Human Trafficking: A Systemic Problem Requires a Holistic Solution

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Human trafficking is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. Conservative estimates find nearly 2.5 million people worldwide have been coerced into forced labor or sexual exploitation, creating a $32 billion dollar industry. Today, on World Day against Trafficking in Persons, we invite you to stand up and make your voice heard.

Trafficking is considered one of the worst forms of slavery. According to the United Nations, trafficking in persons is defined by the forceful recruitment or deception of a person for the purpose of exploiting him or her. It disproportionally affects vulnerable groups including migrants, women, children and indigenous people. Eighty percent of all trafficking victims are women and girls. Many of them are coerced into prostitution. In Mexico, between one third and half of those trafficked are children, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In addition to human trafficking is the widespread issue of child labor, which is also exploitative. More than three million Mexican children must work to make ends meet, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO). Roughly one third are under the age of fourteen and work at least 35 hours per week. Many of them work in unsafe or unhealthy conditions.

Despite efforts to eradicate child labor and forced labor in general, the problem persists. We cannot rest until we find a solution. Given the complexity of these issues, and the often intertwined relationship between trafficking, migration and child labor, the Pan American Development Foundation has worked closely with the Mexican Government both to educate and raise awareness among the public to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable people.

In 2012, PADF launched the campaign "Tu Voz Contra la Trata” in seven states, with the help of MTV Latin America, the Telefonica Foundation, the Cinepolis Foundation, the Ministry of Communications and Transport, the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) Mexico and the Collective Against Trafficking in Persons, reaching more than four million people nationwide. This was done through a public awareness campaign awareness to highlight the damaging effects of human trafficking that included public events, a documentary roadshow through several Mexican states, public service announcements in city buses, youth activism through social networks, and other activities.

PADF expanded this campaign in 2013 and 2014 to raise awareness in Mexico about child labor, launching a new phase of the campaign in four states with the support of the Ministry of Labor and Social Previción, the International Labour Organization (ILO), Viacom, Telefonica Foundation, Cinepolis Foundation, Boeing, Altos Hornos de Mexico, and other partners. This phase of the campaign reached more than 7.5 million people across the country.

Mexico’s reliance on the work of children and forced labor is harming the economy and society. When children drop out of school, there is a ripple effect. They are more likely to join criminal gangs or become violent, spreading an epidemic of hopelessness. Young people forced into the labor market are robbed of their childhood.

Combatting these problems of exploitation will require the cooperation of the public and private sectors as well as civil society organizations like PADF. We must focus on creating opportunities for quality education in Mexico and work to create productive job opportunities for adults. Adults who are gainfully employed are far less likely to send their children to work, according to the United Nations.

Those who refuse to stand up against this issue are in violation of the American Convention on Human Rights, which gives every person the right to respect and declares that “no one shall be subject to slavery or involuntary servitude.”

We must support and defend human rights, particularly the rights of women and children, in Mexico and throughout the Americas. When denied the opportunity to succeed early in life, victims of forced labor will continue to face an uphill battle when carving out a better life for themselves and their families. Children represent our hope, what we aspire to achieve. Like all people, they deserve equality and the chance for a better future.

Caterina Valero is Senior Programs Director at the Pan American Development Foundation (PADF) www.padf.org.