Focus on Plight of Migrant Women in Meso-america

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To mark the International Day Against Human Trafficking on 23rd September, IOM Costa Rica is releasing a study titled Trafficking of Women: One More Manifestation of Violence Against Women, as well as the new web page Women in Migration Flows.

Both initiatives focus on IOM’s plan of action for the region, considered a major migration corridor in the world.

Ana Hidalgo, IOM Regional Counter Trafficking Project Manager explains: “The only way to effectively prevent the trafficking of women is to attack all other forms of violence against women.  Trafficking of women can only be understood as the cumulative process of the daily violence faced by thousands of women, and this plunges them into high-risk scenarios when they try to escape.  Forced migration, to flee from partner violence, sexual abuse or street violence, is one of those scenarios where women’s dreams turn into tragic nightmares. They are exposed to many risks during their migratory route and are more vulnerable to assault, rape, and human trafficking for sexual and labour exploitation. Every organization working with migrants in the region must be alert to the special vulnerabilities and needs of women.”

Of the estimated 214 million international migrants in the world today, 49 per cent are women.  But in the Western Hemisphere, the number of female migrants is 51 per cent.  More women are migrating alone than at any other time in history.

Information on the extent of human trafficking in the region is scarce.  It is estimated that only a small percentage of victims manage to break free from their captors and an even smaller percentage manage to speak about their experiences and report it to the authorities.   But the information available and interviews carried out point to a high percentage of women and girls victims of human trafficking, especially for sexual exploitation and increasingly for labour exploitation, including domestic servitude.

Countries of destination for Latin America and Caribbean female victims are mainly Europe and the United States, but Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic and Mexico have also been reported as countries of destination for women from the hemisphere.

In the Mesoamerican context, exploitation occurs also within the same region.  Some countries are mainly countries of origin (Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras), others are destination countries (Mexico, Guatemala and Costa Rica).  Internal trafficking of women is also in the rise.

The Nicaraguan National Police reports that of 21 victims identified, 20 were Nicaraguan women who had been trafficked to El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and inside Nicaragua.

The study warns that although human trafficking of women is mainly for sexual exploitation, there are cases of labour exploitation, begging and organ extraction.  The children of female victims are also exploited by the traffickers.

In interviews carried out for the IOM study, victims confirmed that although they were not convinced the offer being made was safe, sincere and reliable, poverty and lack of employment opportunities influenced their decision to accept the bogus offer.

The IOM study found that women face labour discrimination due to gender and migratory status, many times landing them in precarious and exploitative working situations.  They also face sexual violence, from traffickers, co-workers, authorities and criminal elements along the migration route, which forces them to find protection by taking a partner.

Other vulnerabilities and threats include lack of policies to address gender violence, corrupt officials that may turn a blind eye towards trafficking and sexual exploitation, being sold to trafficking networks.

“But breaking free from their captors and returning home does not mean it is the end of their nightmare,” adds Hidalgo.  “Once home, they face the prospect of violent reprisals or re-trafficking; possible stigmatization by the family and the community; limited access to employment and options for income generation; and they may have to pay back debts incurred to migrate.”

Of the 46,000 victims of trafficking assisted by IOM and currently in the IOM Human Trafficking Database, 64 per cent are women and girls.

The IOM Mexico database confirms that 80.6 per cent of persons assisted were females, the vast majority from Central America trafficked for sexual and labour exploitation.

The webpage Women in Migration Flows www.mujeresenlasmigraciones.info launched today by IOM and the NGO Centro Feminista de Información y Acción (CEFEMINA), will provide information to migrant women, and those thinking of migrating, state institutions, civil society, researchers and the public at large, and improve coordination and the assistance being provided to migrant women.

The study and website are part of the UN’s UNETE Campaign, designed to stop the violence against women and are funded by the United States Department of State Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM).

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