Mexico to propose new human trafficking law

Under this new law, sex workers would no longer be criminalized and perhaps receive protection

Mexico to propose new human trafficking law
Human trafficking has been on the rise in Mexico and the world in recent years - Photo: Marco Ugarte/AP
English 18/11/2019 12:05 Reuters Mexico City Christine Murray Actualizada 12:05
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Sex workers could soon benefit from a reform to Mexico’s much-criticized human trafficking law, outlined in an Interior Ministry document obtained by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

In Mexico, commercial sex is legal but people who make a profit from prostitution, such as landlords and pimps, can be jailed under a 2012 law, while sex workers are also often wrongly arrested in police raids, Mexican trafficking campaigners say.

Maria Olga Noriega, a trafficking expert at Mexico’s National Institute of Penal Sciences, described the need for legal reform as “urgent”.

“There is impunity because they’re not prosecuting human trafficking,” she said.

While the United Nations defines trafficking as an act that involves force, deception or coercion, Mexican law, which should be changed according to the U.N., considers a person who exploits someone else a trafficker, even if it's consensual.

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In 2017, Mexican authorities opened 425 investigations relating to 672 possible trafficking victims, mostly women who were believed to have been sexually exploited, government data shows, although activists say the real number of victims is higher.

Responding to a request for comment, Mexico’s Interior Ministry said the plan was being revised by the Inter-Ministerial Commission Against Human Trafficking and requires the approval of the Finance Ministry before it was released.

In Mexico, human trafficking victims work as forced laborers in agriculture, construction, domestic servitude, mining, and begging, although prosecutions tend to focus on sexual exploitation.

The 62-page draft includes plans to amend the law to differentiate trafficking from exploitation, as well as improving victim protection and training for public servants.

After seven years of implementation (of the law), the difficulties in its application (...) are obvious,” said the national plan to combat human trafficking, dated Oct. 1.

“It’s imperative to push for a reform of the General Law (...) that clearly defines human trafficking.”

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A fierce debate has blocked previous reform efforts as some feminists and religious-backed groups have supported the current definition of trafficking, which they say has boosted prosecutions and protects women from exploitation.

Teresa Ulloa, Latin America director for the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women, said she did not believe Mexico should require proof that victims were tricked, coerced, or forced to secure a trafficking conviction.

“It’s more difficult to prove because some of the things that show vulnerability are subjective,” she said, while adding the law could be improved with tougher sentences.

Both houses of Mexico’s Congress would have to approve any changes to the law.

Lawmaker Adriana Dávila Fernández, who led previous amendment bids, said political will was key.

“If the President doesn’t see that the issue of trafficking is important for the national agenda, we won’t get the chance to improve things,” said Dávila, who is a member of the center-right National Action Party (PAN).

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