The economics of human trafficking in Latin America

There’s a harsh reality behind human trafficking: it can’t be isolated from the context nor the day-to-day perils of Latin America’s economy. While some people see it as just another crime –considerably, more shocking than others– and look for immediate solutions –higher sentences, more vigilance and stronger Police force–, analysts and policy makers around the world understand that there are close ties between human trafficking and economic and social crisis. So, although it has to be dealt with the same intensity as drugs and arms trafficking, it also has to call for deeper and multidisciplinary measures.

A common element in human trafficking is the poor economic performance of the countries of origin. A recent study published by the Harvard Political Review deepened on the emigration phenomenon in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, which shows the evident relation between the “deteriorating conditions in the region” and the desire to escape them. This desire has caused increasingly riskier ways of emigrating and, therefore, a greater possibility of human trafficking.

These three countries have to deal with a high homicide rate, extreme poverty, and a lack of health and education resources. Inadvertently, conditions such as these promote labor informality and, consequently, low tax revenue. As the study from the Harvard Political Review shows, this situation resembles a “harmful cycle” for governments. Relatively weak administrations have to deal with tougher threats.

Under these conditions, human trafficking seems almost a natural consequence. And, evidently, this situation doesn’t limit itself to the region of Central America. Criminal organizations all around Latin America are taking advantage of social urgent needs and are making human trafficking one of the three largest crime industries; data from CNN report a profit of US$32 billion per year.

As we have noticed, human trafficking doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes out of the desire to escape poor life conditions. So, what are the options to fight this phenomenon?

Countries are obliged to change the minds of citizens. Policies have to go hand in hand with economic improvement. Most likely, this will depend on loans –and higher government debt–, since the people won’t increase their tax payments. And, evidently, security measures will have to increase and get tougher. Just enough for foreign investors to regain trust on the private sector. Let’s be honest: it’s a long shot but it’s a bet that governments have to make.

LatinAmerican Post | Juan Sebastián Torres

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