by Klaudia Meszaros
Hungarian born Klaudia Meszaros is currently studying an MA in Gender studies at University of London, SOAS . It was through her International Business Strategy studies that lead her to her quest to understand women’s issues on a global scale. She is a passionate abolitionist and human rights advocate who is hoping to eradicate modern-age slavery through her writing and advocacy. Her dream is to live in a fair and just world.
Claudia Ayala was hopeful to find employment and a well paying job in the United States. She, however, was victim of a scam. Claudia was smuggled illegally through Mexico into the US on the back of a trailer truck. Instead of working as a cleaner in a home, she was forced to work as a prostitute in Texas.[i] Her story is just one of the thousands of stories of trafficked people in, through and from Central America, where Belize, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Panama qualify as “source, transit and destination countries”; El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua qualify as “source and transit countries”; and Mexico, Canada, USA and Europe qualify as “destination countries”. Mexico, because of its geopolitical location, is a transit country too.[ii]
Another shocking story is about five individuals, two men and three women, from Honduras, Mexico, and El Salvador whom were involved in the trafficking of eight migrant women earlier this year. The women were from the suspects’ home countries of El Salvador and Mexico, according to the Madera Police[iii], in Fresno, California. They were held against their will and forced into prostitution. To ensure these heinous crimes would not get caught, the victims were transported up and down the state, staying only short periods of time in each location.
According to another recent case, 74 women[iv] were rescued by Mexican City authorities. The trafficked women, some of whom were Mexican while others foreigners, were held captives, were forced into sexual slavery in a strip club called Cadillac High Class, while others were forced into prostitution on streets, hotels and parking lots. Contrary to a generally perceived practice, as we can see, trafficking does not necessarily require border crossing.
Victims like women and girls in these stories, experienced exploitation and loss of freedom at the hands of their traffickers who bought and sold them for profit. Violence against women and human trafficking are major global problems. In the region of Central America these global issues are local. According to the 2000 Palermo Protocol trafficking and child trafficking are internationally recognised forms of slavery. In today’s language, it is generally referred to as modern-day slavery. What a conundrum. Wasn’t slavery abolished 150 years ago?
One wonders how much these women earn. According to the New York Daily News, table-top dances at the strip club go for 200 pesos, or about $16, meanwhile the daily payments of women and girls prostituted range between 3000-4000 pesos, or about $230 to $380. Although these sums are high, the victims do not pocket the money. In most cases, whether they were trafficked within their own countries or they migrated and then got in to the vicious circle of sex-slavery, they have no say to claim that they have never wanted to be sexually exploited or that they have had enough and they want out.
Mexico, because of its geopolitical location between the United States and Central- and Latin America is the only route on land between the two continents. While Mexico’s two principal cocaine trafficking drug cartels[vi], the Pacific Cartel (an alliance of the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf Cartel) and the Zetas, are first on the list of organized crimes in the region, human trafficking and sex slavery has moved up to be the second most lucrative on the list of criminal businesses.
These drug cartels happily traffic or murder migrants. Despite the horrific experiences, Claudia Ayala was one of the lucky ones to make it back home. Her story is being used now to try and make sure that others don’t face a similar destiny[viii].
Human trafficking figures in the Mexican capital were described as alarming, as Mexico City’s Human Rights Commission stated in 2011. Although the Mexican Congress made human trafficking in 2012 a federal crime punishable for up to 40 years in prison; according to Mexico’s Special Committee to Combat Trafficking in Persons, approximately 800,000 adults and 20,000 children are sold each year to be sexually exploited and abused.
A normal business with annual revenue of about $16 billion (in Central America) could help hundreds of thousands of people’s life financially. But human trafficking is NOT a normal business. There are high levels of income and wealth inequality, unfair wealth distribution, gender inequality and discrimination, and so we understand that poverty, which reaches extreme levels in the Central American countries, easily becomes one of the worst side effects of globalization and neoliberal economic policies, and it has been fuelling trafficking in the region. Militarization of Mexico and the Americas, the organized crimes and gang violence make things worse. Those who reap are too few comparing to the victims who loose not only their liberty to trafficking and sex-slavery but their dignity and soul in the process.
UNICEF has reported that 46,000 people are victims of human trafficking in Honduras. Of all the trafficked people more than 60% are women, as the 2010 statistics by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation for Development (AECID) reported. That includes minors as well. To indicate how lucrative trafficking is, a former trafficker claimed to have made a profit of $100 for each of the 40 Honduran girls a day in Mexico.[ix]
What makes another Central American country, Honduras, such an attractive ground for traffickers? It is the high poverty rate prevalent to the country. 65 % Hondurans lived below the poverty line in Honduras in 2010, as the statistics from the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Fact Book show. This gives traffickers a massive opportunity to exploit people’s needs for money by offering false offers of work abroad. Furthermore, the 2009 coup in Honduras has disintegrated the economy to worse levels, which make any prospect of improvement an unlikely hope.[x]
Victims of trafficking go through severe physical, sexual and spiritual abuse, often for years without end. Very often, toxic relationships throughout their childhood and poverty were the only style of existence they knew. These women face continued violence, either by being sold by their families, by believing promises of good jobs which could help them pay for their studies, for medication and feeding of self and family members, to live a better life, or by migrating to different cities or another country, with all the hope of leaving poverty behind. All indicates that poverty has a major role in pushing women into human trafficking and modern-age sex slavery.
Laws, corruption and impunity have been part of the problem. In the fight against drug trafficking, Central America has become a large recipient of U.S. aid. What the money is being spent on is strengthening police and military forces that are outweighed by the drug traffickers. Security forces remain weak in Honduras, despite the inflow of money, since it has become a favourite haven for drug cartels[xi]. The power dominance comes through institutional discrimination as well. There are endless allegations of corruption, human rights abuses and murder. So when the victims are caught by the police, suffering is inflicted on them by an unforgiving system that punish those caught in drug trafficking and/or sex-slavery. Instead of looking for those who forced them into a life of abuse, it is the victims that have been forced to take the blame.
The hard-hitting truth is that trafficked women and girls are a disenfranchised population of their society. The extreme levels of poverty, which are due to factors of: civil wars, coups, ethnic conflicts, drug wars, corrupt governments, impunity, climate change, natural disasters, etc., make them vulnerable and disposable. You can buy women, use and abuse women, and when they bring you no more profit, you can throw them away.
So, to understand how much poverty fuels human trafficking, we need to understand a few things. Human trafficking is a multi-billion dollar economy. The crime of people who are trafficking for any type of slavery (forced labour- or sex-slavery) is an economic crime. The primary goal of traffickers, in essence, is to make profit. Slavery today, as all throughout history, means the same. Slaves are forced to work without pay; they endure violence and are not able to walk away. There are an estimate 27 million slaves around the world. This is only a small amount of the global population of an estimate 7 billion. Now, compare the global economy of ‘slave’ trade that produces about $32 billion[xii] a year, to that of Central- and Latin America, which has about $16 billion annual revenue. Calculating regional or global, these revenues are only a fraction of the global economy. So now we have a challenging question.
How could we get women and girls out of sex-slavery in Central America?
Liberating women and girls is a process. We should aim to build lives of dignity, economic autonomy and stability. When people are liberated, they become consumers and producers within the local and also the global economy, which could produce major economic increase. But, to build sustainable freedom, these women and girls need education, economic opportunities, gender equality and also political participation. Our aim, in the UK and in Europe, is to show them that we are taking steps by advocacy, by lobbying, by petitions, by getting in touch with and learning from other women NGOs, and by all other creative means, because when they know that someone on the other side of the world goes to their help, they will have hope. And when people have hope, they are able to recover and start a brand new life.
As a promising step, a new anti-human trafficking law, decree 59-2012, was signed by the members of the Honduran National Congress on May 22, this year. It sets out more formal penalties for the crimes of forced labour, organ trafficking, and the forced prostitution of adults and children, with convicted human traffickers facing up to 20 years in prison.[xiii] Although Honduras has an inefficient, corrupt police and judicial system, let us hope that this new law will be somewhat effective.
And just a few days ago, Sunday, July 7, was state and local elections in Mexico[xiv]. What is at stake is the governorship of the border state of Baja California. Whether the winner of the elections will be the conservative National Action Party or the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI; the government will have to face robust problems of crime, the continuous arrival of internal migrants from other states, explosive growth and the strain of dealing with thousands of migrants deported from the US each year.
We can only hope, that whoever will be the winner in these elections, all new laws and regulations will be only beneficial to women living in the region.
Our fight must continue. If we have the passion, we are driven to change things.
Quoting Ella Fitzgerald:
“Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.”
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