Experts: Minors, migrants more vulnerable to human trafficking amid pandemic

Washington, Mar 11 (efe-epa).- The coronavirus pandemic has made minors and immigrants increasingly vulnerable to human trafficking, experts warned Thursday in an online panel discussion organized by the Inter-American Development Bank.

“Boys and girls are at serious risk of becoming victims of trafficking via the Internet. They make up 31 percent of all victims recruited via social media and 24 percent of victims recruited through classified ads,” said Jessica Bedoya, the IDB’s chief of staff and executive advisor of the office of the presidency.

She said during her participation in the “Second Technical Dialogue on Trafficking in Persons in Latin America and the Caribbean,” a virtual gathering that brought together officials and experts from Colombia, the United States, Israel, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and other countries, that in most regions of the world immigrants “account for a high percentage of the victims” of that crime.

“Traffickers take advantage of their economic vulnerability, the language barriers, their irregular immigration status and, in the case of boys, girls and adolescents, the absence of caregivers,” Bedoya said.

“All of this has become more acute in the context of Covid-19,” she added.

The leader of the anti-human trafficking and migrant smuggling team of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Ilias Chatzis, said an increasing number of children are being targeted by the dark web of sex trafficking and expressed concern about the effect of the pandemic-triggered confinement measures.

He added that online technologies are becoming a part of children’s daily lives and that parents will find it very difficult to fully monitor their access to the Internet.

It is no longer the case that there is just one computer at home in the living room, according to that expert, who noted that minors increasingly have access to the Internet via mobile phones.

The head of the prevention area at the General Directorate of Cybernetic Research and Technological Operations of Mexico City’s Citizen Security Secretariat, Elizabeth Melchor, advised parents, caregivers and teachers to maintain “close communication” with minors and be attentive to the conversations they have and the information they share on social media.

She said an additional problem is that many parents and guardians “do not know how to use technology.”

On the relationship between migration and human trafficking, the director of the Migracion Colombia border-control agency, Juan Francisco Espinosa, referred specifically to immigration from Venezuela, a pressing matter considering that more than 1.7 million Venezuelans have fled the economic and political crisis in their homeland and relocated to Colombia.

“This whole pandemic process and the difficult situation in Venezuela have caused the migration (situation) to deteriorate. In other words, when we look at migration eight years ago, five years ago, four years ago, two years ago and today,” there is an increasing emphasis on the cross-border movement of people in situations of vulnerability, he said.

“A person in a vulnerable condition, a person who is escaping from a reality with their family and who is responsible for feeding their family, is more likely to fall victim to criminal networks,” Espinosa said.

He also noted that it is a challenge to protect these people and to effectively leverage technology for that purpose.

Agueda Marin, a senior regional specialist in migrant assistance and protection at the International Organization for Migration, said for her part that the fight against trafficking should not exclusively focus on capital cities but also include border and rural areas and take into account indigenous communities. EFE-EPA


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