Are Colombia and Peru doing enough to combat human trafficking?

As 2014 comes to a close, a new report by an Australian non-governmental organization, the Walk Free Foundation, provides grim estimates about modern slavery: over…

Young children being forced into guerrilla groups like the FARC is just one of the effects of human trafficking in Colombia . (Twitter/@vicmaximo)

As 2014 comes to a close, a new report by an Australian non-governmental organization, the Walk Free Foundation, provides grim estimates about modern slavery: over 35 million people are enslaved throughout the world. Moreover, this NGO states that there are over 1 million 200 thousand enslaved people throughout the Americas.

Latin American governments are not fully blind to this problem, since not a week goes by without media outlets reporting how regional security agencies have busted yet another a human trafficking ring. Nevertheless, basic human decency calls for more to be done.


The Walk Free Foundation provides an in-depth analysis of modern slavery, comparing the estimated number of modern slaves in relation to a country’s local population. The report also analyses how well governments are doing in terms of combating human trafficking.

For example, Iceland is performing better than any other country, as there are “only” an estimated 23 people in slavery, which translates to 0.007 percent of the small island’s total population. On the other hand, the highest culprits of modern slavery are India (with 14 million), China (with 3.2 million) and Pakistan (with 2.1 million).

As for how Latin American and the Caribbean states are positioned in the report’s rankings, the results are mixed. The Western Hemispheric nation that finished worst on the list is Haiti, with some 240 thousand enslaved people, or over 2.3 percent of its population.

As for Latin American states, Mexico fared worst, with an estimated 270,000 modern slaves (unlike Haiti, this is only 0.2 percent of the total population). Mexico performed even worse than Brazil, with 160 thousand; Colombia, with 110 thousand; and Peru with 66 thousand.

In a somewhat ironic development, the Western Hemisphere state that performed best, after Canada and the U.S., was Cuba – the Caribbean island has an estimated four thousand modern slaves, or 0.03 percent of the population.

Effective responses?

Regional countries like Peru and Colombia are not oblivious to the problem of modern slavery. For example, just this past September, the Peruvian congress approved setting a 15-year prison sentence for individuals guilty of human trafficking.

Meanwhile, Colombian local industries have taken matters into their own hands. Industries like Cafe Montes and Colina have teamed up with the Colorado-based Fluid Coffee Bar and Novo Coffee to support the education of teachers and students in rural communities. The goal is to prevent young Colombians from being persuaded by false promises so they will not fall in the hands of human traffickers.

Regarding the fate of the victims of human trafficking, the response is broad. In Peru, drug trafficking and illegal mining are the major reasons for internal human trafficking. Meanwhile in Colombia, drug trafficking is a major cause.

In both countries, a security concern is that young victims will wind up in the hands of guerilla movements, which are known for utilizing child soldiers. Unsurprisingly, young women are a preferred demographic by human smugglers as they are often forced into sexual service.

Nevertheless, one obvious problem when it comes to cracking down on human trafficking is that this is not a centralized network by any means. For example, last October the Peruvian police arrested a trafficking ring made up of Bangladeshis and Nepalese who utilized Peru as a transit country to smuggle their compatriots into the U.S.

The method was fairly simple: a citizen from one of these Southeast Asian nations would arrive to Lima, be told how to travel to neighboring Ecuador or Colombia, and then from there continue their voyage to the U.S. According to the Peruvian media, each person reportedly paid $17 thousand USD for this voyage.

Colombia is also a transit nation. “Because of its geographical location [with the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans on each side,” Colombia is used as a stopover for South Americans and Africans who are attempting to reach Europe and the U.S., explains the Colombian daily El Tiempo.

By keeping these last two examples in mind, we can argue that the estimated number of modern slaves in Colombia and Peru according to the Walk Free Foundation may not be close to reality, given that both countries are also transit nations. Hence, there may be an unaccounted number of foreign victims currently stuck in both countries.

When it comes to modern slavery, both Colombia and Peru do not face the tragically high numbers found in India, China, or even Haiti. Nevertheless, this does not mean that there are not tens of thousands of Colombians, Peruvians and smuggled persons from other developing nations living as slaves in both countries.

Both the Peruvian and Colombian governments continue to crack down on human trafficking, and they should be commended for this. Nevertheless, it is a shame that as 2014 ends, more steps have not been taken. The fact that over 35 million individuals live deprived of their liberty and treated as a commodity is a failure of humankind.