The problem of internal human trafficking in Colombia is worsening, according to the United Nations (UN) and Colombian officials, highlighting a lack of government attention to the domestic aspect of the trade.
Carlos Perez, a human trafficking official from the UN Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC), said that there were concerns that, as Colombia focused its efforts on dealing with people trafficked across its borders, the number of people bought and sold within the country had increased.
Organized criminals were taking advantage of the ease with which people could be transported to many places in the country along little-used roads, he said.
There was a lack of accurate figures or information regarding the crime, partly due to victims' fear of reporting it, said Perez. He named Valle del Cauca, as well as Risaralda and Antioquia, as the provinces where most internal trafficking victims come from.
Valle del Cauca reported 18 cases last year, but for every case registered in the country, an estimated 20 go unreported, according to El Tiempo.
Perez said that trafficking for forced labor was a particular problem, with children the most severely affected. Indigenous people were also disproportionately targeted.
InSight Crime Analysis
Colombia is one of the Latin American countries most affected by human trafficking, with annual victims estimated to number some 70,000 in 2009. But while the government has made considerable progress fighting the transnational trade, efforts to tackle internal human trafficking remain "weak," according to the US Trafficking In Persons Report 2012, with no reported convictions last year.
Fundacion Esperanza, a Colombian NGO that works with trafficking victims, has seen a doubling in the number of reports of people trafficked within the country in recent years. Between 2007 and August 2012 more than 240 cases were referred to Fundacion Esperanza, of which 60 percent were internal trafficking cases. Before 2007, domestic trafficking victims had accounted for just 10 percent of their total cases.
The long-running conflict in Colombia is a major factor exacerbating domestic trafficking. Colombia has the second-highest number of internally displaced people in the world, at almost 4 million, with such people at high risk of being exploited by traffickers. Women in poor rural areas, indigenous people and relatives of members of criminal organizations are also vulnerable to being trafficked within the country, with forced begging a particular problem in cities.
Both criminal gangs and guerrilla groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forced of Colombia (FARC) forcibly recruit children, with 483 cases registered by authorities in 2011. In the first seven weeks of this year, 46 cases were reported.