HomeNewsAnalysisMexico, Haiti Have Highest Numbers of ‘Modern Slaves’ In the Americas
ANALYSIS

Mexico, Haiti Have Highest Numbers of 'Modern Slaves' In the Americas

BRAZIL / 28 NOV 2014 BY KYRA GURNEY EN

The Global Slavery Index has identified Mexico, Haiti, and Brazil as the countries with the highest number of people subjected to modern slavery in the Americas, partly due to the criminal groups in these countries who exploit children and other vulnerable populations.

According to the 2014 Global Slavery Index, which is produced by the Walk Free Foundation, 3.6 percent of the estimated 35.8 million people living in some form of modern slavery are in the Americas.

The report identified Haiti as the country in the region with the highest percentage of its population in slave-like conditions, with an estimated 237,700 people deprived of their freedom.

According to the Index, Mexico is home to the greatest number of people living in slave-like conditions, with over 260,000 individuals subjected to some form of modern slavery, followed by Haiti, Brazil, and Colombia, as indicated in the graphic below.

 

InSight Crime Analysis

There are several ways that organized crime plays a role in subjecting vulnerable populations -- including children and undocumented migrants -- to slavery. 

In Mexico, cartels use children to carry out illegal activities including drug trafficking, surveillance, and targeted assassinations. A senior advisor on human rights from Refugees International told InSight Crime in July that an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 children have been recruited by criminal organizations in the country, and that many are used to guide migrants across the border into the United States.

Undocumented migrants are also vulnerable to exploitation in Mexico. Criminal groups have allegedly enslaved migrants and other individuals in labor camps where they are forced to commit murders, process drugs, construct tunnels, serve as lookouts, and work as sex slaves. Mexican criminal groups are also heavily involved in human trafficking for sexual exploitation, with 70 percent of sex trafficking cases reported to the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC) attributed to gangs.

SEE ALSO: Slavery in Latin America

Criminal groups also play a role in exploiting children in Brazil, according to the Global Slavery Index. Gangs in Brazil drug and recruit children to torture and kill their enemies, since minors receive shorter prison sentences than adult gang members.

The exploitation of undocumented migrants is also a major problem in Brazil, particularly in the garment industry. According to the report, about half of the 100,000 Bolivian immigrants in Brazil entered the country illegally, making them especially vulnerable to becoming victims of forced labor. Large numbers of exploited workers are also employed in the construction industry and agricultural sector, as well as in households as domestic workers.

In Haiti's case, many fall prey to a common practice called restavek, in which children from low-income families are sent to live and work in other households. In theory, the restavek system enables poor children to attend school and receive room and board in exchange for helping with chores like cooking, cleaning, and fetching water. In practice, however, the children are often exploited and in some cases verbally, physically, or sexually abused.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Haiti

According to the report, children in Haiti are also vulnerable to human trafficking into the Dominican Republic for domestic work, child labor, or forced prostitution. This is especially true for those who live in low-income areas controlled by criminal gangs, and children housed in the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps set up after Haiti's January 2010 earthquake.   

The Index noted that within Latin America, Brazil had developed some of the most relatively aggressive policies against slavery, including a national program that encourages businesses to boycott suppliers that engage in exploitative labor practices. Policies such as these could force businesses across the region to improve their labor practices. Still, without tougher legislation protecting the most vulnerable populations -- and stronger law enforcement efforts targeting criminal groups -- it's possible such programs will have a minimal impact in countries where hundreds of thousands live in slave-like conditions. 

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

MEXICO / 27 OCT 2017

A criminal group in Mexico reportedly kidnapped a prison director and his son to use as a bargaining chip…

HUMAN SMUGGLING / 21 MAR 2014

US authorities have discovered a home in Texas where human smugglers were keeping over 100 undocumented migrants against their will,…

CHILE / 18 APR 2018

Authorities in Chile have dismantled a transnational network that used travel agencies to traffic Haitian migrants, highlighting how push factors…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Unraveling the Web of Elites Connected to Organized Crime

27 JUL 2021

InSight Crime published Elites and Organized Crime in Nicaragua, a deep dive into the relationships between criminal actors and elites in that Central American nation.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime’s Greater Focus on US-Mexico Border

20 JUL 2021

InSight Crime has decided to turn many of its investigative resources towards understanding and chronicling the criminal dynamics along the US-Mexico border.

THE ORGANIZATION

Key Arrests and Police Budget Increases Due to InSight Crime Investigations

8 JUL 2021

With Memo Fantasma’s arrest, InSight Crime has proven that our investigations can and will uncover major criminal threats in the Americas.

THE ORGANIZATION

Organized Crime’s Influence on Gender-Based Violence

30 JUN 2021

InSight Crime investigator Laura N. Ávila spoke on organized crime and gender-based violence at the launch of a research project by the United Nations Development Programme.

THE ORGANIZATION

Conversation with Paraguay Judicial Operators on PCC

24 JUN 2021

InSight Crime Co-director Steven Dudley formed part of a panel attended by over 500 students, all of whom work in Paraguay's judicial system.