Modern-day slavery, also known as human trafficking, is the third most lucrative form of organized crime in the world
, after trade in illegal drugs and arms trafficking. Today, 27 million people are enslaved
—mostly as a result of debt bondage. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report Trafficking in Persons: Global Patterns
found that Brazil is the third-largest source of human trafficking in the Western hemisphere, after Mexico and Colombia. According to the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report 2008
, 250,000-500,000 Brazilian children are currently exploited for prostitution, both domestically and abroad. NGOs estimate that 75,000 Brazilian women and girls
—most of them trafficked—work as prostitutes in neighboring South American countries, the United States, and Europe.
In addition, notes the Trafficking in Persons Report 2008, 25,000-100,000 Brazilian men are forced into domestic slave labor. “Approximately half of the nearly 6,000 men freed from slave labor in 2007 were found exploited on plantations growing sugar cane for the production of ethanol, a growing trend,” says the report. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), the “agricultural states of the north, like Piaui, Maranhao, Pará and Mato Grosso, are the most problematic.” Agriculture and development have also been linked to sex trafficking. A 2003 study by the Brazilian NGO CECRIA found that in the Amazon, sexual exploitation of children often occurs in brothels that cater to mining settlements. The study also highlighted the prevalence of sex trafficking in regions with major development projects.
In response to growing awareness of the magnitude of this problem, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice has stepped up its efforts to combat human trafficking, adopting the ILO and UNODC’s “three-P” approach: prevention, prosecution, and protection. Prevention measures in Brazil focus on sexual exploitation, the most common type of forced labor for trafficked Brazilians. These measures include educating vulnerable populations about avoiding human trafficking, as well as drawing tourists’ attention to criminal penalties under Brazilian law for patronizing prostitutes.
Prosecution efforts in Brazil are also improving: In 2004, Brazil ratified the Palermo Protocol (pdf), the main international legal instrument for combating human trafficking. A year later, the country adopted a National Plan to Combat Human Trafficking, which aims to train those responsible for prosecuting traffickers and protecting victims—primarily police and judges. In addition, notes the Trafficking in Persons Report 2008:
The Ministry of Labor’s anti-slave labor mobile units increased their operations during the year, as the unit’s labor inspectors freed victims, forced those responsible for forced labor to pay often substantial amounts in fines and restitution to the victims, and then moved on to others locations to inspect. Mobile unit inspectors did not, however, seize evidence or attempt to interview witnesses with the goal of developing a criminal investigation or prosecution because inspectors and the labor court prosecutors who accompany them have only civil jurisdiction. Because their exploiters are rarely punished, many of the rescued victims are ultimately re-trafficked.
The U.S. Department of State established a four-tiered assessment system to rate countries’ compliance with international trafficking mandates. In 2006, Brazil was listed on the Tier 2 Special Watch List, the second-worst rating, despite recognition that the government made “significant efforts” to combat human trafficking. Brazil recently moved into the Tier 2 category, however, due to more concerted interagency efforts, as well as greater compliance with international guidelines. Yet one wonders whether Brazil will be able to achieve Tier 1 status any time soon, given the Brazilian government’s focus on biofuel- and agriculture-fueled economic growth and the fact that the global financial crisis is likely to drive people into increasingly desperate economic straits.
By Brazil Institute Intern Ana Janaina Nelson.
Photo: A poster warns African women of the dangers of human trafficking; Brazilian women are subject to similar dangers. Courtesy of Flickr user mvcorks.