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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, considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity; therefore Argentina remained on Tier 1. These efforts included issuing a new national action plan; offering specialized training courses to public prosecutors’ offices on investigating and prosecuting traffickers, including how to prosecute trafficking cases during the pandemic; and developing new guidelines for labor inspectors to identify victims. Although the government meets the minimum standards, it investigated, prosecuted, and convicted fewer traffickers and identified fewer victims in 2020. Official complicity in trafficking crimes remained a concern. The government did not allocate a dedicated budget to anti-trafficking efforts or provide dedicated shelters for male victims, and the national anti-trafficking law considered force, fraud, or coercion to be aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime.

Strengthen efforts to investigate, prosecute, and convict traffickers. • Sentence convicted traffickers to adequate penalties, which should involve significant prison terms. • Document and address official complicity in trafficking through prosecution and conviction. • Improve victim assistance to include more specialized shelters and dedicated shelters for male victims. • Provide dedicated funding to fully implement the national action plan. • Restructure the witness protection program to address trafficking victims’ needs and prevent abuse by agents. • Revise the human trafficking law to make force, fraud, or coercion essential elements of the crime, rather than aggravating factors, as established under the 2000 UN TIP Protocol. • Strengthen coordination among the federal and provincial governments and NGOs. • Revitalize efforts to address labor trafficking, including prosecuting and convicting labor traffickers and proactively identifying 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 informal sectors and rural areas. • Consistently implement victim restitution procedures. • Improve efforts to collect and integrate data on law enforcement statistics and victim assistance.

The government decreased prosecution 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 special prosecutor’s Human Trafficking and Exploitation Unit (PROTEX) opened 220 trafficking investigations (130 for sex trafficking and 90 for labor trafficking) in 2020, compared with 252 in 2019. The government prosecuted 26 suspected traffickers (19 for sex trafficking and seven for labor trafficking) in 21 cases (14 for sex trafficking, five for labor trafficking, and two for both sex and labor trafficking) under the trafficking law, compared with prosecuting 78 alleged traffickers in 2019 and 106 in 2018. The government convicted 26 traffickers (22 for sex trafficking and four for labor trafficking) in 15 cases in 2020, compared with 53 traffickers in 29 cases in 2019 and 71 traffickers in 48 cases in 2018. Authorities further reported convicting five traffickers for “subjection to servitude,” a form of labor exploitation that carried similar penalties to the trafficking statute of the Argentine penal code and could amount to trafficking under international law. The courts sentenced convicted traffickers to between two years’ and 10 years and six months’ imprisonment. In Corrientes province, courts convicted and sentenced a Paraguayan woman to six years’ imprisonment for sex trafficking her three daughters. In an investigation leading to the identification of seven victims, officials in Salta province arrested three alleged traffickers suspected of fraudulently recruiting young women on social media and forcing them into commercial sex. In one high-profile case, law enforcement in several cities raided 24 properties associated with an evangelical church suspected of trafficking, leading to the arrest of six alleged traffickers and the identification of more than sixty victims of labor trafficking; officials expected to identify more victims as investigation continued. Due to guidance from the Supreme Court during the pandemic, federal courts operated under modified protocols, reducing the number of decisions handed down in trafficking and other cases between March and July 2020. Similar mitigation efforts slowed investigation and prosecution processes, as well, although these resumed normal operations in the latter half of the reporting period. The government diverted law enforcement officers from regular duty, including investigating trafficking crimes, to enforce pandemic-related restrictions. Although the government’s federal trafficking investigations database, the Integrated Criminal Information System on the Crime of Trafficking in Persons (SISTRATA), was meant to include input from nearly all provincial governments, it remained difficult to obtain comprehensive data and analyze trends across reporting periods, as federal and provincial authorities still commonly compiled law enforcement statistics separately. The government continued to train law enforcement officials to use the database.

Corruption and official complicity in trafficking crimes remained significant obstacles to anti-trafficking efforts, particularly at the local and regional levels, and hindered law enforcement action during the year. Although prosecutors opened at least two new trafficking cases involving current or former public officials, the government did not report convicting any complicit officials for the second consecutive year. In one of these cases, authorities in Cordoba province charged a member of the local public prosecutor’s staff with sex trafficking, alleging he exploited a young woman’s drug dependence and forced her to engage in commercial sex. The government did not report the status of investigations and prosecutions involving complicit officials initiated in previous years. However, in a prosecution initiated in 2019, courts extended pre-trial detention for a former police chief accused of exploiting approximately 20 victims in sex trafficking; media reports linked more than one dozen officers to the case, but the government did not report prosecuting any additional officers. The First Sergeant indicted for trafficking in persons in 2019 remained in police custody throughout 2020; his case was expected to return to trial in 2021. There were no updates in a 2019 case where prosecutors initiated a criminal probe for seven accused traffickers who benefitted from police protection and political connections in the management of two Buenos Aires brothels. Similarly, there were no new developments in a fourth ongoing case, the result of investigations dating to 2010, involving trafficking charges brought against two public officials connected to the commercial sexual exploitation of victims in private residences. Authorities prosecuted only a small number of cases involving official complicity in trafficking; official complicity appeared infrequently in media reporting. The government conducted its anti-trafficking trainings for prosecutors, law enforcement, and judicial officials virtually due to the pandemic. Notable training opportunities covered topics such as conducting successful investigations during the pandemic, for staff of the public prosecutors’ offices; on confiscating traffickers’ assets and coordinating with PROTEX, for members of the federal police force; and the characteristics of labor trafficking, for judges working at the provincial level. PROTEX did not report cooperating in any international investigations during the year. However, the government coordinated with officials in the United States to arrange the extradition of a trafficker who fled the country after a 2018 conviction; separately, a 2019 extradition request concerning an alleged trafficker arrested overseas remained pending after the defendant appealed the cooperating government’s assent to the extradition.

The government decreased protection efforts. The Rescue Program was the government office responsible for coordinating short-term emergency victim services; a separate entity, the National Secretariat for Childhood, Adolescence, and Family (SENAF), assisted foreign victims and victims identified in the autonomous city of Buenos Aires. In 2020, the Rescue Program reported assisting 933 victims, compared with 1,438 victims in 2019 and 1,501 victims in 2018. Of the victims assisted, 644 were victims of labor trafficking, 235 were victims of sex trafficking, and seven were victims of ‘subjection to servitude;’ the government was unable to specify a form of trafficking for the remaining 47 victims. More than 70 percent of victims in 2020 were Argentine nationals; foreign national victims (245) hailed predominantly from Latin America and the Caribbean, including Paraguay, Bolivia, and Venezuela, but the government also reported assisting victims from China, Peru, Russia, South Korea, and the United States, among other countries. The government funded repatriation for 10 Argentine victims exploited in trafficking abroad between January and July 2020; it did not report repatriation statistics for the second half of 2020. The National Directorate of Migration established a new anti-trafficking unit to promote identification and referral of trafficking victims amongst migrant populations. The government, with the support of an international organization, expanded use of the virtual platform to compile victim assistance data from both the national and provincial levels, first launched in 2019; the database recorded victims’ biographical information and their use of applicable services.

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 a limited understanding of trafficking. SENAF and each provincial government were responsible for mid- and long-term assistance for foreign and domestic victims; experts noted the need for more integrated and comprehensive victim assistance. Regional governments in 10 provinces operated anti-trafficking centers that 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 federal shelter specifically for foreign victims, regardless of gender or age. Shelters modified their services to comply with pandemic mitigation recommendations, providing staff with personal protective equipment, distributing alcohol gel, and retrofitting vehicles to reduce circulation between driver and passenger spaces. Critically, many shelter facilities reduced occupancy to maintain safe distancing between residents; officials reported these measures greatly increased shelter operating costs during the pandemic. The government did not operate or fund specialized trafficking shelters for male victims; consequently, 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. Certain assistance programs required victims to complete complex renewal procedures to maintain eligibility. NGOs expressed concerns for the welfare of trafficking victims in the Undersecretariat of Criminal Policy’s witness protection program. Some government officials acknowledged that the program, which was primarily designed for witnesses of drug trafficking, terrorism, and extortive kidnapping, was ill-suited to the needs of human trafficking victims; in past years, the Ministry of Justice dismissed at least one program administrator accused of sexually harassing protected witnesses, including trafficking victims. 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 funding allocations to support victim assistance.

The government encouraged victim participation in trafficking trials through an assistance framework whereby victims had access to psychological and legal support while preparing to testify. The courts offered victims participating in trials the option to provide testimony via live video, recordings, or written statements. 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. The government maintained a trust fund for trafficking victims, comprised of traffickers’ forfeited assets and required criminal courts to award victim restitution at the time of traffickers’ convictions. Victims could also file civil suits against their traffickers to receive additional compensation, although victims had limited success in securing compensation through civil suits. Courts granted between 550,000 and 600,000 pesos ($6,160 to $6,720) each in restitution to 10 victims in 2020 and, although a verdict had not been reached, ordered the auction of assets in another case to ensure funds for victim restitution. Despite these cases, observers reported prosecutors and judges inconsistently prioritized financial restitution in trafficking cases. The government struggled to identify and refer victims of forced labor in rural zones. In 2020, the government produced new guidelines to facilitate labor inspectors’ recognition of trafficking indicators and identification of labor trafficking victims; the Ministry of Labor trained its inspectors in accordance with these guidelines in October 2020.

The government maintained prevention efforts. The Federal Council for Human Trafficking and the Executive Committee oversaw the government’s national action plan to combat trafficking in persons and began implementing a new plan for 2020-2022 in December 2020. The new plan outlined 100 specific activities to combat trafficking, including 22 activities left unfinished at the expiration of the previous action plan. The Federal Council incorporated three civil society organizations in its regular meetings and in the development of the 2020-2022 plan. The Federal Council required civil society participants be legally recognized as NGOs in Argentina; observers noted some NGOs found the costs associated with maintaining this status prohibitive. The government did not allocate a specific budget for the plan and observers remained concerned about the government’s ability to fund its anti-trafficking programs through contributions from participating ministries; the pandemic exacerbated these funding concerns. Authorities had the ability to penalize foreign labor recruiters for fraudulent recruiting, but the government did not report assessing any penalties during the reporting period. Given the increased vulnerability of migrants due to widespread job loss and movement restrictions during the pandemic, the government extended expiration dates and deadlines associated with several visa categories, which decreased their vulnerability to trafficking.

The government produced three new federal trafficking awareness campaigns—two focused on labor trafficking and one on sex trafficking—which it made available, along with existing awareness materials, on its website. PROTEX officials presented at several trafficking awareness webinars hosted by domestic and international civil society groups; these virtual events were accessible to wide audiences. NGOs and experts remained concerned by child sex tourism, although there were no reported investigations or prosecutions in the reporting period related to this crime. The Secretariat of Tourism led a regional working group on combating sex tourism. The Ministry of Justice and Human Rights operated the nationwide 1-4-5 trafficking hotline with response assistance from the Rescue Program. There were 1,340 calls during the year, compared with 1,809 in 2019; of these, authorities referred 514 trafficking-related reports to the federal courts. PROTEX conducted an evaluation of trafficking-related calls to the national hotline, to understand the impact of the pandemic on reporting tendencies; officials reported a greater share of hotline complaints came from victims, rather than witnesses, in 2020. The Federal Council for Human Trafficking released its Annual Report, which retrospectively assessed the government’s success in completing the 2018-2020 national action plan based on indicators laid out therein. The government did not make efforts to reduce the demand for commercial sex acts.

As reported over the past five years, human traffickers exploit domestic and foreign victims in Argentina, and Argentine adults and children are victims of sex and labor trafficking in other countries. Traffickers exploit victims from other Latin American and Caribbean 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. Officials indicate traffickers may exploit the additional vulnerabilities of individuals with mental illnesses or instabilities. Adults and children from Argentina, particularly the northern provinces; Bolivia; Paraguay; Peru; and other countries are exploited in forced labor in a variety of sectors, including the garment sector, agriculture, street vending, charcoal and brick production, domestic work, and small businesses. Traffickers exploit victims from China and South Korea; Chinese citizens working in supermarkets are vulnerable to debt bondage. Traffickers exploit children participating in youth sports clubs in sex trafficking. Revelations in 2018 of an active child sex trafficking ring in Argentina’s minor soccer league that victimized youth athletes raised concerns about child sex trafficking in domestic sports and athletic clubs. Religious sects and other organizations serve as fronts for traffickers. Traffickers compel trafficking victims to transport drugs across the country’s borders. Traffickers increasingly utilize social media and other online platforms to recruit victims. Official complicity, mainly at the sub-national level, is pervasive and continues to hinder the government’s efforts to combat trafficking.

U.S. Department of State

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