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.