Photo essay: Argentine agency takes on human trafficking networks

By Robin Dianoux

6,604: This statistic, according to the Argentine Bureau for the Rescue and Accompaniment of Trafficking Victims, represents the number of people that the six-year-old government agency has “saved” as of April 31, 2014. The number is updated periodically, along with a statement highlighting the government’s action to fight the phenomenon that which particularly affects young women.

Now regarded as 21st century slavery by Argentine civil society, human trafficking is not new to the country: Argentina was, in fact, one of the first countries to pass a law against it in the early 20th century. But until recently, the Argentine government paid very little attention to the issue, possibly because the profits of the industry where mostly flowing into the pockets of the police officers and influential Argentinian elites.

Then, Marita Veron disappeared in 2002 and her mother began what would be a decade­-long search for her then­ 22-­year-old daughter. Although Marita remains missing to this day, her mother’s tenacity has forced the Argentine government to take a stand on the problem of human trafficking by drawing national media attention to the issue.

The government has acted at the legislative level by making human trafficking a criminal offense, and building an agency with the singular purpose of finding and rescuing victims. Many new groups have organized prevention meetings and awareness-raising campaigns.

However, some say many victims find themselves on their own shortly after their “rescue” due to inadequate planning and coordination between the agency and NGOs working on the issue of human trafficking. With very few alternatives and little­ to­ no­ support, former victims often quickly fall back into the trafficking network they just escaped.

In Argentina, young people growing up in the suburbs of large cities, where poverty runs rampant, are especially at risk of falling into criminal networks, lured in by the hope of a better life. It is not yet clear if the impunity that has long been the rule can be overcome, as criminal convictions for trafficking offenses remain rare and meaningful social change, difficult.

The following series of photos, taken between September 2013 and February 2014, documents the current form of the fight against trafficking and the ongoing search of parents like Marita Veron to find their missing children. Click on any photo to launch slideshow.

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