South America

Countries and territories covered: Argentinia, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Bolovarian Republic of Venezuela

1. Status of the legislation on trafficking in persons

Almost all South American countries covered by this report have adopted specific provisions in their legislation to combat trafficking in persons. Between 2005 and 2008, several countries in the region introduced new anti-trafficking laws or modified provisions that previously had covered only international trafficking for sexual exploitation.

By mid-2008, a specific offence of trafficking in persons covering all or most forms of exploitation had been adopted by Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and Peru. In Brazil, the specific offence of trafficking in persons covered only sexual exploitation, however trafficking for forced labour was criminalized through other offences.

The laws in Chile and Paraguay do not include a specific offence of trafficking in persons, but they both criminalized illegal entry into the country for the purpose of prostitution, implying that these two countries criminalized only international trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation.

In 2008, both Chile and Peru were at the stage of introducing new and comprehensive trafficking in persons offences into their criminal codes. The law in force in Ecuador in 2008 did not include removal of organs as a possible purpose for trafficking in persons. In Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, forced begging was included in legislation as one of the forms of exploitation of trafficking in persons, and specific programmes and protocols exist for victim assistance.

It is important to note that during the reporting period, most forms of human trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation, slavery and servitude were covered by other offences in the penal codes or by labour laws, and not always under the offence of trafficking in persons. These laws were often used in lieu of anti-trafficking legislation, for example in slavery cases in Brazil. While this provides a quick way out of slavery and limited compensation for victims, it raises the difficult issue of specific victim support and protection and precludes a forceful criminal justice response.In this region, all states covered by this overview have had a working group or national focal point in place since 2005 to coordinate anti-trafficking policy and assistance to victims. Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru all adopted national plans of action in 2005. Several federal states and some municipalities in Brazil have drafted their own local plans of action.

2. The criminal justice response to trafficking in persons

Given the multitude of legal codes that can be applied in cases of exploitation and human trafficking, statistical information on the specific criminal justice responses to trafficking in persons is scarce and hard to put into context. Data on investigations, prosecutions and convictions refer mostly to trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation. This may be due to the fact that the domestic legislation of some countries only defines trafficking in terms of sexual exploitation.

Where data on suspected trafficking cases and investigations was available, numbers rose (Bolivia, Brazil and Peru) or remained stable (Colombia) for the 2003-2007 period. Venezuela recorded a decreasing trend in convictions during the considered period. Over the same timeframe, however, only a few dozen cases of trafficking in persons were prosecuted in the entire South American region resulting in even fewer convictions in the region, although with a rising trend after 2005.

3. Trafficking in persons patterns

Convicted offenders were mostly domestic traffickers and were citizens of the countries that sentenced them. However, some offenders engaged in cross-border trafficking and were from other countries in the region. Also, Southern European traffickers were found in Brazil and Chile.

In countries where information on the gender of offenders was available to UNODC, data shows that women were just as involved as men. Adult women made up the largest group of trafficking victims recorded in Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Paraguay, while under age girls were the main victims in Bolivia and Peru.

Adult men made up a significant number of victims in Venezuela, boys were frequently detected in Colombia, and almost all of the victims of slave labour reported in Brazil were men. In Argentina, as well, increasing numbers of men and boys were recorded as victims. Trafficking for the purpose of sexual exploitation was the primary form of trafficking in many countries (Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Peru).

This finding, however, may be a reflection of the fact that anti-trafficking laws in the region are primarily limited to human trafficking for sexual exploitation. Forced labour was a major form of trafficking in Argentina and Colombia, and extremely large numbers of victims of trafficking for forced and slave labour were identified in Brazil and, episodically, in Bolivia.