Trafficking in Persons Report 2016 - Country Narratives - Argentina

ARGENTINA: Tier 2

Argentina is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Argentine women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country, as are women and children from other Latin American countries. To a more limited extent, Argentine men, women, and children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in other countries. Men, women, and children from Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and other countries are subjected to forced labor in a variety of sectors, including sweatshops, agriculture, street vending, charcoal and brick production, domestic work, and small businesses. Chinese citizens working in supermarkets are vulnerable to debt bondage. Argentine officials report isolated cases of foreign victims recruited in Argentina and subjected to trafficking in third countries.

Women and girls who live in extreme poverty, a violent family environment, or suffer from addiction are among those most vulnerable to trafficking; a significant number of them, mainly from Bolivia and Paraguay, and to a lesser extent from the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Brazil, are victims of sex trafficking, along with individuals from rural areas and the northern provinces. Traffickers from across Argentina bypass regulations that ban brothels by establishing “mobile brothels” in vans and trucks, making raids more difficult; this practice is particularly prevalent in the northern area of the country. Street vendors may victimize susceptible migrants from neighboring or African countries in forced labor. Transgender Argentines are exploited in sex trafficking within the country and in Western Europe. Social and online networking has become one of the most common methods to recruit women and children for sexual exploitation. Since the passage of a law prohibiting newspapers from publishing offers for sexual services, there has been a rise in misleading classified ads promising employment. Official complicity, mainly at the sub-national levels, continues to hinder the government’s efforts to combat trafficking. Two provincial police agents and a local labor inspector were convicted for complicity in trafficking-related crimes during the year.

The Government of Argentina does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The General Prosecutor’s Office for Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation (PROTEX) continued its efforts to investigate cases and build partnerships for legal assistance to victims. The government convicted some complicit officials, but official complicity remained a widespread problem. The government identified fewer victims but increased the availability of services by opening five regional anti-human trafficking offices. The establishment of the Federal Council to Fight Human Trafficking and Exploitation and for Victims’ Assistance, as mandated by the Trafficking in Persons Law, remained pending.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ARGENTINA:

Increase funding for and availability of specialized shelter, legal, medical, and employment services for victims, particularly of forced labor crimes, in partnership with civil society, at the federal, provincial, and local levels; increase prosecutions and convictions with dissuasive sentences of government officials complicit in trafficking; consistently offer foreign victims the opportunity to remain in the country and document how many do so; strengthen efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish traffickers with sufficiently stringent sentences; strengthen coordination among the federal and provincial governments and NGOs, including through establishing the federal council on human trafficking and implementing an anti-trafficking plan with an adequate budget; improve efforts to collect data on anti-trafficking law enforcement and victim protection efforts; and expand training for officials, including on victim identification and assistance.

PROSECUTION

The government maintained law enforcement efforts. Law 26842 of 2012 prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of four to 10 years’ imprisonment, which are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law establishes the use of force, fraud, and coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of trafficking, and defines facilitating or profiting from the prostitution of others and illegal sale of organs as human trafficking. The government issued implementing regulations for the law in January 2015; these regulations outline victim assistance procedures and mandate interagency collaboration, among other provisions. Although trafficking is a federal crime, some provincial authorities investigated or prosecuted trafficking cases under different statutes related to exploitation and pimping, making it difficult to collect comprehensive data. Confusion over whether federal or provincial governments had jurisdiction caused significant delays in trafficking investigations and prosecutions.

Authorities did not report the total number of anti-trafficking cases investigated by police in 2015. The anti-trafficking prosecutor’s office, which monitors trafficking cases heard by courts in the country, opened investigations of 226 sex trafficking cases and 132 labor trafficking cases, compared with 200 investigations in 2014. Authorities prosecuted 47 individuals for sex trafficking and 51 for labor trafficking in 2015, compared with 92 individuals prosecuted for sex and labor trafficking in 2014. The government convicted 35 traffickers in 2015 and acquitted 10 alleged traffickers; six other individuals were convicted of trafficking-related crimes. Sentences ranged from three to 12 years’ imprisonment. Authorities did not report how many sentences were suspended. In comparison, authorities convicted 67 traffickers in 2014. A federal court in Mendoza province convicted a group of individuals, including two police agents and a local labor inspector, of sex trafficking of women in a brothel. Three police officers were among 16 individuals suspected of sex trafficking women in Buenos Aires province; the three officers were indicted and awaited trial at the close of the reporting period. The federal court overturned the acquittals for human trafficking of the Mayor of Lonquimay and a police official of La Pampa province. Several investigations of trafficking-related complicity remained ongoing, including: two separate cases from 2013 in which deputy police chiefs allegedly provided protection to brothels where sex trafficking occurred; a 2010 investigation of over 70 Buenos Aires police officers accused of taking bribes to protect brothels; and a 2010 investigation of the former head of the anti-trafficking police unit accused of running brothels. In an instance of international cooperation, upon the request of an Argentine judge, Spain granted the extradition of a citizen who, along with a group of Argentines, was charged with sex trafficking Argentine and Paraguayan victims.

The government provided anti-trafficking training to police, prosecutors, and judicial officials, among others, including through a virtual training course. Some provincial judges had limited understanding of trafficking, which at times hampered efforts to hold traffickers criminally accountable. Some government materials and officials incorrectly stated that for the crime of trafficking to have occurred, the victims had to have been transported.

PROTECTION

Government efforts to assist victims remained uneven. The Program for Rescue—a team of government officials in Buenos Aires responsible for coordinating emergency victim services nationwide—reported identifying 424 potential human trafficking victims in December 2015, compared with 1,509 potential victims in 2014. This number may include the total number of individuals encountered during anti-trafficking law enforcement raids, some of whom were likely in exploitative labor without force, fraud, or coercion. Authorities did not report how many of these victims were adults or children, men or women, Argentine citizens or foreign nationals, or how many were exploited in sex or labor trafficking. The government opened five new regional counter-human trafficking offices in the provinces of Chaco, Santa Fe, La Pampa, Mendoza, and La Rioja, which served to cooperate with security forces in raids and liaise with hospitals, educational centers, NGOs, and other government and social services agencies. The offices employed psychologists, social assistance workers, and lawyers and provided counseling and other services to victims. While the quality and extent of victim care varied by province, overall victim support improved in Buenos Aires and the provinces where the regional human trafficking offices opened. Foreign victims had the same access to care as Argentine nationals, although foreign victims were sometimes unaware of available services. Some federal officials had formal procedures for victim identification and assistance, but implementation of systematic procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations varied by province. Some front-line responders had limited understanding of trafficking. There were no efforts made to identify and assist victims of domestic servitude.

Authorities did not report how many victims they provided with comprehensive services in 2015 or how much funding federal, provincial, or local governments provided for services to trafficking victims. The Program for Rescue took initial victim statements and provided emergency post-rescue care after law enforcement operations to an unspecified number of victims. The Ministry of Social Development oversaw victim services, and each province had a designated government entity responsible for coordinating victim protection at the local level. Federal and provincial authorities provided an unspecified amount of funding to one NGO for services for trafficking victims. Most government or NGO shelters provided care for trafficking victims along with gender-based violence or other populations, but authorities did not report how many trafficking victims were assisted at shelters or lodged in hotels in 2015. The government announced a new initiative to improve the employment prospects of forced labor victims but did not report how many trafficking victims received employment assistance in 2015. Specialized services were limited, and NGOs reported an acute need for shelter, job training, legal services, and emergency care. The 2012 anti-trafficking law required the government establish a fund for trafficking victims, but this fund was not created in 2015. There were no reports of identified victims jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being subjected to trafficking. Authorities did not report how many foreign victims received temporary or long-term residency as authorized by law. It was unclear whether foreign victims were fully informed of residency and assistance options before repatriation. The government successfully collaborated with Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Spain, on human trafficking cases. Argentine immigration authorities and NGOs reported repatriating victims to neighboring Bolivia and Paraguay.

Human trafficking laws provide for legal counseling for victims by the justice and labor ministries, including legal assistance during prosecution of traffickers and the filing of civil suits to obtain restitution. The prosecutorial office, established in the previous reporting period, continued to provide victims assistance during trials and referrals to government services and pro bono legal services. In September 2015, PROTEX and the Law School of the National Center University signed a cooperation agreement to implement legal assistance clinics for trafficking victims, although the clinics had not opened during the reporting period.

PREVENTION

The government sustained prevention efforts. The efforts of the federal council on human trafficking—a broad working group mandated by the 2012 law to include federal government entities, provincial officials, and NGOs—and the smaller executive council on human trafficking—mandated to implement the initiatives of the federal council—were unclear during the year. Authorities did not issue a national anti-trafficking plan as required by law; without a plan, no specific budget allocations could be assigned to new anti-trafficking structures. Some provincial governments undertook prevention efforts. NGOs and municipal authorities continued to express concern about child sex tourism, though there were no reported investigations or prosecutions related to this crime. The government continued proactive efforts to register informal workers and employers in rural areas and investigate non-compliance with labor laws.

The government provided anti-trafficking training for its diplomatic personnel. The government did not launch new programs but continued with training programs targeting employers, unions, and the general public to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts and forced labor. Argentine troops received anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping operations.