Peruvian NGO Capital Humano y Social Alternativo reported on new strategies employed by Peru’s human traffickers, a sign of the rapid development of this criminal enterprise in Latin America.

The organization said that new patterns were emerging in cases of human trafficking recorded by police in January 2011, with criminals using different routes and refining their tactics, focusing on recruiting girls of 18 to 20 years old in order to avoid tighter restrictions on minors traveling without a guardian.

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In the first month of this year traffickers consolidated their use of the “northern corridor” to transport their victims from the Amazon region to the coast, according to CHS-Alternativo. These victims, who tend to come from remote areas in the Amazon region, are transported by boat from the northern city of Iquitos on the Amazon River and onwards southwest to the town of Yurimaguas, then overland to the northwestern city of Lambayeque. From here they are taken to work in various locations, including Lima and some northern Peruvian cities. CHS-Alternativo said the traffickers use this route due to the lack of government controls on the rivers and roads.

These innovations make it more difficult for the authorities to catch traffickers. The practice of grooming victims from the age of 16 or 17 then trafficking them when they turn 18 “complicates the investigation of the crime and the search for evidence in criminal proceedings,” according to a CHS-Alternativo spokesperson, as prosecutions are generally “based on the rescue of and evidence given by an underage victim.”

The traffickers’ quick response to government measures to crack down on the business, adjusting their methods and strategies, demonstrates the staying power and profit margin of this multi-million dollar industry.

Peru has in recent years made significant efforts to prevent human trafficking, but has had limited success. According to CHS-Alternativo, less than 10 percent of the 318 trafficking cases reported between 2004 and September 2010 were brought to trial, with only 11 of them resulting in a conviction.

The U.S. State Department praised Peru’s actions against the crime, but said that the government had so far “made insufficient efforts to address the high incidence of labor trafficking in the country.”

The majority of human trafficking in Peru is domestic, according to the State Department, and usually involves young people from impoverished areas who are used as forced labor or made to work as prostitutes in the cities. The International Labor Organization estimated in 2005 that some 33,000 people were working as forced laborers in Peru, most of them from minority ethnic groups in the Amazon region. The victims are generally either kidnapped or tricked into leaving their homes by offers of work. They are then sold and forced to work in mines, factories, brothels or households, often as near-slaves or to pay off debts that they have supposedly incurred. There is also a trade in children who are sold for adoption or made to work as beggars, and even some cases of organ trafficking.

A smaller number of Peruvians are trafficked abroad to work as forced laborers in countries such as Chile, the United States, Spain and Brazil, according to the State Department. The smuggling of illegal migrants, who are either from Peru or are passing through Peru on their way to the U.S., can often lead to the migrants being trafficked into forced labor.

A CHS-Alternativa report, which is based on police figures, said that in January of this year police investigated 341 cases of people trafficking, involving some 841 victims. Of these 60 percent were female and 45 percent were minors. According to figures from the first nine months of 2010 some 70 percent of victims were sexually exploited, while 15 percent were sold into forced labor and 2 percent were made to work as beggars. The problem is likely much bigger than these statistics suggest; Herbert Rosas, head of the police’s anti-trafficking division Divinitrap, said that the cases reported to the authorities “only reveal 10 percent of what there is in reality.”

InSight has highlighted the recent growth of the human trafficking industry in Latin America, much of it driven by drug gangs pushed by government crack-downs to look for new sources of revenue. The industry is able to take particular hold in this region due to a combination of factors: large populations of deprived people lacking in education and desperate for opportunity, who are vulnerable to the promises of traffickers who offer them a brighter future; the pre-existence of criminal networks for smuggling drugs; and state under-regulation of workplaces such brothels and factories where trafficked workers may be being kept in slave-like conditions.

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