Last Updated: Thursday, 28 August 2014, 16:05 GMT

2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Mexico

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 27 June 2011
Cite as United States Department of State, 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report - Mexico, 27 June 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e12ee5f2d.html [accessed 29 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Mexico (Tier 2)

Mexico is a large source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor. Groups considered most vulnerable to human trafficking in Mexico include women, children, indigenous persons, and undocumented migrants. Mexican women, girls, and boys from poor rural areas are subjected to sexual servitude within the United States and Mexico, lured by fraudulent employment opportunities or deceptive offers of romantic relationships, including marriage. Mexican trafficking victims also are subjected to conditions of forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, construction, and street begging, in both the United States and Mexico. During 2010, the majority of trafficking victims identified within Mexico were from Chiapas, Veracruz, Puebla, Oaxaca, and Tlaxcala. The municipality of Tenancingo in Tlaxcala state was identified as a major source for Mexican sex trafficking victims exploited within Mexico and in the United States. In some parts of the country, public fear of criminal organizations impedes the ability of the government and civil society to effectively combat trafficking.

According to official and civil society sources, the vast majority of foreign victims in forced labor and sexual servitude in Mexico are from Central America, particularly Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; many transit Mexico en route to the United States and, to a lesser extent, Canada and Western Europe. However, trafficking victims from South America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa also are found in Mexico, and some transit the country en route to the United States. Unaccompanied Central American minors, traveling through Mexico to meet family members in the United States, fall victim to human traffickers, particularly near the Guatemalan border. Mexican men and boys from southern Mexico are found in conditions of forced labor in northern Mexico, and Central Americans, especially Guatemalans, are subjected to forced labor in southern Mexico, particularly in agriculture. Child sex tourism continues to grow in Mexico, especially in tourist areas such as Acapulco and Cancun, and in northern border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Most child sex tourists are from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe, although some are Mexican citizens. In addition to Mexican drug cartels, organized crime networks from around the world are reportedly involved in human trafficking in Mexico.

The Government of Mexico does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period, Mexican authorities increased anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts, achieved the first conviction and sentence for forced labor in the country, and adopted new protocols for the treatment of foreign victims. The Mexican Congress passed a national anti-trafficking action plan and designated $4.2 million in funding to implement the plan. Given the magnitude of Mexico's trafficking problem, however, the number of human trafficking investigations, prosecutions, convictions, and sentences remained low, and government funding for victim services remained inadequate. While Mexican officials recognize human trafficking as a serious problem, NGOs and government representatives report that some local law enforcement officials tolerate and are sometimes complicit in trafficking, impeding implementation of anti-trafficking statutes.

Recommendations for Mexico: Increase federal and state efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders, including complicit public officials; aggressively implement the National Program to Prevent and Combat Trafficking in Persons; pass the legislative reform to the 2007 Law to Prevent and Sanction Trafficking in Persons currently under review in the Mexican Congress to strengthen the anti-trafficking legal framework; continue to increase funding for victim services and shelters and ensure that victims of all forms of trafficking receive adequate protection; ensure effective protection for witnesses and victims testifying against traffickers; increase collaboration with NGOs to provide victim care; enhance formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as women in prostitution and irregular migrants; improve coordination mechanisms between federal, state, and local authorities; increase the ability of regional and state coalitions and officials to more effectively respond to human trafficking cases through increased funding and staff dedicated to state-level efforts; and increase training on human trafficking and victim identification and treatment for law enforcement officers, immigration officials, judicial officials, social workers and other government employees.

Prosecution

The Government of Mexico's overall law enforcement response to human trafficking increased during the reporting period, though efforts remain strongest at the federal level and in the capital, where four convictions and sentences were obtained during the year. In 2007, the government enacted federal legislation to prohibit all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties of six to 12 years' imprisonment. These penalties are sufficiently stringent and exceed those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. Under aggravated circumstances, such as when the victim is a child or lacks mental capacity, penalties increase to nine to 18 years' imprisonment; when the convicted offender is a public official, penalties increase by half. The law includes a clause that can render consent of victims over the age of 18 relevant, even if threats, abduction or fraud were used, making the prosecution of traffickers more difficult when the victim may have originally consented to an activity. A draft law currently under consideration by the Mexican Congress would address this issue, establish more robust victim protections through increased funding, and institute more concrete government responsibilities.

In Mexico's federal system, state governments investigate and prosecute trafficking cases that occur wholly within the country, with four specific exceptions. Federal jurisdiction is invoked in cases that involve organized crime, transnational trafficking cases, trafficking crimes involving government officials, and trafficking occurring on federally administered territory. All 32 Mexican states have passed some anti-trafficking penal code reforms, though these reforms varied in content and effectiveness, and not all of the reforms outlawed all forms of trafficking. Nine states have additionally passed specific state trafficking laws, which strengthen penal codes and institute state regulations for trafficking prevention, and other states also are reviewing draft laws. The inconsistency between state penal codes and laws on human trafficking could cause confusion among law enforcement and problems among inter-state prosecutions. Prosecutorial efforts remained weak at the state level outside of Mexico City. As many judges are not familiar with human trafficking laws, some cases of human trafficking continued to be prosecuted under other laws, such as rape or pimping statutes, under which penalties are sometimes lower, and judges sometimes reduce charges during the course of trials.

The federal police maintained a small unit in the capital to investigate human trafficking and smuggling crimes, and some states also had law enforcement units that investigated trafficking crimes, specifically sex trafficking. The Attorney General's Special Prosecutor's Office for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA) handles federal trafficking cases involving three or fewer suspects, while the Attorney General's Office of the Special Prosecutor for Organized Crime (SIEDO) investigates cases with more than three suspects. Officials and NGOs reported that some investigations and prosecutions were delayed while authorities determined which prosecutors have jurisdiction, to the detriment of both the criminal case and the victim. However, authorities reported launching a small FEVIMTRA and SIEDO unit in March 2011 to investigate cases jointly Resources and staff for these dedicated units remained limited. Some state-level attorney general's offices also have victims' or women's services units that focus on prosecuting human trafficking cases.

During the reporting period, FEVIMTRA investigated 76 trafficking cases, initiated 47 prosecutions, and achieved the first conviction and sentence for forced labor in Mexico. The trafficker received nine years' imprisonment and has appealed his sentence. Despite several prosecutions underway, SIEDO did not report any convictions or sentences for trafficking crimes during the reporting period. In March 2011, a federal judge sentenced a prominent Cancun businessman who forced numerous children into prostitution to 13 years' imprisonment under child pornography and rape statutes in a case dating to 2003. In 2010, Mexico City's Attorney General's Office initiated 47 new prosecutions and convicted four trafficking offenders, whose sentences ranged from four to 17 years' imprisonment. Numerous state attorney general offices also reported ongoing prosecutions for human trafficking, but none reported convictions or sentences during the year. During the previous reporting period, federal authorities achieved five convictions and Mexico City's Attorney General's Office achieved the first anti-trafficking sentence.

NGOs, members of the government, and other observers continued to report that corruption among public officials, especially local law enforcement, judicial, and immigration officials, was a significant concern. Some officials reportedly accepted or extorted bribes, including in the form of sexual services, from traffickers; falsified victims' identity documents; discouraged trafficking victims from reporting their crimes; or failed to report child prostitution and other human trafficking activity in commercial sex sites. In December 2010, two former immigration officials who were arrested in August 2007 received sentences of 12 and eight years' imprisonment, respectively, for their role in operating a human trafficking and migrant smuggling ring. A high-level immigration official who was charged by SIEDO for alleged involvement in sex trafficking of Central American women was cleared by a federal judge in 2010. Prosecutors also investigated directors of a penitentiary in Mexico City for their alleged involvement in a network of forced prostitution of female inmates being operated out of a jail.

NGOs noted that many public officials in Mexico, including state and local officials, did not adequately distinguish between alien smuggling and human trafficking offenses and that many judges and police officers are not familiar with anti-trafficking laws. Some federal government agencies provided their own employees with anti-trafficking training and cross-trained officials in other agencies, often in partnership with NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments. During 2010, the National Institute for Migration (INM) trained officials on identifying and interviewing trafficking victims. The Mexican federal government continued to partner with the U.S. government on cross-border trafficking investigations last year.

Protection

The Mexican government identified at least 259 trafficking victims during the reporting period, but maintained limited assistance to trafficking victims last year, with the majority of services available only to female sex trafficking victims. An international organization working with foreign trafficking victims in Mexico noted that over the past five years, 60 percent of the victims it identified, many of whom were men, had been subjected to forced labor. However, specialized services for male victims and victims of forced labor were generally lacking. Authorities continued to work in cooperation with NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments to provide victim services, relying on them to operate or fund the bulk of specialized assistance and services for trafficking victims, particularly adults. Mexican immigration agents continued to implement a system for identifying potential trafficking victims, particularly among unaccompanied children entering or exiting the country, and referring these victims to care providers, such as NGOs. The federal police identified six trafficking victims at checkpoints in high-risk areas, some labor inspectors along the southern border partnered with law enforcement officials to investigate possible cases and educate possible victims of forced labor, and the Mexico City Attorney General's Office rescued 112 victims of forced prostitution. Some NGOs, however, were critical of the government's ability to accurately identify trafficking victims, and most states lacked formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among other vulnerable populations, such as migrant workers and people in prostitution.

FEVIMTRA operated a high-security shelter in Mexico City dedicated to female victims of sex trafficking with a capacity for 70 individuals. This shelter coordinated medical, psychological, and legal services for victims. Mexico City's Attorney General's Office received funding to build a shelter for trafficking victims in the capital. Mexico's social welfare agency continued to operate general shelters for children who are victims of violence, which it reported was accessed by child trafficking victims, though statistics were not maintained on how many child victims were housed in these shelters during the reporting period. The government provided $8.33 million to support a national network of 64 shelters and emergency attention centers for female victims of domestic violence, sexual violence, or human trafficking on an annual basis. This network provided emergency and long-term services. State and municipal governments also partially funded 27 of these facilities.

Some victims received services at shelters that were operated and funded by NGOs, international organizations, and religious groups, and officials referred some victims to these shelters during the reporting period. According to NGOs, however, victim services in some regions of the country remained inadequate in light of the significant number of trafficking victims. Furthermore, some shelters for migrants and domestic abuse victims were reluctant to house trafficking victims due to fear of retribution from organized crime. The majority of shelters that assisted trafficking victims did not restrict victims' movement during their stay. Some shelters, including FEVIMTRA's, accepted victims whose traffickers were suspected to be members of organized criminal groups. Due to the high security risk to their victims, these facilities limited victims' movements primarily to the shelter grounds. Some NGOs reported that these shelters faced challenges in balancing the high-security setting with the needs of trafficking victims, including the need of adult victims to leave the shelter.

The government did not provide specialized shelter services for male victims. Authorities reported providing some short-term housing for a few male victims during the year, as well as referring boys to social service shelters or NGOs and some men to homeless or migrant shelters. INM and the national human rights commission (CNDH) both had referral mechanisms for trafficking victims, though officials' ability to refer Mexican victims to care services varied in different parts of the country.

During the year, INM and FEVIMTRA began to interview potential foreign trafficking victims jointly. Despite former guidelines requiring foreign victims to participate in the prosecution of their traffickers to remain in the country, in 2010, INM issued a directive requiring immigration officials to offer foreign victims an unlimited "period of reflection" to decide whether they wish to participate in the prosecution of their trafficker. This directive also established that foreign victims can request to stay in the country without having to provide evidence against their traffickers. INM has since reported that 30 victims were approved for regularization in the county, and that no victims had been refused refuge under the new procedure. As of early 2011, the legal status of an additional 98 foreign victims was pending. This directive is only legally binding for INM employees, although officials are working to establish regulations obligating other government agencies to follow these directives, and these practices are incorporated into the draft reform on human trafficking. Despite these improved mechanisms, many foreign trafficking victims opted to return to their countries of origin after giving testimonies, in some cases due to a lack of adequate shelter. Although authorities encouraged victims to assist in trafficking investigations and prosecutions, many victims in Mexico were afraid to identify themselves or push for legal remedies due to their fears of retribution from trafficking offenders. While traditionally, prosecutions of human trafficking offenders in Mexico have relied almost entirely on victim testimony, during the year, federal prosecutors increased the number of trafficking cases pursued without the official complaint of a private citizen. Trafficking victims and witnesses continued to have little incentive to participate in the legal process, based on the limited numbers of trafficking convictions and sentences and on the fact that no trafficking victim was awarded compensation for damages. Furthermore, many victims feared for their safety, since the witness protection program in Mexico remained nascent and did not provide sufficient protection. Mexican consulates abroad identified at least 25 cases of forced labor during the reporting period. The government provided limited services to some repatriated Mexican trafficking victims upon request.

Prevention

Federal and state governments increased trafficking prevention efforts last year. An inter-agency commission on trafficking coordinated federal government efforts. During the reporting period, the commission drafted a national program to prevent and combat trafficking, which was approved by Congress, along with a $4.2 million budget to implement the plan in 2011. Some members of civil society publicly criticized the plan for a perceived lack of effectiveness. The Government of Mexico did not publicly issue a comprehensive assessment of its anti-trafficking efforts, but did so privately, and the Attorney General publicly reported on efforts to combat trafficking in 2010. With funding from a foreign government, authorities also launched a beta version of a website to track trafficking cases and legislation in Mexico. The government engaged in a variety of awareness-raising activities using radio and television commercials, as well as other multimedia efforts. Some states established or maintained state-level anti-trafficking committees, and the CNDH also established regional partnerships with NGO and government actors in 12 states. Authorities raised awareness of child sex tourism through media initiatives, and the government reported some prosecutions but no convictions of child sex tourists. Officials conducted awareness activities regarding child sexual exploitation. There were no reported efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor.

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