking activity in commercial sex sites. Two immigration officials arrested in 2007 for their alleged leadership of an organized criminal group involved in human trafficking were convicted during the reporting period and remain incarcerated pending sentencing. A highlevel immigration official was investigated for suspected involvement in human trafficking.
NGOs noted that many public officials in Mexico, including state and local officials, did not adequately distinguish between alien smuggling and human trafficking offenses and that many judges and police officers are not familiar with anti-trafficking laws. In order to address this problem, both government and outside sources provided some law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and social workers with anti-trafficking training.
The Mexican government modestly increased its assistance to trafficking victims last year,[when?] though the government’s overall efforts remained inadequate. It continued to rely on NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments to operate and fund the bulk of specialized assistance and services for trafficking victims, particularly adults. Mexican immigration agents implemented a system for identifying potential trafficking victims, particularly among children entering or exiting the country, and referring these victims to care providers, such as NGOs, and 1,333 migration officers received training on identifying and interviewing trafficking victims. The government periodically conducted raids on brothels but did not employ formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among other vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers. With the help of the NGOs, the government rescued over 70 trafficking victims.
During the reporting period,[when?] FEVIMTRA opened a shelter dedicated to female victims of sex trafficking with a capacity for 70 individuals; the government spent approximately $3.4 million on this facility during the year. The State of Mexico established and funded a shelter for victims of sex trafficking with a capacity for 10 women, although it did not assist any victims during the reporting period. Both shelters are able to provide medical, psychological, and legal services. Mexico’s social welfare agency continued to operate general shelters for children who are victims of violence, which could be accessed by child trafficking victims, though it is unknown if any child trafficking victims were assisted in these shelters. State and municipal governments also provided at least partial support to 34 shelters for women which form part of a greater national network of shelters and emergency attention centers for victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, or human trafficking. Local shelters also opened their doors to trafficking victims. Some shelters were operated and funded by NGOs, international organizations and religious groups. However, according to NGOs, victim services were lacking in some parts of the country and remained inadequate in light of the significant number of trafficking victims. The government continued to issue renewable one-year humanitarian visas to foreign victims who assisted with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, and last year nine trafficking victims received temporary humanitarian parole when they agreed to press charges against their traffickers. Foreign victims who declined to assist law enforcement personnel, however, were repatriated to their home countries and were not eligible for victim aid or services in Mexico.
Although authorities encouraged victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, many victims in Mexico were afraid to identify themselves or push for legal remedies due to their fears of retribution from trafficking offenders. Furthermore, victims had little incentive to participate due to a culture of impunity, reflected by official complicity, the limited number of trafficking prosecutions and convictions, and the fact that no trafficking victim has been awarded compensation for damages. The law establishes legal protections for trafficking victims, though in practice, according to NGOs, witnesses were not offered sufficient protection. The government provided limited victim services to some repatriated Mexican citizens upon request, and FEVIMTRA directed identified victims to local resources for assistance.
Federal and state governments sustained limited trafficking prevention efforts in 2009-2012. The Mexican government conducted a public awareness campaign through posters and television and radio spots about the danger of human trafficking, and FEVIMTRA spent $1.4 million on its own anti-trafficking prevention campaign. Authorities continued to work towards creating a National Trafficking Action Plan. Mexico publicly endorsed the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s Blue Heart Campaign against Human Trafficking, becoming the first country in Latin America to do so. In an effort to address the demand for forced labor, the Secretary of Labor developed a series of workshops and trainings in 2010 to prevent child labor and trafficking for forced labor. It included media materials that explain how labor recruiting agents can deceive individuals in order to recruit them for forced labor. The government continued to forge partnerships with NGOs and international organizations on prevention efforts. The government reported no prosecutions or convictions of child sex tourists.