ASUNCION – Paraguay prosecutor Teresa Martinez has declared war on the criminal groups controlling two of the most lucrative and harmful illegal trades: people trafficking and the sexual exploitation of minors.
Martinez has headed the department that fights these crimes for the past 10 years and has more than 30 years experience working with children and teenagers, a period during which Paraguay has made some progress but also has suffered reversals, she said in an interview with EFE.
Among the successes, she emphasized the “de-judicialization of social problems connected with children,” meaning that problems such as street children or child exploitation have ceased being the province of judges and have moved into the purview of the social protection system.
However, she warned that this system has never been fully implemented because it has no formal budget, and there are no public policies or enough investment to properly respond to these problems.
“Those public policies did not have the necessary budgets to be able to enforce children’s rights. That thinking of compassion and repression, theoretically abandoned in 2001 with the childhood laws, continues,” she said.
These failures in the system of protecting minors are evident, for example, in behavior called “criadazgo” rooted in Paraguay in which a low-income family provides one of its children to a higher-income family in exchange for their providing food and education, a situation involving some 47,000 minors.
In most cases, she said, criadazgo in a type of internal people trafficking because it creates a system of acquisition, transfer and labor exploitation of minors, who “become domestic slaves without pay, and who suffer mistreatment.”
International people trafficking also has made Paraguay a country of origin, transit and destination for the criminal groups specializing in it, one of the operational hubs of which is Ciudad del Este on the triple border with Argentina and Brazil.
According to UN data, women comprise 70 percent of the victims of people trafficking, an illicit trade bringing in $32 billion worldwide to criminal groups each year.