ARGENTINA: Tier 1

The Government of Argentina fully meets the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. The government continued to demonstrate serious and sustained efforts during the reporting period; therefore Argentina remained on Tier 1. These efforts included increasing investigations, prosecutions, and convictions, including those of complicit officials, and identifying and assisting more victims. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it did not provide a dedicated budget to its national action plan; or provide integrated, specialized, and comprehensive mid- to long-term victim assistance, including housing for male victims. Official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a significant concern and its anti-trafficking law continued to be inconsistent with the 2000 UN TIP Protocol by including force, fraud, or coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime.

PRIORITIZED RECOMMENDATIONS

Strengthen efforts to investigate, prosecute, convict, and punish officials complicit in trafficking crimes. • Provide adequate funding to fully implement the national action plan. • Improve victim assistance to include more specialized shelters, including dedicated shelters for male victims. • Increase availability of mid- to long-term assistance for victims, including legal, medical, and employment services. • Increase the number of labor inspections and ensure that inspections are conducted in rural areas. • Strengthen coordination among the federal and provincial governments and NGOs. • Improve victim restitution procedures. • Improve efforts to collect and integrate data on victim protection efforts and assistance. • 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 trafficking and sex trafficking and prescribed punishments of four to eight years’ imprisonment for offenses involving an adult victim, and 10 to 15 years for those involving a child victim. 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; penalties were increased to five to 10 years’ imprisonment if such factors were involved. 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.

The Ministry of Security (MOS) reported it cooperated with judicial authorities in 3,254 preliminary trafficking investigations during the reporting period, compared to 3,310 trafficking investigations in the previous period. The anti-trafficking prosecutor’s office (PROTEX) opened 332 preliminary investigations, compared with 237 investigations in 2017. MOS identified and referred for prosecution 49 human trafficking cases (33 labor trafficking and 16 sex trafficking). The government prosecuted 106 suspected traffickers (71 for sex trafficking, 19 for labor trafficking, eight for both sexual and labor trafficking, and eight for forced marriage) under the trafficking law, compared with 63 in 2017 (35 for sex trafficking and 24 for labor trafficking). The government convicted 71 traffickers in 48 cases (30 cases for sex trafficking, 18 cases for labor trafficking), compared with 38 traffickers in 32 cases in 2017. The average prison sentence was 5.5 years, and the majority of mandatory prison terms exceeded six years. Under Argentine law, defendants sentenced to less than three years for any crime were eligible to have their sentences suspended; eight percent of all trafficking convictions were less than three years and suspended.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant concerns, although the government made progress on two previously reported cases and three new cases. In one case, the appellate court overturned the acquittal of labor inspectors in a trafficking case. In a second case that involved two members of the security forces and the judiciary, the federal appeals court upheld the indictments and the case was set for trial. In a third case, the federal court indicted a misdemeanor court judge of complicity in sex trafficking. The fourth case involved a federal court indictment of a mayor for sex trafficking. In a fifth case, currently under investigation, prosecutors pursued a labor trafficking case involving city and provincial government officials. However, there were additional cases of complicity reported. Prosecutors initiated investigations of a sex trafficking ring in Santa Fe province that involved the complicity of a mayor; the local court acquitted the mayor. A second case under investigation involved prison officials in a suspected sex trafficking at the Melchor Romero Penitentiary; however, law enforcement failed to find evidence to support the case. Another case involved the complicity of a federal judge in facilitating sex trafficking crimes of a retired police commissioner. A court dismissed the commissioner’s charges, although PROTEX appealed the dismissal, and the judge only received a fine as punishment. The government provided numerous anti-trafficking trainings to law enforcement, prosecutors, and judicial officials, among others. The security minister and attorney general signed an agreement to endorse general guidelines when conducting raids that involve trafficking crimes. The National Supreme Court of Justice worked on the implementation of a national database of human trafficking cases brought to the courts since 2015. PROTEX cooperated in 26 international trafficking investigations during the year.

PROTECTION

The government increased protection efforts. The Rescue Program was the government office responsible for coordinating emergency victim services; in 2018, it reported assisting 1,501 victims (972 labor, 522 sex trafficking and 7 for other types of exploitation), compared with 1,107 victims in 2017 and 666 in 2016. The Ministry of Production and Labor reported identifying 215 victims, all adults, mostly in rural businesses, that had evidence of labor trafficking. The MOS reported law enforcement operations during the year resulted in the identification of 786 victims (173 sex trafficking victims, 542 labor trafficking victims, and the remainder unspecified). The majority of victims were foreigners (492). The Ministry of Social Development (SENAF) was responsible for identifying and assisting foreign victims; SENAF reported identifying and assisting 47 foreign victims, compared to 80 in 2017. SENAF assisted and funded the repatriation of 33 victims during 2018. In absence of a unified database for trafficking victims, the government did not report if the MOS, Ministry of Production and Labor, and SENAF numbers were included in the total number of victims that the Rescue Program identified. The new national action plan aimed to develop a unified database to track victims.

Law 27.362, enacted in July 2017, provided a legal framework and more public defenders to secure rights and guarantees for victims of crimes. Victims and prosecutors did not utilize this law in any trafficking cases in the reporting period. 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. SENAF and each provincial government were responsible for both mid- and long-term assistance for foreign and domestic victims; however, experts noted the need for more integrated and comprehensive victim assistance. Regional governments in 10 provinces operated anti-trafficking centers which provided psychological, social, medical, and judicial assistance to trafficking victims. The government reportedly had 10 shelters spread across various provinces that trafficking victims could access; however, only two were specialized shelters. SENAF 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 specialized shelters, long-term housing, skills training and employment, childcare, legal assistance, and financial assistance for victims after testifying in court cases. NGOs also stressed the need for the government to improve the implementation of a witness protection program that provided adequate security and safety for victims during trials. Foreign victims had the same access to care as Argentine nationals; however, foreign victims were sometimes unaware of available services. The government did not report its funding allocations to support victim assistance.

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. Victims could file for compensation by bringing civil suits against traffickers; there were limited examples of success under this procedure. Observers noted lower courts might disregard the issue of restitution for various reasons, including that they do not know how to calculate appropriate restitution or that they believe prison sentences to be an adequate resolution. A 2017 draft bill regarding compensation for trafficking victims lost parliamentary status in 2018. However, in October 2018, the Federal Council for Human Trafficking drafted a bill that was introduced in Congress to establish an assistance trust fund for trafficking victims; the fund would include the seized assets of traffickers and would serve as restitution for all victims.

PREVENTION

The government increased prevention efforts. The Federal Council for Human Trafficking held four meetings, each in a different province, compared to one meeting in 2017. The government launched the 2018-2020 biennial anti-trafficking action plan in July 2019. However, the government did not allocate a special budget for the plan. Observers remained concerned about the government’s ability to fund its anti-trafficking programs. Observers noted some NGOs were frustrated with the level of NGO participation in the government’s anti-trafficking efforts. In March 2018, the government established a new secretariat under the Ministry of Production and Labor that provided guidance, conducted labor inspections, and developed plans for the promotion of safe and ethical work conditions. In June 2018, the new secretariat established an ethics code for workers performing official duties in an effort to increase accountability regarding official complicity with trafficking. In addition, the Secretariat of Labor issued new guidance and standardized electronic forms for national labor inspections to facilitate the identification of indicators for trafficking during inspections; the forms also provided a documentary record for use in criminal investigations and victim assistance efforts. The immigration department developed better accounting and controls for migrant workers to prevent labor trafficking. Authorities penalized foreign labor recruiters for fraudulent recruiting.

The government launched several new trafficking awareness campaigns at the federal, provincial, and municipal level to NGOs, civil society groups, high school and university students, and children. NGOs and experts continued to express concern about child sex tourism, although there were no reported investigations or prosecutions in the reporting period related to this crime. The Secretariat of Tourism developed training in the prevention of trafficking for the tourism sector and worked with international organizations and hotels to draft best practices for hotels to prevent child sex trafficking. Neuquen province passed legislation to strengthen the monitoring of hotel guests who travel with minors who are not their children. PROTEX continued operating the national hotline system with response assistance from the Rescue Program. There were 1,858 trafficking-related calls during the year; of these, 522 were referred to the federal courts and 440 to the provincial courts. The Federal Council for Human Trafficking drafted its first-ever Annual Report during the reporting period, which it presented to the Chamber of Deputies’ Committee on Human Rights and Guarantees in November 2018. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts. The government made efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.

TRAFFICKING PROFILE

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Argentina, and to a more limited extent, Argentine men, women, and children are victims of sex and labor trafficking in other countries. Traffickers exploit victims from other Latin American countries in Argentina, particularly the Dominican Republic, Paraguay, Peru, Bolivia, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Brazil. 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. Traffickers exploit minors participating in domestic youth sports clubs in sex trafficking. Traffickers exploit Chinese citizens working in supermarkets to debt bondage. Traffickers compel trafficking victims to transport drugs through the country’s borders. Official complicity, mainly at the sub-national levels, continues to hinder the government’s efforts to combat trafficking. Revelations in 2018 of an active prostitution ring in Argentina’s soccer minor league that victimized youth athletes raised concerns about child sex trafficking in domestic sports and athletic clubs.

2019 Trafficking in Persons Report: Argentina
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