Despite pioneering laws to combat human trafficking, Colombia is one of the countries most affected by the crime in Latin America, highlighting the need for greater investment to combat the multi-billion dollar trade at both a national and regional level.
According to a human trafficking forum led this month by the UN Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC), while laws exist in Colombia which could effectively minimize human exploitation and trafficking, there is a lack of government economic support to combat the trade, reported Vanguardia.
As highlighted at the forum, Colombia is the country third most affected by human trafficking in Latin America -- behind Panama and Venezuela. Approximately 35,000 Colombians illegally migrate each year, of which 90 percent suffer some form of exploitation.
The majority of these are young people aged 17-25, who leave in search of money or adventure. However, according to a study led by the Fundacion Esperanza, contrary to popular belief they are not always from poor backgrounds, and human traffickers often recruit victims from universities and through fronts posing as foreign job networks.
The forum findings echo the results of a study into human trafficking released by Bogota's University de La Sabana this year, which highlighted the changing patterns in international sex trafficking, with Colombian victims increasingly sent to regional markets rather than traditional destinations in Asia.
While Colombia has relatively strong laws in place to combat human trafficking, without the political will to enforce them they are meaningless. What's more, given that many of the victims are transported outside of Colombia, it is not enough for there to be tough laws in the source country alone.
As highlighted by the study earlier this year, certain countries in Latin America have emerged as key destinations for human trafficking victims. While Colombians have long been a popular choice for sex traffickers in Asia, there are indications that more and more are now being exploited in countries within the region, such as Argentina, where hundreds of Colombians were rescued from slavery-like conditions earlier this year.
As highlighted by El Tiempo, the lack of effective investigation into the practice throughout the region and high levels of impunity are two of the principal reasons this lucrative criminal enterprise continues to grow unchecked.