Melissa was barley 12 years old when she was sold to traffickers by a family member. She was chained to a bed in a cellar and abused daily by between five and 30 men. She was beaten and even burned by her captors.
Melissa’s story isn’t one of centuries ago nor did it occur in a distant land. Her cruel reality was revealed by the U.S. press barley a year ago.
The young girl was able to miraculously escape from her captors, but such as happens to many victims; she spent many years trying to flee her past and even ended up in jail.
Human trafficking continues to be a widespread problem in the 21st century, as international organizations have warned.
Every year millions of women, men, and children fall victim to this lucrative business. They face sexual exploitation, are forced to perform demanding and often dangerous jobs in homes, factories, and on farms around the world, while others suffer many other forms of abuse, including forced marriages or the organ trade.
The most recent global report on trafficking in persons by the UN reveals the true scale of the problem. According to the document, all nations are affected to some degree by human trafficking which takes place in at least 152 key source countries, and 124 destinations; while over 510 routes have been identified worldwide.
The most vulnerable sectors of society are increasingly becoming the targets of this kind of crime: 33% of known victims are children, up by 5% as compared to the period from 2007-2010. Girls (two out of every three child victims) and women currently represent 70% of victims worldwide.
In 2010, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a global action plan to combat human trafficking, calling on world governments to stop this scourge.
Cuba is one of the countries making a concerted effort to end this evil. According to a report presented last year and featuring figures from 2014, the island continues to implement a “zero tolerance” policy regarding any form of trafficking in persons, as well as other crimes linked to exploitation or sexual abuse.
As such the country undertakes “a group of actions and measures which aim to increase prevention and actions to combat such crimes, severely punishing the authors and protecting the victims, while expanding our international collaboration as a State-Party to the various international legal instruments on these issues,” according to Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations.
The document highlights that the island “is not a destination, stopover, or source country for trafficking in persons, particularly for child sexual abuse, or where criminal organizations connected with those offenses are based. During 2014, there were no cases of sale or trafficking in children for sexual purposes.”
This has been possible thanks to the decisive action and coordination of bodies affiliated with the Attorney General of the Republic, the judicial system, and a group of organizations linked to the Central State Administration and institutions such as the National Center for Sex Education (Cenesex) and Non-governmental organizations such as the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC).
“Human traffickers prey on the most desperate and vulnerable. To end this inhumane practice, we must do more to shield migrants and refugees -- and particularly young people, women, and children -- from those who would exploit their yearnings for a better, safer, and more dignified future,” stated UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on World Day against Trafficking in Persons, last July 30.
Cuba’s legal framework and results
Cuba has legal instruments which allow it to tackle human trafficking and other associated crimes through a group of punishable offenses.
Article 302.1 of the Penal Code punishes anyone who uses prostitution or any other form of sexual trade for their benefit, to address pimping and related trafficking in persons.
Article 2310.1 of the Penal Code punishes anyone who uses a minor under 16 years of age for prostitution, acts of corruption, pornography, begging, or other dishonest actions.
Article 316 of the Penal Code Punishes all those who sell or transfer for adoption a minor under 16 years of age to another person, in exchange for financial or any other type of compensation.
Prevention, protection, and assistance initiatives are the joint responsibility of the mass media, the ministries of Tourism, Communications, Education, the work of the FMC, Cenesex, Diagnostics and Orientation Centers, health organizations, legal bodies, the National Revolutionary Police (PNR), and other organizations. Cuba periodically presents reports and its experiences on preventing and combating human trafficking before the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the international community. The country is currently party to 11 extradition treaties and 25 legal assistance agreements; it has also signed or ratified nine international instruments geared toward stopping human trafficking and protecting children.
Cuba is not classified as a destination, transit or source country for trafficking in persons and in 2014 there were no cases of the sale of, or trafficking in, children for sexual purposes. Although no cases associated with transnational trafficking were tried, in 2014, 122 domestic cases regarding pimping or human trafficking, and 21 related to the corruption of minors, were brought to trial.