[ Country-by-Country Reports ]

MEXICO (TIER 2)   [Extracted from U.S. State Dept Trafficking in Persons Report, June 2009]

Mexico is a large source, transit, and destination country for persons trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. Groups considered most vulnerable to human trafficking in Mexico include women and children, indigenous persons, and undocumented migrants. A significant number of Mexican women, girls, and boys are trafficked within the country for commercial sexual exploitation, lured by false job offers from poor rural regions to urban, border, and tourist areas. According to the government, more than 20,000 Mexican children are victims of sex trafficking every year, especially in tourist and border areas. The vast majority of foreign victims trafficked into the country for commercial sexual exploitation are from Central America, particularly Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador; many transit Mexico en route to the United States and, to a lesser extent, Canada and Western Europe. In a new trend, unaccompanied Central American minors, traveling through Mexico to meet family members in the United States, increasingly fall victim to human traffickers, particularly near the Guatemalan border. Victims from South America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and Asia, are trafficked into Mexico for sexual or labor exploitation, or transit the country en route to the United States. Mexican men and boys are trafficked from southern to northern Mexico for forced labor. Central Americans, especially Guatemalans, are subjected to forced labor in southern Mexico, particularly in agriculture. Child sex tourism continues to grow in Mexico, especially in tourist areas such as Acapulco and Cancun, and northern border cities like Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez. Foreign child sex tourists arrive most often from the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Organized criminal networks traffic Mexican women and girls into the United States for commercial sexual exploitation. Mexican men, women, and children are trafficked into the United States for forced labor, particularly in agriculture and industrial sweatshops.

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. The government took steps to implement its federal anti-trafficking law, issuing regulations in February 2009. As of May 2009, twenty-two Mexican states and its federal district had enacted legislation to criminalize some forms of human trafficking on the local level. However, no convictions or stringent punishments against trafficking offenders were reported last year, though the federal government opened 24 criminal investigations against suspected trafficking offenders. Moreover, the government has not completed renovations on its planned trafficking shelter, though it continued to refer victims to NGOs for assistance. While Mexican officials recognize human trafficking as a serious problem, the lack of a stronger response by the government is of concern, especially in light of the large number of victims present in the country.

Recommendations for Mexico: Vigorously implement the new federal anti-trafficking law and provide funding for such implementation; increase efforts to investigate and prosecute trafficking offenses, and convict and punish trafficking offenders, including complicit public officials; dedicate more resources for victim assistance; continue to develop and implement formal procedures to identify trafficking victims among vulnerable populations; and increase anti-trafficking training for judges and law enforcement, including immigration and labor officials.

The Government of Mexico failed to improve on its limited anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts against offenders last year. No convictions or sentences of trafficking offenders were reported by federal, state, or local authorities. In late 2007, the federal government enacted legislation to prohibit all forms of human trafficking, prescribing penalties of six to 12 years’ imprisonment. Under aggravated circumstances, such as when the victim is a child or lacks mental capacity, penalties increase to nine to 18 years’ imprisonment; when the defendant is a public official, penalties increase by one half. The above penalties are sufficiently stringent and exceed those prescribed for other serious crimes, such as rape. However, there are concerns over the new law’s effective implementation, particularly that victims must press charges against traffickers, otherwise they will not be considered trafficking victims and will not be provided with victim assistance. During the reporting period, the Attorney General’s Crimes Against Women and Trafficking in Persons Unit (FEVIMTRA), which prosecutes federal anti-trafficking cases in coordination with the Organized Crimes Unit, opened 24 investigations into suspected trafficking activity, including 11 cases of labor exploitation and 13 cases of commercial sexual exploitation; FEVIMTRA also handled a large number of domestic violence against women cases last year. In October 2008, FEVIMTRA filed one prosecution for forced labor in the state of Chiapas. In Mexico’s federalist system, state governments investigate and prosecute trafficking activity on the local level. As of May 2009, twenty-two Mexican states and its federal district had enacted at least partial anti-trafficking laws. Federal jurisdiction is typically invoked in organized crime cases, or cases involving international or transnational trafficking; however, Mexico’s federal government has yet to assert its clear jurisdiction over such human trafficking cases. Last year, prosecutors for the state of Chihuahua opened nine anti-trafficking cases; two are awaiting trial, and seven remain under investigation. The Mexican federal government continued to provide significant assistance to the U.S. government on cross-border trafficking investigations last year. The United States extradited a suspected child trafficker to Mexico in 2006; the defendant has yet to be prosecuted in Mexico, though he remained in federal custody during the reporting period. Last year, competing anti-crime priorities and security concerns in Mexico, along with scarce government resources, continued to hamper investigations against human traffickers. However, as organized crime groups continue to encompass human trafficking within the scope of their unlawful activities, the government’s battle against organized crime, largely drug cartels, includes combating human trafficking. NGOs and other observers continued to report that corruption among public officials, especially local law enforcement and immigration personnel, was a significant concern; some officials reportedly accepted or extorted bribes or sexual services, falsified identity documents, discouraged trafficking victims from reporting their crimes, or ignored child prostitution and other human trafficking activity in commercial sex sites. No convictions or sentences against corrupt officials were achieved last year, although two immigration officials arrested in 2007 for their alleged leadership of an organized criminal group involved in extortion and smuggling remained under custody. Operation Limpieza, the Mexican government’s investigation of high level corruption, resulted in arrests of senior officials from the Mexican Attorney General’s Office, in addition to military officials. Newly instituted vetting procedures for the Attorney General’s Office have resulted in multiple dismissals of lower-ranking officials. Government-sponsored anti-trafficking training for public officials continued, though NGOs noted that many public officials in Mexico, including state and local officials, did not adequately distinguish between alien smuggling and human trafficking offenses.

The Mexican government provided limited victim assistance last year, relying on NGOs and international organizations to provide the bulk of specialized assistance and services for trafficking victims, particularly adults. Mexico’s social welfare agency operated shelters for children who are victims of violence, including child trafficking victims. In 2007, the Mexican Congress appropriated 70 million pesos for shelters for trafficking victims to house men, women, and children; the funds were allocated during the last year, and a dedicated property is now being renovated to hold up to 33 persons. The shelter will include a detoxification clinic, therapy rooms, and workshop studios. The Attorney General’s Office at the end of 2007 donated a residence it confiscated from a convicted narco-trafficker for use as a human trafficking shelter. The residence was renovated last year and is fully operational, accommodating up to 22 victims. The government offered foreign victims a temporary legal alternative to their removal to countries where they may have faced hardship or retribution; however, most foreign trafficking victims, particularly adults, continued to be deported within 90 days. The government continued to issue renewable one-year humanitarian visas to foreign victims who assisted with the investigation and prosecution of their traffickers; however, foreign victims who declined to assist law enforcement personnel were repatriated to their home countries and were not eligible for aid or services. Only three trafficking victims received humanitarian visas last year. Many victims in Mexico were afraid to identify themselves or push for legal remedies due to their fears of retribution from their traffickers, many of whom are members of organized criminal networks. There were no confirmed reports of victims being penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. The government did not employ formal procedures for identifying trafficking victims among vulnerable populations, such as prostituted women in brothels. However, the government’s immigration agency continued to develop guidelines for identifying trafficking victims, particularly children, among detainees. Last year Mexican authorities identified 55 trafficking victims within the country: 28 females and 27 males; trafficking allegations related both to commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor. FEVIMTRA directed identified victims to local resources for assistance.

Federal and state governments sustained trafficking prevention efforts last year. In January 2009, FEVIMTRA inaugurated a widespread campaign to distribute anti-trafficking materials across the country. With assistance from NGOs and international organizations, the government continued additional activities to raise public awareness, particularly against the commercial sexual exploitation of children. In February 2009, the government issued implementing regulations to establish a formal interagency anti-trafficking commission and assign responsibilities to various federal agencies. Government collaboration with NGOs and international organizations on anti-trafficking efforts continued last year, but was reportedly uneven among the various federal agencies involved; under regulations issued pursuant to the federal anti-trafficking law, NGOs have limited involvement with the government’s interagency anti-trafficking committee and related activities, such as developing anti-trafficking statistics. Authorities took some steps to reduce demand for commercial sex acts through state-level prosecutions of individuals engaging in commercial sex acts with children. No specific measures to reduce demand for forced labor were reported.