The 15-year-old girl left Tegucigalpa, Honduras, in early March to come to the United States. Her aunt, who lives in Florida, had paid a “coyote” $4,000 to cross her into US territory.
But after traveling for several weeks, the smuggler left her lying on a street in the Mexican state of Puebla.
There, what she thought was an offer from a man to work in a restaurant as a waitress turned out to be a ruse by a human trafficking ring. “They put me as a sex worker. There were several people who controlled me a lot, the clients even beat me. It was horrible,” she said of her ordeal, which lasted several weeks. She managed to escape one day as she was being taken to a hotel room.
Her story and that of other victims who spoke to Noticias Telemundo — their names are being withheld for fear of reprisals — illustrate the experiences of the approximately 50,000 people who are trafficked each year in 148 countries, according to the United Nations. latest semi-annual report.
More than 60% of the victims of human trafficking in the last 15 years have been women and girls, and the majority have been trafficked for the purpose of sexual exploitation, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (UNODC).
In addition, “it is estimated that at least 25% of the cases are migrants. It is very high, and there are victims who are not being detected,” said Mario Cordero Véjar, head of the UNODC Program against Crime and Drugs.
According to official data, the Mexican government identified 744 victims of trafficking in 2021, compared to 673 in 2020 and 658 in 2019, but experts point out that the official figures do not reflect reality, since the vast majority of cases are not reported. .
Speaking of what happened to her from a shelter of Anthus, a non-profit organization in Puebla that fights sex trafficking, the young woman said about her migration from Honduras: “It is very risky and dangerous because you don’t know if you are going to arrive alive. or without a leg or an arm. Sometimes they kill you, kidnap you, rape you. There is everything on that road.”
“No woman should go through what I went through, no girl or teenager,” she said between sobs, saying she can’t sleep without reliving what happened to her.
In the Human Trafficking Report 2022 published last week, the US State Department said the Mexican government is not fully meeting minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking, although it acknowledged that it is implementing important measures to achieve that goal.
Among other things, the State Department report indicates that, in 2021, the prosecution and sentencing of traffickers in Mexico did not increase.
Non-governmental organizations reported that authorities at all levels lacked the necessary knowledge of trafficking laws and failed to effectively identify and refer potential victims, contributing to the low numbers officially recorded.
Various investigations indicate that the groups most likely to be victims of trafficking schemes in Mexico are indigenous people, people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ+ community, workers in the informal sector, youth from gang-controlled territories, applicants asylum and migrants.
In Mexico, anti-trafficking groups are concerned that a recent tax reform by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador limits the donations people can give to civil society organizations, which they say puts the survival of more than 5000 civil projects.
“On the state issue we have not received support, and there is a general law that requires that the government, if it does not have shelters, must support civil society that does have them,” said Mariana Wenzel, director and co-director of Anthus. founder.
“Unfortunately, the issue is not on the public agenda of this government. We should have a national plan to prevent, punish and eradicate human trafficking, which is from 2019, but we don’t have it,” said Teresa Ulloa, director of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW). -LACQUER).
Dealing with historical migration
In recent years, Mexico has experienced a record migratory flow to the United States, with US authorities detecting more than 1.7 million undocumented immigrants at the border with Mexico in fiscal year 2021. In addition, more than 58,000 people requested refuge in Mexico during the first half of 2022, a situation that is unprecedented in the country.
A South American woman who was forced into prostitution for four years in Mexico City told Noticias Telemundo that she was recruited in her native country with a false job offer, which she accepted because her mother was very ill.
But when she arrived in Mexico, she was immersed in a nightmare of sexual exploitation that left her with multiple physical and psychological consequences. She had to produce the largest number of “tickets” every day, a euphemism used by traffickers to refer to the act of having sexual relations and for which they charged 200 pesos per client, less than $10.
“On several occasions I got sick because I don’t smoke cigarettes and everyone was smoking. Once my left lung was blocked. You are a foreigner and alone, and you suffer mistreatment and discrimination,” said the woman, who has sought legal help from CATW-LAC.
Mexican authorities recently created a task force dedicated to human trafficking and smuggling.
“We are not only interested in entering diagnoses, but also improving the registry and at some point having a care protocol,” said Miguel Aguilar, director of the Center for Migratory Studies of the Mexican Ministry of the Interior, noting that drug trafficking migrants the victims could be exploited again.
Aguilar said that one goal is to encourage the reporting of trafficking crimes. “We work a lot with that part of self-perception, because people do not consider themselves victims, even if they are,” in reference to the low numbers of official reports of trafficking among migrants.
Various organizations affirm that cartels such as Jalisco Nueva Generación, Sinaloa and Noreste operate in the southeast of Mexico, where there is a large indigenous population.
The groups take advantage of ancestral uses and customs to take young indigenous people, through sums of money or coercion. “That happens with girls from 8 to 17 years old,” said Ulloa, explaining that they are then taken to the northern border and sexually exploited.
Not just sex trafficking
The State Department report also warned of labor exploitation, stating that the Mexican government did not allocate enough funds or personnel to the Secretary of Labor to enforce labor laws.
Inspectors in the country have a limited mandate to monitor working conditions in informal businesses and farms, which employ more than half of the Mexican workforce.
The groups say that labor exploitation and trafficking impact many indigenous people who are recruited from southern Mexico, especially in states like Chiapas and Oaxaca, with the promise of attractive jobs. They are then taken north for agricultural work.
“They are people who don’t speak Spanish, or speak very little, and don’t have documents, but they live in extreme poverty and their only possibility is to work in a field for more than 14 hours,” said Cordero. of the UNODC.
On July 30, which marked the International Day Against Trafficking, the UN launched a video campaign to identify and draw attention to the issue. Since many victims are transported by plane, an alliance was created to include brochures on flights so that passengers have the necessary information to identify and report these types of practices.
The UN advises various organizations to detect and prevent cases of labor trafficking. Women in Defense of Women is a group from San Quintín, in Baja California, an important agricultural center near the border with the United States.
Margarita Cruz, director of that organization, said that many people migrate from Mexican states such as Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca with the hope of working in agricultural fields harvesting berries managed by international companies that sometimes give them the paperwork to apply for an H2A visa. and work in the US
“They work more than 12 or 14 hours hoping to get a visa and they don’t complain,” Cruz said. “But many times there are big consequences, because they get sick and they don’t have benefits. …After they get sick, they are no longer hired.”
Project Polaris, an American organization that prevents and combats human trafficking, has a toll-free national hotline. Between 2018 and 2020 they received more than 15,000 calls of people who report having been victims of labor trafficking. Most were men and came from Mexico.
The issue of work is a challenge for trafficking survivors who, on many occasions, lose several years of their lives in exploitation.
“They have to be reintegrated into the labor market, beyond social programs… The issue is that they be free and independent,” said Mitzi Cuadra, director of prevention at Anthus.
A 33-year-old Mexican tries to rebuild her life at the Anthus shelter in Puebla. After living with her pimp for eight years and having her children, she mustered the courage to speak out. She is proud to have recently finished elementary school and will be entering a high school program.
“He tricked me into falling in love, but then the beatings started and he forced me to work on the streets, having sex with men, to support him. It was hell,” she said. “But I’m not so scared anymore. Studying takes away your anger and you’re a better person.”