Global Human Rights Defence

Human Trafficking in Latin America

This article is written by Angela Aparecida Roncheta Souza and Bruno Kneip Kratz -South America

Also known as “modern slavery”, human trafficking is formally described by UNODC[1] as the “recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of people through force, fraud or deception, with the aim of exploiting them for profit” (UNODC, 2021). Reflecting the dark side of globalization, human trafficking happens to be one of the biggest problems in the 21st century, and while the circumstances giving rise to modern-day slavery differ from those of the past, the outcome is the same; individual liberties are held hostage for the sake of exploitation (DiRienzo and Das, 2017).

Studies conducted by the International Labor Organization[2] (2017) show that currently, the number of trafficked individuals in the world revolves around 40.3 million people and, although we can find victims of all ages and backgrounds, the majority appear to be women, mostly between the ages of 20 and 29 years (Passos et al, 2020).

Regarding the main forms, while men are normally trafficked for forced labour, such as in sweatshops, peddling, factory work, and agriculture, we can see that women, in particular, are trafficked for domestic service and sex industries (Scheper-Hughes 2004, 2005, 2006). On the other hand, children are normally trafficked for the sex trade; begging; work in mines, factories, and agricultural labour; early marriage; adoption; among others (Limoncelli, 2008).

Moreover, a particular characteristic they often share is the tendency to be from a vulnerable or marginalized population, such as those living in high poverty, single mothers, and children. We can also see that a large number of these individuals are economically driven and seek low-skilled labour opportunities (DiRienzo and Das, 2017).

Human Trafficking in South America

In the case of Latin America, although is not one of the most common routes for human trafficking, research suggests some regional incidence. Without a clear pattern of origins and destination countries, data shows that trafficking flows appear to be limited in terms of geographical reach, mostly to a nearby country (Referência). Child trafficking, nevertheless, has been reported coming to Central America from Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, and Peru, usually for adoption or to be used as soldiers (Limoncelli, 2008).

Factors such as the late adoption of the anti-trafficking legislation in these countries and the absence of financial resources and state action can also facilitate the trade.

Human Trafficking in Brazil

According to research conducted with data collected between the years of 2009 and 2017 in Brazil, the majority of the trafficked individuals belong to a brown ethnicity (38.97%); with complete lower elementary education (16.72%); and female sex (74.98%). With regards to the age group, the same study demonstrated a predominance of victims in the ages of 20-29 years (Passos et al, 2020).

In Brazil, the largest number of human trafficking cases were registered in the Midwest, being followed by the North and South area. As for the numbers, data shows that between the years 2009 and 2017, the Brazilian country registered 1,011 cases of human trafficking at a national level (Passos et al, 2020).

Concerning the pattern of distribution, human trafficking was found mainly in the regions with international land borders. Between countries in Latin America, Brazil has been a place of destination,  internal circulation, transit, and especially a transnational social space for international migration. (Passos et al, 2020)

Human Trafficking in Colombia

Colombia is one of the major sources for female individuals subjected to human trafficking in Latin American, being considered a transit and destination country for children, men and women subjected to sex exploration, human rights violations and forced labor.

Within its borders, women and children are constantly being put through several violations in terms of forced work and sex trafficking, from rural into urban areas, englobing labor in mining, agriculture environments and even domestic servitudes, enunciating a significant and expressive problem in terms of Human Rights Violations among the international community.

Regarding the development of Human Trafficking standards in Colombia, the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report of the Government of the United States[3] indicated the current commitment of Colombia in maintaining several and sustained efforts aimed at the elimination of trafficking. Especially considering the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world and its revolution in terms of public policies production and legislations (USA, 2021).

However, it is important to address that even though the Report points out the fulfilment of the minimum standards of the combat of Human Trafficking in Colombia, it has also been assertive in terms of expressing the decrease of investigations, prosecutions and convictions for criminal activities related to the traffic of people in the country, opening up international speculation and social doubt regarding the severeness of the punishments prescribed by the Colombian jurisdiction, to effectively deter trafficking (USA, 2021).

In addition, it is said that the Colombian Ministry of Interior, known as MOI, did not provide, in these past few years, the proper financial support for the protection of victims in its departments and territories, nor did fund international and civil organizations in order to provide effective and adequate assistance to the victims of Human Trafficking. Therefore, lacking a real reinforcement of public and jurisdictional policies in order to achieve new and sustainable levels of international security and Human Rights accomplishments  (USA, 2021).

Human Trafficking and its human rights violations

Trafficking in persons is globally recognized as being a high-profit crime pushed by several factors – such as economic crises, social inequality and lack of fundamental rights – that create a proper environment for the consummation of Human Trafficking around the world, considering the lack of satisfying quality of life, based on a variety of social components  (Winterdyk, 2019).

However, the Human Rights-based explanation of the emergence of Human Trafficking in the modern world is recent in terms of doctrinal and jurisdictional analysis of international criminalization. Especially considering that, for the previous decade, human trafficking was and had been mainly explained from a political and legal context, in comparison to the current delineation of the trafficking of people as a Human Rights violation (Winterdyk, 2019).

On that matter, there is an urge of the modern international community to fulfil the victims’ needs and experiences of human trafficking, observed by several international organizations, such as the United Nations, as a contemporary necessity of the promotion and defence of Human Rights, considering that, as pointed out by the UN’s 2014 report of Human Rights and Human Trafficking: “violations of human rights are both a cause and a consequence of trafficking in persons” (UN, p. 6).

In this scenario, Human Trafficking introduces several human rights violations, having its consummation based on the contrary of many legal and judicial guidelines, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides the right to life, liberty and security of the global citizens. Besides assuring that no one shall be held in slavery or servitude, being prohibited in all their forms (UDHR, 1948).

Considered, by traffickers, as commodities to be used and sold for financial gain, the victims of Human Trafficking lack human dignity and fundamental rights, becoming a global and significant problem of the contemporary international society, as seen by the expressive development and evolution of international legislations and protection standards aimed at the promotion and defence of the victims’ rights (UNODC, 2020).

The Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power states that victims of crime should be treated with compassion and respect for their dignity. They are entitled to access to the mechanisms of justice and to prompt redress, for the harm that they have suffered, as provided for by national legislation (UNODC, p. 20, 2020).


In consequence, there is an urged necessity for the global community to unite its forces to achieve the proper defence and protection of the Human Trafficking victims in South America, considering the existence and the development of the utilization of Latin-American countries as a route of capture and beginning of the criminalization procedures (UNODC, 2021).

As evidenced by several reports and international treaties, different and significant components of Human Trafficking consummation have been identified throughout the years, allowing south-American governments to further advance their abilities to respond, protect and prevent victims of trafficking of people (Winterdyk, 2019).

On that matter, as the world is constantly facing such international challenges, it gets important to rely on multilateral organizations and internationally binding legal instruments, such as the United Nations and its Human Trafficking protocols, to combat and prevent the trafficking in persons worldwide (UNODC, 2021).


[1] United Naitons Office on Drugs and Crime its mission is to contribute to global peace and security, human rights and development by making the world safer from drugs,crime, corruption and trafficking. More information to be found at:

[2]United Nations agency whose mandate is to advance social and economic justice through setting international labour standards. More information to be found at:–en/index.htm

[3] Trafficking in persons report can be accesed at:


DiRienzo, C. E., & Das, J. (2017). Human trafficking and country borders. International criminal justice review, 27(4), 278-288.

International Labor Organization. (2017). Global estimates of modern slavery: Forced labour and forced marriage. Author. public/—dgreports/—dcomm/documents/publication/wcms_575479.pdf.

Limoncelli, S. A. (2009). Human trafficking: Globalization, exploitation, and transnational sociology. Sociology compass, 3(1), 72-91.

Passos, T. S., Santos Santana, M. F., Cordero-Ramos, N., & Almeida-Santos, M. A. (2020). Profile of Reported Trafficking in Persons in Brazil Between 2009 and 2017. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 0886260520976219.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy 2004. ‘Parts Unknown: Undercover Ethnography of the Organs-Trafficking Underworld.’ Ethnography 5: 29–73.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy 2005. ‘Organs without Borders.’ Foreign Policy February: 26–7.

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy 2006. ‘Kidney Kin: Inside the Transatlantic Transplant Trade.’ Harvard International Review Winter: 62–5.

United Nations General Assembly. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved on July 22th, 2020 in:

United Nations. (2021). Human Trafficking. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Retrieved on July 15th, 2021 in

Winterdyk J. (2020) Explaining Human Trafficking: Modern Day-Slavery. In: Winterdyk J., Jones J. (eds) The Palgrave International Handbook of Human Trafficking. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.


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