Oscar Leiva/Silverlight for CRS

A Crime Against Humanity

CRS Staff

January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  See how Catholic Relief Services uses a strategy of prevention, protection, prosecution, and partnership to support people at risk of trafficking and read how this work is being carried out in Peru.


Human Trafficking in Peru


“You have behaved badly. That’s why you’re here.”

Fourteen-year-old Eva* thought she was being punished for disobeying her parents. That was what she was told by those who had trafficked her to work in the Peruvian sex trade. It took a social worker to explain to Eva that her parents were actually searching for her, and that her only mistake was that she had trusted a friend too much.

Amalia Ravelo Arias was that social worker. She has worked for Caritas, a partner of Catholic Relief Services, in Madre de Dios, Peru, for 10 years. Madre de Dios, located in southeastern Peru, is part of the Peruvian Amazon. It’s also one of the regions most affected by human trafficking in Peru.

In Eva’s case, a 15-year-old friend told her she should leave her family and make some money. Eva followed her friend out of curiosity. She didn’t know what she was getting herself into.

“Normally, the young girls used to come around 16, 17 years old. Now, they are coming at around 13 or 14. They have been taken from their home with lies,” Amalia says. Those lies come in many forms.

Some girls read and then act on fake advertisements for restaurant workers or nannies. Sometimes a “boyfriend” starts dating a girl and convinces her to move with him.  In other cases, “sponsors” convince a minor’s parents to allow the child to go with them in order to get a better education.

Amalia says this goes on in cities and homes all over Peru, especially those where there are financial or family issues.

“Those who capture know the life and work of each family of each girl. Many of the families have troubles or are dysfunctional. I think [the traffickers] have set their sights on a teenage girl. They follow her and follow her until they succeed in capturing her. Need makes them accept and come to work,” Amalia says.

In many cases, once they are captured, the children–especially girls–are handed off to three or four people. It’s an operation that is meant to be confusing. Much of the travel happens during the night with several people and multiple stops, and is often done via bus. When they reach their final destination, it’s very different than what they were expecting.

Prevention, protection and prosecution


According to the TIP report, Peru acknowledges that different ministries collect overlapping statistics regarding anti-trafficking operations, victim identification, arrests, and convictions. This lack of data standardization can make record keeping difficult.

The office dealing with human trafficking crimes in Madre de Dios has been running for about a year. In that time, Luis, Office of the Special Prosecutor for Human Trafficking Crimes in the department of Madre de Dio,  says the prosecution has rescued and served 322 victims. He says about 30 people are being detained as they wait for a trial and a possible conviction.

“The mere fact of rescuing a victim is as equally important as rescuing all of them because it involves a person. So that motivates us to keep working. That motivates us to continue fighting this fight against human trafficking.” 

– Luis Alberto Sanchez Villaran 

While prosecution is bound to legal capacity, CRS and Church partners work to prevent human trafficking and to protect the victims. Campaigns explain triggers of trafficking to people and bring real-life testimony to communities. People who have escaped or survived trafficking rings are brought back to tell their stories. CRS supports work where policies on trafficking are developed.

“In terms of protection, the Church has been critical in providing safe houses and refuge for women and children who have been caught up in these schemes,” says Joseph Kelly, head of programs, CRS South America.

Pamela Elisa Robles Espinoza, who works with Dominican Missionary Sisters of the Rosary, says human trafficking is a human rights issue, and everyone should be concerned.

“This region has the third highest number of human trafficking victims in the country,” she says. “In trafficking, one of the first rights violated would be that of identity. There is also the right to decent housing or basic services, and the right to work and the right to health.  For minors, there are also the rights to study, have access to school and to a hospital.  Many of these rights are violated in human trafficking.”

Pamela says that few people have been held responsible for human trafficking in the area.  Many call it “the law of the jungle,” where people often turn their head to what is going on. That is starting to change, she says, as institutions join together and are educated about the problem.

Pamela says working with young people early is key to fighting human trafficking.

“So we’ve gone to a school in the state where we’ve proposed three workshops: getting to know each other, talking about trafficking and, through a game, learning how much knowledge they have on the issue of trafficking,” Pamela says.

She says that families also play a role in preventing trafficking.

“Affection is super important. The issue of emotional bonds is very important: to be able to communicate within the family, to be able to listen to each other. In working with young people, what they ask for the most is to be heard,” she says.

“It gives me hope to talk to other young women and say, ‘Look, trafficking is not a story. It is something real. And you and I, and those of us here, as long as we inform ourselves and we educate ourselves, we can do something.” 

– Pamela Elisa Robles Espinoza

*Name changed to protect identity.  This story originally appeared on crs.org. Photo credits: Image 1: courtesy of “Fiscalía contra el delito de trata de personas”/ Image 2 & 3: Óscar Leiva

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