Brazil launches campaign against sex trafficking and forced labor
By Dialogo February 12, 2014
The Brazilian government recently expanded its efforts to battle the internal and external trade in human beings for sex and forced labor.
The latest development in the anti-human trafficking campaign came on Jan. 29, 2014, when Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo announced the formation of the National Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons (Conatrap), a body consisting of 26 members representing both private groups and government agencies.
Each representative will serve a term of two years on the committee. Conatrap will include members of the Secretariat of Policies for Women; the National Council for the Rights of Children and Adolescents; the Secretariat of Human Rights, and other social, government and law enforcement agencies and groups, according to the Ministry of Justice website.
The committee will be tasked with monitoring the implementation and progress of national anti-human trafficking plans and developing new anti-trafficking programs.
The initiative is separate from the Blue Heart Campaign against Human Trafficking, a public awareness effort that Brazil joined in May 2013. Brazilian singer Ivete Sangalo is the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Goodwill Ambassador for the campaign.
Human trafficking for sex and forced labor has long been a problem in Brazil. Authorities estimate that the number of Brazilians trapped in some form of modern slavery ranges from 40,000 to 200,000.
Many of the victims are women and young girls forced into prostitution within Brazil and internationally. Some of the victims are forced to work in the sex industry in various countries in Europe, authorities said. Some of the victims are forced into prostitution in Japan.
Between 2005 and 2011 the Brazilian Foreign Ministry identified more than 300 Brazilian sex trafficking victims abroad, according to government reports. “Sex tourists” from Europe, the U.S. and other countries also exploit women and children in Brazil, particularly in Brazil’s coastal and resort areas, according to published reports.
Organized crime enterprises
Brazilian organized crime groups, such as the First Capital Command (PCC) and the Red Command, both of which traffic large amounts of drugs, are also responsible for much of the forced labor and sex trafficking, said Carlos Mendoza, director of Strategic Projects Consulting, a private security firm in Mexico City.
“Without a doubt the PCC, the Red Command, and other gangs are part of the criminal chain of sex trafficking and forced labor,” Mendoza said. “Where there is money, and the need to process or distribute cocaine, there is labor exploitation. Prostitution is a problem in many cities, particularly in Rio de Janeiro, where prostitution attracts many tourists. Organized crime groups force some minors and adult women to work as prostitutes in Rio de Janeiro and other cities.”
“The authorities have significant challenges ahead in the fight against human trafficking,” the security analyst said. “Authorities should continue to train security forces and provide shelters for victims of human trafficking.”
Many poor Brazilians are also forced to work as trabalho escravo – “slave labor” -- on cattle ranches, charcoal production camps, sugar-cane plantations and other rural operations. Brazil is also a destination for men, women, and children from Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and China who work in slave-like conditions in garment factories and textile sweatshops in metropolitan centers, according to government reports.
The Brazilian government announced its first national anti-human trafficking initiative in 2008. In 2013 the government launched an additional $2.9 million national plan to revise the penal code and to set up new control posts in ten border towns to help control international trafficking. Sixteen anti-trafficking offices have been set up throughout the country, with 400 trained personnel to investigate cases and assist victims.
In May 2013, Brazil joined the international Blue Heart Campaign against Human Trafficking, sponsored by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with popular Brazilian singer Ivete Sangalo appointed as the public face of the campaign. Under the slogan, "Freedom can't be bought. Dignity can't be sold. Denounce trafficking in persons," the campaign featured television public service announcements and other advertising methods to heighten public awareness of the crime.
Public awareness campaign achieves results
The public awareness campaign appears to have achieved results. In October, 2013, the Secretariat of Women's Policies announced that a dedicated government reporting hotline had registered 263 allegations of human trafficking crimes during the first six months of the year, compared to just 17 such reports during the same period in 2012 – a 1,500 percent increase. Of the 263 reports, 170 were reports of international human trafficking, the majority of them involving sex trafficking, the others involving forced labor trafficking. The remaining reports involved human trafficking within Brazil.
The 1,500 percent increase in human trafficking reports does not necessarily represent a surge in the actual numbers of human trafficking incidents, but rather an increase in public awareness and easier means for victims or their families to report violations of the anti-trafficking laws, authorities said.
Whether the increased public awareness and government pressure has resulted in more criminal convictions for human trafficking is unclear. In 2012 there were six convictions for domestic sex trafficking and two for international sex trafficking in Brazil, according to press reports. However, authorities note that many human trafficking cases may have been prosecuted under other legal statutes, such as laws against pimping or child exploitation.
Julieta Pelcastre contributed to this report.