Argentina

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 2

Argentina is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Argentine women and children, including many from rural areas or northern provinces, are forced into prostitution within the country. A significant number of foreign women and children, primarily from Paraguay and the Dominican Republic, are subjected to sex trafficking in Argentina. To a more limited extent, Argentine men, women, and children have been found in sex and labor trafficking in other countries. In 2013, transgender Argentines were identified as victims of sex trafficking by French authorities, and activists from the LGBT community reported that transgender Argentines were vulnerable to sex trafficking within the country and in Western Europe. Bolivians, Paraguayans, and Peruvians, as well as Argentine citizens from poorer northern provinces, are subjected to forced labor in sweatshops, agriculture, charcoal and brick production, domestic work, and small businesses, including restaurants and supermarkets. Chinese citizens working in supermarkets are vulnerable to debt bondage. In 2013, Argentine authorities identified Colombian citizens working in furniture and basket production and peddling as potential labor trafficking victims; some of these potential victims reportedly were subjected to debt bondage. Argentine officials have identified isolated cases of foreign victims recruited in Argentina and subjected to trafficking in third countries.

The Government of Argentina does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. Argentine officials continued to identify a significant number of potential trafficking victims and support several shelters that provided services to such victims. The government increased convictions of sex trafficking offenders, but convicted no labor traffickers in 2013, despite having identified more than 900 labor trafficking victims during the year. Trafficking-related corruption remained a serious concern, and no complicit officials were convicted or sentenced during the year. Government funding for victim services was inadequate to assist the large number of victims identified during the year, particularly in forced labor. Authorities did not report how many victims received specialized services or shelter in 2013, raising concerns that many victims might not have access to services beyond emergency assistance.

Recommendations for Argentina:

Follow through on investigations of trafficking-related complicity by prosecuting, and when appropriate, convicting officials guilty of such crimes; increase funding for specialized victim services, particularly for forced labor victims, in partnership with civil society, at the federal, provincial, and local levels; consistently offer foreign victims services, including shelter, legal, medical, and employment services, as well as the opportunity to remain in the country; strengthen efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish trafficking offenders, especially labor trafficking offenders; improve efforts to collect data on victims assistance to verify that victims receive care beyond emergency assistance; continue to develop and implement protocols for local-level officials to identify and assist trafficking victims; and strengthen anti-trafficking coordination among the federal and provincial governments and civil society organizations, including through establishing the federal council on human trafficking and implementing a national anti-trafficking plan.

Prosecution

The Government of Argentina maintained efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenders, but did not convict any public officials implicated in a large number of ongoing trafficking investigations. It also failed to bring any labor traffickers to justice, despite identifying more than 900 potential labor trafficking victims in 2013. Law 26842, passed in 2012, prohibits all forms of human trafficking and prescribes penalties of four to 15 years’ imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law established the use of force, fraud, and coercion as an aggravating factor rather than an essential element of the crime, and defines facilitating or profiting from the prostitution of others and illegal sale of organs as human trafficking. The government has yet to issue implementing regulations for the law. Some prosecutors used prostitution-related statutes to address sex trafficking crimes.

Authorities carried out 391 trafficking investigations in 2013. The anti-trafficking prosecutor’s office (PROTEX), which monitored all trafficking cases being heard by courts across the country, reported that 86 prosecutions were initiated during the year, 59 for sex trafficking and 27 for labor trafficking. The government convicted 25 sex trafficking offenders, with sentences ranging from three to 11 years’ imprisonment. Authorities did not convict any labor trafficking offenders in 2013. In comparison, authorities reported convicting 17 sex trafficking and two labor trafficking offenders in 2012. In December 2013, judges reversed a prior ruling and convicted 10 of 13 defendants in Argentina’s most high-profile sex trafficking case; the 13 defendants had been acquitted in December 2012 after 10 years of investigation reportedly due to a lack of evidence.

The Ministry of Security coordinated the efforts of different federal law enforcement entities. Although trafficking is a federal crime, some trafficking cases were investigated or prosecuted under different statutes at the local level and some provinces maintained specialized law enforcement units. Some officials and NGOs noted significant delays caused by confusion over which authorities had jurisdiction, and in some cases testimonies were discarded during this process. PROTEX published a report analyzing labor trafficking investigations since 2008. This report highlighted the important role of the Federal Agency of Public Income in identifying potential labor trafficking, and identified the need for enhanced intelligence gathering and improved victim assistance following law enforcement operations. The government continued to provide anti-trafficking training to hundreds of police, prosecutors, and judicial officials, sometimes in partnership with civil society organizations. In 2013, Argentine prosecutors coordinated with foreign governments on 35 transnational trafficking investigations.

Complicity of government officials in trafficking crimes remained a serious concern. Some police officers provided protection to brothels where trafficking victims were exploited or tipped off brothel owners about impending raids. NGOs and officials reported that some judges received bribes from traffickers or did not adequately investigate signs of official complicity. Other local officials, including mayors, reportedly protected brothels where trafficking occurred. Staff from the Program for Rescue—an inter-disciplinary team of government officials located in Buenos Aires, but responsible for coordinating victim services nationwide—reported that police were complicit in 40 percent of sex trafficking cases, either as purchasers of commercial sex or as contacts of the brothel owner. NGOs and government officials reported that this protection of the commercial sex industry by officials served as an obstacle to victims reporting their exploitation. Prosecutors filed four new cases of trafficking-related complicity in 2013, including two separate cases in which deputy police chiefs provided protection to brothels where sex trafficking occurred. It was unclear what progress had been made in cases of trafficking-related complicity opened in 2012, including the investigation of a deputy police commissioner accused of holding four trafficking victims captive. An investigation initiated in 2010 of more than 70 Buenos Aires police officers accused of taking bribes to protect brothels remained ongoing. Officials did not report the outcome of the 2010 investigation of the former head of the anti-trafficking police unit accused of running brothels. In spite of this significant number of investigations of government officials complicit in human trafficking in recent years, the government did not report convicting any complicit officials in 2013.

Protection

The Argentine government reported identifying a significant number of potential trafficking victims, but did not report how many victims received services beyond emergency assistance. Resources for victims—especially labor trafficking victims—remained insufficient. The Program for Rescue reported identifying 1,746 potential human trafficking victims in 2013. The program stated that 52 percent were labor trafficking victims, while 47 percent were sex trafficking victims. Authorities did not report how many of these victims were adults or children and how many were Argentine citizens or foreign nationals. The Ministry of Security reported using written procedures on victim assistance during and immediately following raids, and Argentine immigration and consular officers received guidelines on victim identification, but implementation of systematic procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations varied by province.

Authorities did not report how many victims received comprehensive services, such as legal, medical, and psychological care, in 2013. The Program for Rescue took initial victim statements and provided emergency post-rescue care to an unspecified number of victims. NGOs offered mixed assessments of the program’s effectiveness. The Ministry of Social Development coordinated victim services, but the quality and level of victim care varied by province, and most provinces lacked dedicated resources to care for trafficking victims, particularly forced labor victims. Some provinces reportedly had programs for trafficking victim assistance, although it was unclear how many victims these programs assisted. Authorities reported providing an unspecified amount of funding to an NGO to provide victim services. However, specialized services and reintegration efforts were limited. The 2012 anti-trafficking law required the government to establish a fund for victims, but this fund was not created in 2013. For the first time, the labor ministry began incorporating some trafficking victims into employment programs in 2013.

The Program for Rescue maintained a shelter in the capital to care temporarily for adult trafficking victims, though it was unclear how many of the victims identified during the year stayed at this shelter or where they were housed immediately following law enforcement raids. Federal, provincial, and municipal authorities provided various amounts of funding to four additional government-operated shelters for women and child victims of sex trafficking and abuse across the country, but authorities did not report how many of the victims they identified were assisted at these shelters in 2013. There were no specialized shelters for forced labor victims, and it is unclear how many of the more than 900 potential labor trafficking victims identified during the year received services after giving their initial statements to authorities. Some rescued victims were temporarily housed in police stations due to lack of shelter.

Argentine authorities encouraged victims to assist with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers, and an unspecified number of victims did so during the year. There were no specific reports of identified victims being jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being subjected to human trafficking. Authorities did not report how many of the large number of foreign victims identified in 2013 received temporary or long-term residency. It was also unclear to what extent foreign victims were fully informed of their residency and assistance options before their repatriation. NGOs stated that the federal government’s de facto protocol of quickly returning foreign victims to their country or province of origin was not always in the victims’ best interest, and asserted that federal entities do not consistently refer victims to specialized services in their place of origin. The government did not report identifying or assisting any repatriated Argentine victims of trafficking.

Prevention

The Government of Argentina did not implement key prevention aspects of the 2012 anti-trafficking law, but continued awareness campaigns, most of which focused on sex trafficking. The government did not create the federal council on human trafficking, a broad working group mandated by the 2012 anti-trafficking law that should include federal government agencies, NGOs, and provincial representatives. It did, however, create a smaller executive council on human trafficking—mandated by law to implement the initiatives of the federal council—which met several times starting in September 2013. The 2012 anti-trafficking law required the government to design and implement a national anti-trafficking plan, but this plan was not issued; without a plan, no specific budget allocations could be assigned to new anti-trafficking structures required by law. Federal authorities reported funding public awareness campaigns focused on sex trafficking—one targeted at the potential clients of sex trafficking victims—and maintaining two anti-trafficking hotlines. Some provincial governments maintained prevention efforts, including provincial anti-trafficking working groups. NGOs and municipal authorities continued to express concern about a perceived rise in child sex tourism, though there were no reported investigations or prosecutions related to this crime. The government did not report providing anti-trafficking training to Argentine troops prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping operations. Employees of the labor ministry took action to reduce the use of forced labor through an initiative to register informal workers and employers in rural areas; labor officials doing this work collaborated on five labor trafficking cases in 2013.