Security forces and government agencies in Chile have made dramatic progress in combatting human trafficking, according to a recently released report.
Chile now ranks in the top tier of 188 countries for its efforts to prevent or prosecute the crime of using human beings for forced labor or commercial sex, according to the “Trafficking in Persons Report 2014,” by the United States Department of State.
The report ranks countries based on their efforts to combat human trafficking. Tier 1 is the highest ranking, Tier 3 the lowest.
Chile was in Tier 2 in 2013. In moving Chile up to Tier 1, the report noted that the Chilean government has increased police and prosecutor capacity to fight human trafficking, improved interagency cooperation, and offered specialized services to help sex trafficking victims and labor trafficking victims.
Improved law enforcement
Chilean authorities have in recent years augmented training for anti-trafficking efforts and increased the number of police officers who fight human trafficking, the report noted.
Authorities have trained more than 1,000 police officers in how to detect and combat human trafficking.
The Chilean police academy provides mandatory training in combatting human trafficking for all new detectives.
The Chilean government also increased staffing for the police unit in Santiago which investigates human trafficking and smuggling, according to the report.
A broad approach
The Chilean government is taking a holistic approach to fighting human trafficking, which does not rely exclusively on police efforts.
For example, in addition to improving the training of police, government also is providing specialized training on human trafficking for other officials, including prosecutors, social workers, and labor officials, often in partnership with non-governmental organizations and international organizations.
The public prosecutor’s office designated a prosecutor in each region of the country to coordinate human trafficking investigations and training, and formed an internal trafficking working group to ensure coordination between prosecutors, according to the report.
Keeping detailed records of human trafficking cases is an important part of the government’s effort to stamp out such activity.
In December 2013, Chilean government officials signed an interagency agreement in which authorities formally committed to producing regular reports on human trafficking cases.
A transnational threat
Combatting human trafficking, which is a transnational criminal enterprise, requires cooperation with security forces from other countries, Chilean authorities recognize.
Chilean prosecutors cooperated with foreign governments in 29 ongoing and new transnational human trafficking investigations in 2013, according to the report.
Organized crime groups use Chile as a source, transit point, and destination country for men, women, and children who they force into sex trafficking or indentured servitude. Gangs and transnational criminal groups force some Chilean women and children into the sex trade, according to the report. Criminal organizations also transport women from other countries into Chile and force them into the sex trade. These countries include Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, and Colombia.
Chile’s strong economy has drawn men, women, and children from Bolivia, Peru, Paraguay, Colombia, Ecuador and other countries who come to the country seeking work. But criminal gangs have forced many of them into involuntary labor in Chile’s mining, agricultural, and hospitality sectors, and in domestic service, according to the report.
A tough law to fight human trafficking
To combat human trafficking, in 2011 Chilean officials enacted Law 20.507 to criminalize human trafficking for sexual and labor purposes. Anyone violating the law can be sentenced to five to 15 years in prison and fined between $4,000 and $8,000 (USD).
The law also requires the Ministry of Interior and Public Security to create the Human Trafficking Brigade within the Chilean Investigative Police to investigate trafficking in persons and migrant smuggling.
In 2013 Chilean prosecutors opened 90 human trafficking prosecutions, of which 72 involved the child prostitution, 14 involved adult sex trafficking, and four involved labor trafficking. The government convicted 12 human trafficking offenders in 2013.
Among those the government convicted in 2013 were two men who were sentenced to five years in prison for bringing 64 Bolivians into Chile and forcing them to work on a power line project under harsh and exploitive conditions without ever being paid, according to press reports.
Rescues and support for victims
In another case, in May, 2013 Chilean police who investigate human trafficking rescued 12 Indian nationals who worked in forced conditions for two years in a Santiago restaurant without ever being paid.
The Ministry of Interior and Public Safety reported that from 2011 to 2013, security forces had rescued 152 human trafficking victims. The victims mostly came from Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic and Haiti, according to authorities.
In addition to investigations and prosecutions, in 2013 the Chilean government opened a support center for victims of violent crime in Santiago, with psychologists, social workers, and attorneys specializing in assisting trafficking victims. It was the first such center to specialize in serving that population. Chilean authorities also began training staff at other centers across the country to provide specialized assistance to trafficking victims.
The Chilean government continued to fund a shelter for female adult victims of human trafficking and their children, assisting them with health, migration, and employment issues.
The National Service for Minors (SENAME) provided services to child victims of sex trafficking through its national network of 16 walk-in centers for children subjected to commercial sexual exploitation. SENAME also funded one residential shelter exclusively for child victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
Chilean police are “clear” in understanding the seriousness of human trafficking, said Denisse Araya, director of ONG Raíces, a Santiago-based association which protects the rights of human trafficking victims and migrant workers.
Many Chilean pimps “try to enslave women and girls” in the sex trade, Araya said. Julieta Pelcastre contributed to this article.