Argentina

Office To Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons
Tier 1

ARGENTINA: Tier 1

The Government of Argentina fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government made key achievements to do so during the reporting period; therefore Argentina was upgraded to Tier 1. These achievements included prosecuting and convicting complicit officials; identifying and assisting more victims; establishing additional legal protections for victims; increasing the number of prosecutions; providing more training to government officials and civil society members; and improving data collection. Although the government meets the minimum standards, the number of investigations and convictions declined; mid- to long-term victim assistance, including housing for male victims, remained inadequate; and victim identification of vulnerable populations remained insufficient. Despite efforts to hold complicit officials accountable, official complicity in trafficking crimes continued to inhibit law enforcement efforts.

RECOMMENDATIONS FOR ARGENTINA

Strengthen efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish traffickers with dissuasive sentences, including complicit officials; provide adequate funding for specialized shelters, including dedicated shelters for male victims; increase availability of mid- to long-term assistance for victims assisting law enforcement, including legal, medical, and employment services; provide victim identification training to law enforcement officials and labor inspectors focused on specific vulnerable populations, such as domestic workers; implement the anti-trafficking plan with an adequate budget; strengthen coordination among the federal and provincial governments and NGOs; increase awareness campaigns targeting vulnerable populations; improve victim restitution procedures; improve efforts to collect data on victim protection efforts and assistance; increase efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor, such as establishing government procurement policies to prevent the use of forced labor in their supply chains; and revise the definition of human trafficking under Argentine law to more closely align with the definition in the 2000 UN TIP Protocol.

PROSECUTION

The government increased law enforcement efforts. Law 26.842 of 2012 criminalized labor and sex trafficking, and prescribed punishments of four to 10 years imprisonment. These penalties were sufficiently stringent and, with respect to sex trafficking, commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Inconsistent with the definition of trafficking under international law, the law established the use of force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime. The law also defined trafficking broadly to include facilitating or profiting from the prostitution of others and the illegal sale of organs without the use of force, fraud, or coercion. Due to these inclusions, it was unknown how many of the cases prosecuted under Law 26.842 involved trafficking offenses, as defined by international law.

While federal authorities did not report the total number of trafficking cases investigated, the Ministry of Security (MOS) expanded their data collection and reported federal officials recorded 3,130 preliminary trafficking investigations, which included actions such as wiretaps and raids, during the reporting period; it was unclear how many led to formal investigations. The anti-trafficking prosecutor’s office (PROTEX) opened 237 investigations in 2017, compared with 298 in 2016 and 358 in 2015. The government prosecuted 63 suspected traffickers (35 for sex trafficking and 24 for labor trafficking) under the trafficking law, compared with 54 (32 for sex trafficking and 22 for labor trafficking) in 2016 and 98 for sex and labor trafficking in 2015. Four of the 63 suspected traffickers were connected to forced marriage, which the country’s law criminalized under its anti-trafficking laws. The government convicted 38 traffickers (33 for sex trafficking and five for labor trafficking) in 2017, compared with 46 in 2016 and 35 in 2015. The average prison sentence was five years, with nearly 70 percent of convictions resulting in mandatory prison terms and the majority of mandatory prison terms exceeding one year. Twenty-three percent of conviction sentences were less than three years. Under Argentine law, defendants sentenced to less than three years for any crime were eligible to have their sentences suspended; 8 percent of all trafficking convictions resulted in suspended sentences or no prison time aside from pre-trial detention.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, although the government made progress on three previously reported cases. In one case, the government convicted in 2017 a provincial mayor and a superintendent to five years imprisonment for protecting a sex trafficking organization. In the second case, which involved a brothel owner accused of sex trafficking, PROTEX’s complaint that one of three judges assigned to the case was allegedly involved in covering up trafficking crimes was accepted by the official judicial entity that certifies and disqualifies active judges. The judge resigned at the end of the reporting period, and because of this, the judicial entity is unable to continue their investigation. The prospect of separate authorities continuing the investigation or filing criminal charges was unknown at the end of the reporting period. Additionally, authorities indicted two defense attorneys of the brothel owner for alleged threats and intimidation against a witness. The third case, in which two members of the security forces and the judiciary were allegedly involved with three trafficking networks, authorities indicted 18 individuals—including both government officials—accused of sexual exploitation in September 2017, and the case was awaiting trial at the end of the reporting period. The government provided numerous anti-trafficking trainings to law enforcement, prosecutors, and judicial officials, among others, including virtual training courses. PROTEX, working with foreign governments and Interpol, helped investigate five international cases involving Argentine victims and alleged traffickers. PROTEX also signed cooperative agreements with Portugal, Brazil, and Bolivia to establish frameworks to hold joint investigations.

PROTECTION

The government increased protection efforts. The Rescue Program was the government office responsible for coordinating emergency victim services nationwide; in 2017, it reported identifying and assisting 1,107 trafficking (658 labor, 358 sex trafficking, and the remainder were unspecified) victims, compared with 666 in 2016. This included 960 adults, 57 minors, 560 females, 438 males, and 19 transgender victims. The Ministry of Social Development (SENNAF) is responsible for identifying and assisting foreign victims; SENNAF reported identifying and assisting 80 foreign victims during the reporting period. The government did not report if that number was included in the total number of victims that the Rescue Program identified. All identified victims received the option of emergency assistance—which included shelter, psychological, medical, and legal assistance—during the early stages of the investigation and trial. Law 27.362, enacted in July 2017, provided a legal framework, and more public defenders, to secure rights and guarantees for victims of crimes in general, including human trafficking victims. The law was not utilized in any trafficking cases in the reporting period. Additionally, the MOS developed guidance for referral of complaints on trafficking crimes within police and security forces stations and guidance on how federal security forces should behave when interviewing trafficking victims. Federal officials had formal procedures for victim identification and assistance; however, in practice, the procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations varied by province. Some front-line responders had limited understanding of trafficking. The federal government did not make efforts to identify victims of domestic servitude, although some provincial-level officials led efforts to identify and raise awareness of domestic servitude.

SENNAF, along with each provincial government, was responsible for both mid- and long-term assistance for foreign and Argentine victims; they reported assisting 847 victims, marking the first time they collected these data. However, mid- and long-term assistance remained deficient. Regional governments in seven provinces operated anti-trafficking centers, which provided psychological, social, medical, and judicial assistance to trafficking victims. A government-funded NGO operated two shelters in Buenos Aires and Tucuman that assisted trafficking victims. SENNAF reported operating one shelter specifically for foreign victims, regardless of gender or age. There were no other specialized shelters for male victims; therefore, the government often placed male victims in other government-funded shelters or in hotels for temporary housing. NGOs reported a need for long-term housing, skills training and employment, childcare, legal assistance, and financial assistance for victims after testifying in court cases. Foreign victims had the same access to care as Argentine nationals; however, victims were sometimes unaware of available services. Authorities reported 80 foreign victims received assistance during the reporting period, with roughly half being minors. The government did not report the number of victims who received repatriation assistance. The Ministry of Justice received approximately 199.7 million Argentine pesos ($10.4 million) to support victims’ assistance activities. Authorities, including SENNAF, organized 64 training courses, reaching 8,136 individuals, including officials, members of civil society, students, teachers, and health professionals.

The government encouraged the participation of victims in trials of their traffickers by assisting victims throughout the initial testimony and during any subsequent appearances. The Rescue Program provided tribunals with reports on the psychological state of victims and what requirements they might have to assist in the prosecution of their traffickers. Other support for victim testimony included the possibility of video testimony and the use of recorded testimony. It was unclear how many victims received such assistance during the reporting period. There were no reports of identified victims jailed or penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of their being subjected to trafficking. Victims can file for restitution by bringing civil suits against traffickers. There were limited examples of success under this procedure, and the government conducted outreach and drafted policies during the reporting period to improve best practices on both topics.

PREVENTION

The government maintained prevention efforts. In March 2017, the Federal Council on human trafficking, which included federal government entities, provincial officials, civil society, and a smaller executive council that implemented the initiatives of the federal council, held its first full meeting with all participants and established victim assistance as an explicit mandate. Despite these efforts, NGOs advocated for improved interagency coordination, specifically on victim assistance. The government continued drafting a national action plan, with input from the federal council. The government launched a new campaign to increase public awareness of trafficking indicators and to encourage the public to report cases of potential trafficking. Some provincial governments undertook prevention efforts, such as awareness campaigns focused on advertising the national hotline, yet NGOs reported concerns with an alleged decrease in large-scale prevention campaigns over the reporting period. NGOs and municipal authorities continued to express concern about child sex tourism, although there were no reported investigations or prosecutions related to this crime. The government continued proactive efforts to register informal workers and employers in rural areas and investigate non-compliance with labor laws; yet civil society reported a decrease in labor inspections in rural areas. PROTEX continued operating the national hotline system with response assistance from the Rescue Program. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex, but not for forced labor. Argentine troops received anti-trafficking training prior to their deployment abroad on international peacekeeping operations.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, Argentina is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Argentine women and children are subjected to sex trafficking within the country, as are women and children from other Latin American countries, particularly Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Brazil. To a more limited extent, Argentine men, women, and children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking in other countries, mostly in Europe. Transgender Argentines are exploited in sex trafficking within the country and in Western Europe. Men, women, and children from Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and other countries are subjected to forced labor in a variety of sectors, including sweatshops, agriculture, street vending, charcoal and brick production, domestic work, and small businesses. Chinese citizens working in supermarkets are vulnerable to debt bondage. Official complicity, mainly at the sub-national levels, continues to hinder the government’s efforts to combat trafficking. In 2016, the Municipality of Ushuaia was ordered to pay restitution to a victim after being found complicit of facilitating trafficking by failing to adequately regulate brothels.