A recent investigation provides insight into the human trafficking networks operating along the border between Bolivia and Argentina, where children have been sold for just over $300 and trafficked into exploitative industries.
The Argentine Journalism Forum (Foro de Periodismo Argentino – FOPEA) published a report on September 5 entitled "The Invisibles of La Quiaca: Human Trafficking on the Argentine-Bolivian Border," which depicts the modus operandi of child trafficking networks at the loosely monitored crossing point between Villazón, Bolivia and La Quiaca, Argentina.
According to the report, the victims are generally young Bolivian children from poor and fragile family structures, to whom the traffickers promise well-paid jobs in the neighboring country. After having been brought across the border using an unmonitored road just 500 meters from the official crossing point, the minors are often exploited in factories and workshops or prostitution rings.
A former Bolivian human rights official, Jorge Oporto Ordóñez, said that an estimated 25,000 minors entered Argentina from Bolivia in 2010, with only 7,000 returning to their original country. Many of those who did not return likely fell victim to human trafficking.
The former head of the Juyjuy Province delegation to Argentina's National Migration Office, Horacio Macedo Moresi, said that the scale of human smuggling can be explained by the presence of criminal groups composed of nationals from both countries, according FOPEA's report.
The report also highlights the apparent inability of authorities to effectively tackle the issue. As noted in "The Invisibles of La Quiaca," while individuals can transit uncontrolled just a few hundred meters from the official crossing point, the closest office of Argentina's Security Ministry is more than 600 kilometers away from La Quiaca.
InSight Crime Analysis
Many countries in Latin America have long struggled with human trafficking. A report released in June by the Walk Free Foundation estimated that 2.2 million individuals were currently enslaved in the Americas. According to the Walk Free Foundation report, Mexico had the highest estimated number of enslaved people in the region. But the FOPEA investigation serves as a reminder of the large scale of human trafficking in South America; the US State Department's most recent Trafficking in Persons report also noted ongoing issues of human trafficking in both Argentina and Bolivia.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Trafficking
Although the FOPEA report criticizes the government for the lack of efficient response, Argentina has been working towards tackling the issue. Several investigations of trafficking networks' involvement in money laundering have been launched this year, and the country participated in a multi-national operation in July which brought down several smuggling rings. Additionally, Marcelo Colombo, Argentina's head prosecutor for trafficking cases, asked Mexico to join a regional group of prosecutors cooperating on human trafficking investigations on September 6, the day following the release of FOPEA's report.