Forced begging, a lucrative human trafficking business

Forced begging means to enforce a person to beg for money through threats, deceit, or other forms of coercion

Forced begging, a lucrative human trafficking business
Forced begging is a type of human trafficking – Photo: Ana Lucía Alvelais/EL UNIVERSAL
English 28/12/2019 10:07 Laura Jiménez Mexico City Actualizada 10:21
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“A coin, one peso,” asked a 92-years-old woman in downtown Toluca, State of Mexico. On September 27 she was run over by a bus while she was trying to cross an avenue. Her death revealed the exploitation of which she was a victim.

Every day, minutes before 8:00, a vehicle left Esperanza Cruz in Gómez Pedraza street, near a church. Sometimes she got off a van, another from a car. Despite the weather conditions, you could see the “granny,” as some merchants told her, wearing several shawls, but always there. They knew her for 10 years until she died.

Her day ended at 19:00 or 20:00 when they picked her up. Esperanza had problems with her sight: It could be seen that one of her eyes had cataracts and she also had problems walking, for she needed a cane to support herself. Despite her health conditions, she managed to walk on the streets where she was a beggar.

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The money put in her styrofoam glass was then put in her pocket but it never left it. Merchants noticed that the old lady did not eat unless someone gave her something and she did not spend any money because it was forbidden for her.

Two years ago, the woman fell from a staircase and got hurt, so some persons offered to take her to a hospital in San Pablo Autopan.

On the way there, she told them: “I live around here. This is my daily route.” They continued some streets and asked if they knew the madam, there, they gave them the instructions to get to a house. Upon arrival, a young man addressed the old lady: “Why are you here?” One of the persons who helped her answered for her and told him that due to the fall she had had, she needed medical attention. “Yes, thank you” was all he got for an answer before the young man closed the door.

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There is a dark figure among the cases of exploitation and human trafficking. From the 11 types punished by law, there are over 50,000 victims per year and only 1,000 cases are known, according to information of the Citizen Public Security Council.

From January 2011 to November 2019, in the State of Mexico, there were 163 crimes of human trafficking of which seven were classified as forced begging, according to registries of the Criminal Justice Management System of the state.

Forced begging means to enforce a person to beg for money through threats, deceit, or other forms of coercion. It is punished by law with four to nine years of prison.

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Until now, there are three convictions for human trafficking in the modality of forced begging, in addition to four arrest warrants.

The first sentence for forced begging in the State of Mexico was in 2015 and it was a judgment of acquittal.

Last year, personnel from the DIF State of Mexico looked for Esperanza in the streets of Toluca to help her. Attendees to the Del Carmen Church remember that the search was to no avail for she was not taken there those days. After a week, she came back but the help did not.

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The normalization of begging and poverty has gone against the detection of this modality of human trafficking.

“It’s already difficult to identify a human trafficking victim in general, but it’s even harder to identify if people who beg are part of this kind of exploitation,” says Salvador Guerrero Chiprés, president of the Citizen Public Security Council. “Inequality legitimizes slavery,” he comments and adds that some people think it is natural that “human trafficking victims be poor.”

The phone line against human trafficking 01800 5533 000 is managed by the citizen council and works 24/7.

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They have received 3,369 phone calls of which 76% correspond to sexual exploitation or prostitution; 12% to forced work; 9% to labor exploitation, and 3% to the use of minors for criminal activities.

Although there is not a specific report on forced begging, it is sometimes combined with forced work.

Who are the human traffickers?
The expert says that the aggressors are “criminal organizations, some of them with local, interstate, or international connections. In some places, they are families that have normalized the phenomenon and each one has a certain paper: from begging to sexual exploitation.”

For the State of Mexico prosecutor specialized in human trafficking Guillermina Cabrera, human traffickers “can be anyone. There is not a unique profile. They can be criminals, friends, and even relatives.”

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There is one case of human trafficking in Tlalnepantla. “They saw a person with a quetzal and a child walking between the cars and asking for money while saying ‘We are from Guatemala,’ but the police thought it was weird there was not a physical resemblance and it turned out the kid was being rented. He was being forced,” said Guillermina Cabrera.

Among the information requests, Aguascalientes, Yucatán, Guanajuato, Oaxaca, as well as Baja California and Puebla, have one case of forced begging registered but no sentences.

Chihuahua and Quintana Roo have five investigation files on this crime and Sonora, Baja California Sur, Colima, and Durango have no registry at all.

The numbers of the Executive Secretariat of the National Public Security System (SESNSP) show a general figure of the crime of human trafficking but not a division of the types, even though they have significant differences in characteristics and punishments.

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The 2019 Diagnosis of the Human Trafficking Situation in Mexico by the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) stresses the division of the statistics for a better understanding of the phenomenon.

Most actions on human trafficking have focused on sexual exploitation, hence there is more information in that regard and less of other kinds of exploitation considered by law, including forced begging.

“We need training,” says the director of the Administration of the Courts of the Adversarial Criminal System, Lawrence Eliseo Serrano.

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“This kind of event must be investigated under a context. These categories of offense must be strengthened so as not to punish people with low income or in poverty. Sometimes it is difficult, mainly in begging matters.

“People who beg out of misery or exclusion are at risk of being arrested than the members of human trafficking networks because the investigation for this crime needs more time and resources,” explains Mónica Salazar, director of the Dignificando el Trabajo (Dignifying Work) organization.

The civil organization works in matters of forced work and human trafficking. “There might be poverty conditions that make people become beggars, but there are persons who, abusing of that need, move people and force them to remain in that situation to obtain a benefit. Which is more serious? I think that is when a person doesn’t allow you to get out of that situation and to demand certain amounts from you that if you don’t provide, there will be a physical, sexual, or verbal aggression against you.”

Experts conclude that poverty is not a crime but that it is necessary for Mexico to identify, persecute, arrest, and judge people who are using others in a human trafficking context. Hope is in justice.

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