Police in Bolivia have broken up 10 family-based "clans" in recent years that were dedicated to luring unwitting workers into forced labor, in a sign of the country's increasing use as both a source of victims and a transit point for human trafficking operations.
During a mass protest against human trafficking and smuggling in Bolivian city La Paz, a human rights spokesperson told La Razon that 10 family-run trafficking groups have been dismantled since 2010, a number based on a study of journalistic reports during the time period. The groups mainly trafficked Bolivians into Argentina and forced them to work in the likes of clothing manufacturing and agriculture. The victims -- who largely came from the border states of Potosi, Oruro and Tarija in the south and west of the county -- were mostly between 20 and 25 years of age and went on the promise of a daily wage of about $21 when their actual pay was a third of that.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Human Trafficking
Bolivia has also become a transit route for human trafficking victims from Senegal, according to Interior Minister Carlos Romero. Romero said authorities had "discovered a large gang" that trafficked Senegalese nationals into Brazil and that in 2013 more than 200 citizens from the West African country were discovered in Bolivia.
InSight Crime Analysis
Bolivia's large and porous border with Brazil and to a lesser extent Argentina makes it an ideal location for the trafficking of both drugs and people, with the South American country having one of the highest human trafficking rates in the region. The problem appears to be escalating, with the number of reported cases jumping from 35 in 2005 to 363 in 2013. Neighboring Brazil's booming economy -- bolstered by cheap manufacturing -- has caused labor exploitation to flourish with a 1,500 percent increase in 2013 of human trafficking incidents reported.
The most recent US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report (pdf) specifies that Bolivian nationals are found to be laboring in sweatshops, agriculture and domestic service in not only Brazil and Argentina, but also Chile, Peru, Spain and the United States. Bolivia has also emerged as a key transit point, with various groups of Bangladeshis found en route to irregular employment in Brazil, while the trafficking of Haitian and Senegalese nationals through Bolivia has also previously been reported.
While it is often sex trafficking that receives greatest attention, illegal and forced labor in conditions sometimes extreme enough to be labelled "modern day slavery" is a major problem in the region, driven by economic disparities between countries and inadequate law enforcement resources to tackle it.