Mexico is a large source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Groups considered most vulnerable to human trafficking in Mexico include women, children, indigenous persons, persons with mental and physical disabilities, migrants, and LGBT Mexicans. Mexican women and children, and to a lesser extent men, are exploited in sex trafficking within Mexico and the United States, lured by fraudulent employment opportunities, deceptive offers of romantic relationships, or extortion, including through the retention of identification documents or threats to notify immigration officials of victims’ immigration status. NGOs report that transgender Mexicans in prostitution are vulnerable to sex trafficking. Mexican men, women, and children are exploited in forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, manufacturing, food processing, construction, the informal economy, forced begging, and street vending in both the United States and Mexico. In 2013, Mexican authorities identified 275 Mexican workers and family members exploited in debt bondage at a tomato processing plant. Residents at some substance addiction rehabilitation centers, women’s shelters, and state institutions for people with disabilities have been subjected to forced labor and forced prostitution by shelter staff or criminal groups.
The vast majority of foreign victims in forced labor and sexual servitude in Mexico are from Central and South America, particularly Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; some of these victims are exploited along Mexico’s southern border. Victims from the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa have also been identified in Mexico, some en route to the United States. Child sex tourism persists in Mexico, especially in tourist areas such as Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta, and Cancun, and in northern border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Many child sex tourists are from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, though some are Mexican citizens.
Organized criminal groups profit from Mexican citizens and foreign migrants in sex trafficking and force some Mexican and foreign men, women, and children to engage in illicit activities, including work as hit men, lookouts, and in the production, transportation, and sale of drugs. Media reports indicate that criminal groups use forced labor in coal mines and for digging drug-smuggling tunnels under the border with the United States. Some criminal groups have kidnapped professionals, including architects and engineers, for forced labor. In 2013, Mexican officials identified a religious sect that allegedly forced members to engage in prostitution and forced labor.
The Government of Mexico does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. The government issued implementing regulations for the 2012 anti-trafficking law and continued to operate a high-security shelter in the capital for female sex trafficking victims participating in the legal process against their traffickers. Federal and state governments engaged in a range of prevention activities. The government reported increased trafficking convictions and sentences in comparison with the previous year. It was difficult to assess government efforts to identify and assist victims and to investigate and prosecute trafficking cases, as data collection on victim identification and law enforcement efforts was uneven. Official complicity continued to be a serious problem. Government funding for specialized victim services and shelters remained inadequate and these services were virtually nonexistent in much of the country. Victim identification and interagency coordination remained weak in many parts of the country.
Recommendations for Mexico:
Increase funding for the provision of specialized victim services and shelters in partnership with civil society, and ensure that victims of all forms of trafficking are referred to services and receive protection; strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders, at both the federal and state level, including for forced labor crimes; increase efforts to hold public officials who are complicit in trafficking accountable through prosecutions and convictions; enhance formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution and undocumented migrants, and to refer them to appropriate care services; increase the ability of regional and state coalitions and specialized units to more effectively respond to human trafficking cases through increased funding and trained staff; verify through increased training and monitoring that victims are not coerced into testifying against traffickers or treated as trafficking offenders; strengthen data collection efforts; provide effective protection for witnesses and victims testifying against trafficking offenders; increase training on victim identification and treatment for law enforcement officers, immigration officials, labor inspectors, prosecutors, judges, social workers, and other government employees; ensure that anti-trafficking legislation at the federal and state levels reflects international anti-trafficking law; and improve coordination mechanisms between federal, state, and local authorities.
The Government of Mexico continued law enforcement efforts and increased the number of reported trafficking convictions; however, official complicity, a lack of intelligence-based investigations, and some officials’ limited understanding of human trafficking continued to undermine anti-trafficking efforts. The general anti-trafficking law of 2012 prohibits all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties of five to 30 years’ imprisonment depending on the form of trafficking; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. The law conflates illegal adoption with trafficking. In September 2013, the government issued the law’s implementing regulations, though efforts to change internal mechanisms to put the regulations into effect remained ongoing. Some NGOs and legal experts criticized the law as being unduly complex and overly broad, and during the year new draft anti-trafficking legislation was introduced in Congress.
Federal officials have jurisdiction for all international trafficking cases and all cases that involve organized crime, take place on federally administered territory, or involve allegations against government officials. The attorney general’s Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA) handled federal trafficking cases involving two or fewer suspects, while a unit within the organized crime division (SEIDO) investigated cases with three or more suspects. States could investigate internal trafficking cases. The 2012 anti-trafficking law obligates states to adjust their anti-trafficking legislation to align with national legislation, and several states altered their anti-trafficking laws during the year. While 23 states and the federal district have specific trafficking laws, only some state laws criminalize all forms of trafficking, and inconsistencies among state laws complicated interstate investigations and prosecutions. Cases involving individuals who may have been forced by criminal groups to engage in illicit activities were not investigated or handled as potential trafficking cases, despite indications that force or coercion may have been involved.
The total number of trafficking investigations and prosecutions initiated in 2013 was unknown. In 2013, FEVIMTRA initiated 91 trafficking investigations while SEIDO reported initiating 48 investigations, but it was unclear how many federal prosecutions were initiated. Authorities did not report the number of investigations or prosecutions initiated at the state level, although 12 states reported more than 200 open trafficking investigations during the year. According to various different government entities, Mexican authorities at the federal and state levels convicted at least 52 trafficking offenders in 2013; it was unclear how many of these convictions were for forced labor, and officials did not report the range of sentences. The attorney general’s office in the federal district reported convicting 38 trafficking offenders. Five states reported achieving a total of 14 trafficking sentences in 2013. In comparison, in 2012, Mexican authorities convicted at least 19 sex trafficking offenders and six labor traffickers.
Anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts remained uneven. The trafficking law obligated states to have a dedicated human trafficking prosecutor, but many states lacked funding to employ one. In many parts of the country, law enforcement efforts focused on raiding bars and nightclubs and searching for administrative irregularities, as opposed to intelligence-based anti-trafficking operations. Officials and NGOs reported that some investigations and prosecutions were delayed while authorities determined which prosecutors had jurisdiction or coordinated with officials in other parts of the country, to the detriment of both the criminal case and the victims. Some public officials did not adequately distinguish between alien smuggling, prostitution, and human trafficking offenses, and many officials were not familiar with trafficking laws. NGOs reported that some officials pressured victims to denounce their traffickers, in some cases threatening to prosecute them as accomplices. NGOs also reported that police and immigration officials often re-victimized trafficking victims due to lack of sensitivity or understanding of the crime. Prosecutors reported that many judges did not fully understand the dynamics of human trafficking, including the trauma experienced by victims, often leading to the acquittal of traffickers. Some federal government agencies hosted trainings on human trafficking investigations and victim identification with foreign donor support and funding, but most training was provided by NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments. Authorities partnered with the U.S. government on 18 joint trafficking investigations in 2013.
NGOs, government officials, and other observers reported that trafficking-related corruption among public officials, especially local law enforcement, judicial, and immigration officials, was a significant concern. Some officials reportedly accepted or extorted bribes from women and children in prostitution including in the form of sexual services, falsified victims’ identity documents, discouraged trafficking victims from reporting their crimes, facilitated movement of victims across borders, operated or patronized brothels, or failed to report sex trafficking in commercial sex locations. In 2013, authorities in Tijuana reported that two municipal police officers were under investigation for exploiting a sex trafficking victim. The government did not report on the status of an investigation initiated in 2012 involving an employee of the attorney general’s office in Chihuahua state charged with forced labor for allegedly subjecting a Guatemalan child to domestic servitude. A 2012 investigation of four Puebla officials for suspected trafficking crimes was continued as a kidnapping investigation during the year. The government did not report initiating any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in human trafficking.
The Mexican government continued to provide only limited specialized services for trafficking victims; there were minimal services outside of the capital, and services for forced labor victims and male victims were virtually nonexistent. Mexican immigration agents continued to implement a system to identify potential trafficking victims, and some government institutions had informal victim referral procedures, but most government officials lacked clear guidelines for identifying and referring victims to care services. NGOs were critical of the government’s ability to accurately identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and people in prostitution. There were no comprehensive statistics available on the number of trafficking victims identified during the year. Federal prosecutors reported assisting 13 female trafficking victims. Mexican consulates in the United States reported identifying 160 potential trafficking victims in 2013.
While authorities provided psychological, medical, legal, and social assistance to an unspecified number of victims during the year, victim services in most parts of the country, particularly in high-crime areas, remained inadequate in light of the significant number of trafficking victims identified by NGOs and officials. NGOs and international organizations receiving foreign donor funding provided the majority of specialized assistance to trafficking victims. The press and civil society organizations reported a lack of coordination between federal, state, and local officials on victim services and case management. Civil society organizations reported that the lack of shelter and services left victims vulnerable and many victims decided to avoid the justice system out of fear for their personal safety and that of their families. Government services for male victims and forced labor victims were particularly weak and the lack of reintegration services remained a challenge. The Mexican consular network in the United States provided unspecific aid to 160 potential victims in 2013, and authorities did not report what services were provided to repatriated Mexican trafficking victims. NGOs and victims reported a need for increased access to comprehensive psychological services.
FEVIMTRA continued to operate a high-security shelter in Mexico City dedicated to female victims of sex trafficking and other violence who were participating in the legal process against their exploiters, as well as women whose family members had disappeared or been murdered. The shelter housed victims for up to three months, during which time victims were not allowed to leave the shelter unaccompanied, reportedly due to safety concerns. Some NGOs raised concerns that this arrangement re-traumatized some victims. The shelter coordinated medical, psychological, and legal services for an unspecified number of trafficking victims during the year. Government centers for crime victims provided some trafficking victims with emergency services, as did state-level prosecutorial, social service, and human rights offices. Mexico’s social welfare agency operated general shelters for children under the age of 13 who were victims of violence; comprehensive statistics were not maintained on how many trafficking victims stayed in these shelters during the reporting period. The government continued to support a national network of shelters and emergency attention centers for female victims of violence, but few of these shelters offered specialized care for trafficking victims. Some victims received services at shelters that were operated and funded by NGOs, international organizations, and religious groups; officials referred some victims to these shelters during the reporting period. In recent years, there have been cases of staff at some substance addiction rehabilitation centers and women’s shelters subjecting residents to forced labor and forced prostitution.
Mexican law has provisions to protect trafficking victims from punishment for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to human trafficking, and foreign trafficking victims could receive refugee status independent of any decision to testify against suspected traffickers. However, NGOs and international organizations reported these legal alternatives to deportation were often not provided in practice. Some officials handed victims over to the National Institute of Migration for detention and subsequent deportation due to victims’ lack of legal status or lack of identification as a victim of trafficking. Many foreign trafficking victims opted to return to their countries of origin after giving testimony, in some cases due to a lack of adequate shelter or information about their rights. INM reported providing unspecified migratory assistance to 47 trafficking victims in 2013 but did not report how many foreign victims received legal residency during the year.
Although authorities encouraged victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, many victims in Mexico were afraid to identify themselves as trafficking victims, and few sought legal remedies due to their fear of retribution from trafficking offenders, the lack of specialized services, or a lack of trust in authorities. In some cases, authorities shared victims’ names and case details with the press, failing to protect their privacy. Some civil society groups reported that local authorities threatened to arrest victims as accomplices if they refused to testify against their traffickers or failed to identify them as victims and treated them as traffickers. During the year, a Honduran sex trafficking victim who had been arrested as a minor and subsequently convicted and sentenced to 27 years’ imprisonment for trafficking offenses in the state of Chiapas was released after spending three years in jail; authorities did not report if they granted her a humanitarian visa to remain in Mexico, which she requested. There were no reports that trafficking victims were awarded restitution.
Federal and state authorities engaged in a range of anti-trafficking prevention efforts, though overall anti-trafficking prevention efforts were inadequate given the perceived magnitude of the problem. The interagency anti-trafficking commission that coordinated federal government efforts met only once in 2013, and NGOs questioned its effectiveness. The commission was responsible for implementing the national anti-trafficking program, but did not have funding to do so. NGOs reported a lack of transparency in government anti-trafficking efforts, and authorities failed to release a national study of human trafficking conducted by an international organization with government funds and completed in December 2012. Some states maintained state-level anti-trafficking committees, which varied in effectiveness. Federal and state governments engaged in a wide variety of awareness-raising activities, including conducting seminars and roundtables, promoting theatrical works on human trafficking, and continuing to distribute awareness materials in indigenous languages. The national human rights commission conducted 200 anti-trafficking training and awareness sessions across the country for a range of audiences, reaching more than 22,000 individuals. The federal district government partnered with the private sector and private donors to jointly fund an anti-trafficking hotline for the capital. The Secretary of Communication and Transportation carried out a campaign to raise human trafficking awareness among public transport employees, reaching 776 individuals. The Secretary of Tourism implemented an anti-trafficking campaign in several tourist areas that reached approximately 14,000 people. While authorities reported investigating some child sex tourism cases during the year, the government did not report how many child sex tourists it prosecuted or convicted, if any, and some NGOs alleged that some corrupt local officials allowed commercial sexual exploitation of children to occur. In an effort to reduce the demand for forced labor, the government opened an investigation and seized the assets of an employment agency that allegedly defrauded several thousand Mexican citizens with false offers of U.S. and Canadian temporary work visas in exchange for thousands of dollars in fees.