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Modern slavery Brazilian sex traffickers target Switzerland

(Keystone)

Switzerland is the second main destination for Brazilian victims of people trafficking, according to a Brazilian justice ministry report. The phenomenon is of great concern to the Swiss authorities, which recently launched a national action plan.

Between 2005 and 2011, 475 Brazilians, mostly women, were victims of people trafficking networks, according to the report published at the end of October. Of this total, 337 were forced into prostitution.

Switzerland emerged as the second most popular destination – 127 official cases were reported – after Surinam (133), a transit country for the Netherlands. Spain was third (104), followed by the Netherlands (71). Most victims came from the Brazilian regions of Pernambuco, Bahia and Mato Grosso do Sul.

The study was put together using information gathered by the Brazilian National Justice Secretariat (SNJ), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and destination countries.

Victims generally had similar profiles: poor women aged 10-29, many of whom were married and with low levels of education.

The criminal trafficking networks were split into two. Recruitment and trafficking were normally managed by women – more than half of the heads of the networks – while men dealt with the “second phase”, overseeing the activities the victims were subjected to.

The Brazilian authorities stressed that these statistics were just the tip of the iceberg.

“The study is based only on cases that have been officially reported to trustworthy organisations or victim support centres. Lots of cases do not come to light,” said Fernanda dos Anjos, director of the Brazilian justice ministry.

Brazilian Justice Minister Paulo Abrão echoed this. “One of the characteristics of people trafficking is the invisibility and conspiracy of silence of the victims.”

Underground phenomenon

Little is known about human trafficking in Switzerland. It remains an underground phenomenon and victims often do not report crimes for fear of retribution.

In 2002, the Federal Police Office estimated the number of trafficking victims to be between 1,500-3,000. In recent years the cantons have reported a marked increase in prostitution, which is legal in Switzerland. So there are concerns that this rise may be tied to a higher proportion of foreigners who have been tricked and brought to Switzerland against their will.

According to a federal police report from 2011, most victims in Switzerland are thought to come from Eastern Europe – especially Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria – but also Brazil, Thailand and other Asian nations.

Last month, Bern police announced it had smashed a prostitution ring active in at least four cantons. Seven men and women were arrested including one Swiss and the rest from Thailand, accused of bringing some 50 women and transsexuals into Switzerland illegally from Thailand and forcing them into prostitution.

Human trafficking generates huge amounts of money but with relatively low risks, said the police report. The omertà culture – a code of silence – appears to prevail even in Switzerland. Between 2009 and 2011, 147 cases were lodged, according to the Federal Statistics Office, and since 2000, 66 people have been convicted of trafficking.

National action plan

In recent years Switzerland has stepped up cooperation with countries at risk in order to try to combat this phenomenon. On October 1, the alpine nation adopted a national action plan against human trafficking aimed at increasing penalties for traffickers and better protecting victims.

Between 2008 and 2011, the Swiss government also actively supported the work of UNODC in Brazil. Alongside Norway and Sweden, it gave €50,000 (SFr60,000) a year to Brazil’s national trafficking programme, launched in 2008 and due to continue until 2013.

Rodrigo Vitória, the coordinator of UNODC’s justice office, said the support from Switzerland and other countries had been extremely valuable in the fight against human trafficking.

UNODC used the funds to organise several awareness campaigns in different Brazilian cities and devise an appropriate strategy.

“Brazil is doing a good job in combatting people trafficking,” he said. “It’s revising its laws and it’s created new positions in this area. It has been an interesting experience, as the action plan was the result of participatory work. Brazil is on the right track and is looking to fill the law enforcement posts needed to improve investigations.”

National action plan

On October 1, 2012, Switzerland adopted a national action plan against human trafficking. It has several objectives:

-          to increase public awareness;

-          to toughen criminal prosecution of those responsible; 

-          to identify victims more frequently, and give them more effective help and protection;

-          to improve cooperation within Switzerland and with other countries.

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EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM

Worldwide, 21 million people are the victims of forced labour, human trafficking or other practices similar to slavery, according to estimates made in June 2012 by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
 
Around 5.5 million of those affected are under the age of 18, and around 4.5 million are exploited sexually – primarily women and children. In all, 880,000 are registered in the European Union.

Human trafficking is thought to be the most profitable criminal activity in the world, followed by arms trafficking and then drugs. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), global annual revenues of migrant traffickers amount to $6.75 billion.

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(Translated from Portuguese by Simon Bradley), swissinfo.ch


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