The trafficking of women and girls for sexual exploitation is the top form of trafficking in South America, and officials say more regional cooperation is needed to tackle the crime.
The latest data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) revealed that most South American victims were trafficked within their own country or region — not trafficked across continents.
“The trend nowadays is that there’s an increase in trafficking within the region of South America, to neighboring countries, especially with those that we share land crossings,” said Gilberto Zuleta, project coordinator for the UNODC in Colombia.
“Countries in the region have to coordinate efforts to strengthen their capacity to identify victims and prosecute.”
In Colombia, which shares a border with Venezuela, local criminal networks running sex-trafficking rings are increasingly targeting destitute Venezuelan women and girl migrants fleeing their homeland, according to state prosecutor Mario Gomez.
“Sex slavery can’t be the only way to survive for these people,” Gomez said.
“The number of (victims) is very big in places where there is a lot of sex tourism and at the border. However, there’s no census that allows us to determine the number of people involved.”
Over the past year, local authorities have found dozens of Venezuelan women forced into prostitution living in “inhumane conditions,” often in basements in Colombia’s tourist cities, with little food and their documents seized, Gomez said.
Gomez added that “It’s the Venezuelans themselves who are roping in other women,” though Venezuelan recruiters in Colombia are often controlled by criminal gangs.
Adriana Herrera, a children’s rights expert at Colombia’s inspector general’s office, said that there is a growing problem of minors being trafficked along motorways.
“Truck drivers pay for and sexually abuse underage girls along the highways,” said Herrera. “We know it’s a practice that goes on and we’re working on it.”