MEXICO: Tier 2
Mexico is a 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, persons with mental and physical disabilities, migrants, and LGBT Mexicans. Mexican women and children, and to a lesser extent men and transgender Mexicans, are exploited in sex trafficking within Mexico and the United States. Mexican men, women, and children are exploited in forced labor in agriculture, domestic service, food processing, construction, the informal economy, begging, and vending in both the United States and Mexico. Press reports state some Mexican citizens have wages systematically withheld, are held in debt bondage in agriculture, and are indebted to recruiters or to company stores. Residents at some substance addiction rehabilitation centers and women’s shelters have been subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The vast majority of foreign victims of forced labor and sex trafficking in Mexico are from Central and South America. Victims from other regions have also been identified in Mexico, some en route to the United States. Child sex tourism persists, especially in tourist areas and in northern border cities. Many child sex tourists are from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Organized criminal groups profit from sex trafficking and force Mexican and foreign men, women, and children to engage in illicit activities, including as hit men; lookouts; and in the production, transportation, and sale of drugs. Trafficking-related corruption among public officials, especially local law enforcement, judicial, and immigration officials, is a significant concern. Some officials extort bribes and sexual services from adults and children in prostitution; extort irregular migrants, including trafficking victims; falsify victims’ documents; threaten victims with prosecution if they will not file official complaints against their traffickers; accept bribes from traffickers; facilitate movement of victims across borders; operate or patronize brothels where victims are exploited; or fail to respond to trafficking crimes, including in commercial sex locations.
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. Authorities engaged in a variety of prevention activities and released for the first time a national anti-trafficking action plan and a national report on human trafficking. Eleven states and the Federal District also created or reconfigured anti-trafficking commissions to strengthen interagency efforts. The government reported increased trafficking convictions, though data on victim identification and law enforcement efforts were often unreliable, and it was unclear how many of these convictions were for trafficking as defined by international law. Official complicity continued to be a serious and largely unaddressed problem. Law enforcement efforts were insufficient to deal with the scale of the trafficking problem, particularly for forced labor, and authorities did not report how many labor traffickers, if any, were convicted. Government funding for specialized victim services and shelters remained inadequate and these services were virtually nonexistent in much of the country, leaving the significant number of reported victims vulnerable to re-trafficking.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR MEXICO:
Increase funding for the provision of specialized victim services and shelters in partnership with civil society, and refer victims of all forms of trafficking to services and provide them adequate protection; strengthen efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish traffickers, especially for forced labor crimes; increase efforts to hold public officials complicit in trafficking accountable through prosecutions and convictions; enhance formal procedures to identify victims among vulnerable populations, such as people in prostitution and undocumented migrants, and to refer them to appropriate care; modify anti-trafficking laws at the federal and state levels to reflect the international anti-trafficking law; increase the ability of regional and state coalitions and specialized units to more effectively respond to trafficking cases through increased funding and trained staff; verify through increased training and monitoring that victims are not coerced into testifying against traffickers or treated as traffickers; strengthen data collection efforts; provide effective protection for witnesses and victims testifying against traffickers; increase training on victim identification and treatment for government employees; and improve coordination mechanisms between federal, state, and local authorities.
The government continued uneven law enforcement efforts. Authorities reported an increase in the number of trafficking sentences at the federal and state levels, but it was unclear how many of these sentences involved trafficking as defined by the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, and law enforcement efforts were undermined by significant official complicity in trafficking crimes. The general anti-trafficking law of 2012 prohibits all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties ranging from five to 30 years’ imprisonment; these penalties are sufficiently stringent and commensurate with those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, the law is overly broad as it establishes the use of force, fraud, and coercion as aggravating factors rather than essential elements of the crime and defines facilitating or profiting from the prostitution of others, illegal adoption, and possession and distribution of child pornography as forms of human trafficking. Federal officials have jurisdiction over all international trafficking cases and all cases that take place on federally administered territory, involve organized crime, or involve allegations against government officials. States investigate other internal trafficking cases. While most states have specific trafficking laws, only some state laws criminalize all forms of trafficking, and inconsistencies among state laws complicated interstate investigations and prosecutions. Cases involving individuals who may have been forced by criminal groups to engage in illicit activities were not handled as potential trafficking cases, despite indicators of force or coercion.
Partial data based on the broad definition of trafficking in the 2012 law indicated federal authorities initiated 253 investigations and state entities initiated at least 196 investigations for trafficking in 2014, compared with 139 federal investigations and 458 state investigations reported in 2013. Authorities did not report the number of trafficking prosecutions initiated in 2014, compared with 30 federal prosecutions and approximately 177 state prosecutions reported in 2013 government data. Mexican authorities reported sentencing three traffickers at the federal level and at least 108 at the state level in 2014; this represented an increase in reported sentences from 2013 when authorities did not issue any federal trafficking convictions and only 73 at the state level, including 38 in the federal district. It was unclear how many of these convictions were for trafficking crimes as defined by the 2000 UN TIP Protocol, and officials did not report the range of sentences. Of the 2014 convictions, 78 were for sex trafficking in the federal district.
In many parts of the country, law enforcement focused on investigating bars and nightclubs for administrative irregularities, as opposed to intelligence-based operations targeting traffickers. NGOs reported the overly-broad law led some officials to focus on targeting people in prostitution instead of focusing on individuals experiencing force, fraud, or coercion. Some public officials conflated trafficking with migrant smuggling and prostitution. Investigations and prosecutions were sometimes delayed while authorities determined which prosecutors had jurisdiction or coordinated with officials in other parts of the country, to the detriment of both the criminal case and the victims. The 2012 law obligated states to have a dedicated human trafficking prosecutor, but many states lacked funding to employ one. Some officials’ lack of understanding of trafficking led to cases being tried as more minor offenses as well as traffickers’ acquittals. Authorities maintained strong law enforcement cooperation with U.S. officials, partnering on at least 15 joint law enforcement operations, one of which resulted in a victim being reunited with her two children. Mexican authorities also enhanced law enforcement cooperation with the United States by forming a new working group to exchange information on human trafficking and migrant smuggling investigations. Some federal government agencies hosted anti-trafficking training with foreign donor support and funding, but much specialized training was provided by foreign governments and civil society.
Women in prostitution in Mexico City stated officials forced them to sign declarations accusing detained individuals of trafficking, raising serious concerns about law enforcement tactics. Labor officials in the capital certified some people independently engaged in prostitution to prevent them from being detained or extorted by authorities. Women at nightclubs and other establishments launched protests in response to authorities’ reported use of violence during anti-trafficking operations in Mexico City. NGOs also reported officials often re-victimized trafficking victims by their lack of sensitivity. Despite ongoing reports of extensive official complicity, authorities did not report any prosecutions or convictions of government employees complicit in trafficking in 2014; the government has not reported convicting a complicit official since 2010. Authorities apprehended a municipal employee wanted for trafficking in Oaxaca but did not report new investigations of complicit officials in 2014. The government did not report the status of the 2013 investigation of two Tijuana police officers for exploiting a sex trafficking victim or the status of the 2012 investigation of a Chihuahua state employee charged with forced labor.
The government continued to provide limited specialized services for trafficking victims. Some government institutions had informal victim referral procedures, but most government officials lacked clear guidelines for identifying and referring victims to care services. Immigration agents continued to ask detained migrants if they were trafficking victims and lacked in-depth screening mechanisms. NGOs were critical of the government’s ability to accurately identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as migrants. Anti-trafficking experts and people in prostitution reported officials often did not always differentiate between sex trafficking victims and women in prostitution—due in part to the overly broad anti-trafficking law—making victim identification statistics unreliable. The government reported identifying 1,570 Mexican trafficking victims but did not report how many were exploited in forced labor or sex trafficking. In 2013, in comparison, federal entities reported identifying and assisting over 1,000 victims, though a government-issued report cited two different victim identification numbers; this contradiction highlighted data integrity concerns.
It was unclear how many identified victims received particular services—such as shelter—and victim services in most parts of the country remained inadequate in light of the significant number of trafficking victims identified by NGOs and officials. The Special Prosecutor’s Office for Violence Against Women and Trafficking in Persons (FEVIMTRA) received 10 million pesos ($680,000) in 2014 to address the rights of assistance to female victims of extreme violence, including human trafficking. NGOs, many receiving foreign donor or private funding, provided the majority of specialized assistance. Coordination between federal, state, and local officials on victim services and case management was weak. The Mexican consular network in the United States provided support to 21 labor trafficking victims and an unknown number of sex trafficking victims in 2014. FEVIMTRA operated a high-security shelter in Mexico City for female victims of sex trafficking and other forms of extreme violence who were participating in the legal process against their exploiters. The shelter housed an unspecified number of trafficking victims for up to three months; victims were not allowed to leave the shelter alone, reportedly due to safety concerns. NGOs raised concerns this arrangement re-traumatized some victims, leading some victims to flee the shelter. Government entities at the federal and state level provided some victims with emergency services, such as medical attention, food, and temporary lodging. Shelters for vulnerable children under the age of 13 and for female victims of violence did not report how many trafficking victims they assisted in 2014. Experts and victims cited the need for open shelters with specialized services for trafficking victims including access to psychosocial care and reintegration services, particularly job training. Government-funded services for male and forced labor victims were particularly weak. The national human rights commission (CNDH) reported cases of victims housed in inappropriate accommodations, such as migration detention centers, and noted the lack of services for victims with specific needs, such as drug addiction. A federal victim assistance protocol was drafted in 2014 but remained pending; some states also drafted victim care protocols.
Many victims were afraid to identify themselves as trafficking victims, and few sought legal remedies due to their fear of retribution from traffickers, the lack of specialized services, or a lack of trust in authorities. Mexican law has provisions to protect victims from punishment for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being subjected to trafficking, but there were reports some victims were punished in practice. Some officials transferred victims to the National Institute of Migration (INM) for detention and deportation due to victims’ legal status or lack of formal identification as trafficking victims. Foreign trafficking victims could legally be eligible for refugee status independent of any decision to testify against suspected traffickers, though civil society reported this legal alternative to deportation was often not provided in practice. Many foreign trafficking victims returned to their countries of origin after giving testimony, in some cases due to a lack of adequate shelter or information about their rights. INM reported providing food and migratory assistance to 29 foreign trafficking victims in 2014 and issued 25 authorizations to remain in the country on the basis of humanitarian issues—which could be renewable on a yearly basis depending on the victims’ specific circumstances—compared with 47 victims assisted in 2013. In some cases, authorities shared victims’ names and case details with the press. It was unclear if any trafficking victims were awarded restitution.
Federal and state authorities engaged in a range of anti-trafficking prevention efforts, though overall prevention efforts were inadequate given the magnitude of the problem. The interagency anti-trafficking commission met twice a year to coordinate federal government efforts and released a report on 2013 national anti-trafficking efforts. The government released a national action plan for 2014-2018, but did not dedicate additional funds to implement the plan. Experts reported interagency coordination at the federal and state levels was uneven, though several jurisdictions reported increased anti-trafficking activity.
Twenty-two states had state-level anti-trafficking committees, of which 12 were launched or reconfigured in 2014, and which varied in effectiveness. Federal and state governments engaged in a variety of awareness-raising activities, including by distributing educational materials—including in indigenous languages and sign language—and publicizing phone numbers to report trafficking crimes anonymously. CNDH conducted extensive anti-trafficking training and awareness sessions for a range of audiences. The Federal District government provided funding to an anti-trafficking hotline for the capital. Authorities eliminated charges for documents allowing Guatemalan and Belizean citizens to work along the southern border, and established an additional center in Guatemala to register people for the card. Authorities did not report efforts to criminally punish fraudulent labor recruiters. Officials continued efforts to prevent child sex tourism through training sessions, partnering with the tourism chamber of commerce, and distributing awareness materials to reduce the demand for sexual exploitation of children in tourism destinations. While the government investigated some child sex tourism cases, it did not report how many child sex tourists it prosecuted or convicted, if any, and some NGOs alleged that some corrupt local officials allowed child sex tourism to occur. Authorities reported no efforts to reduce the demand for forced labor. The government provided anti-trafficking training or guidance for its diplomatic personnel.