Poverty and Human Trafficking

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

Fourteen-year-old Eva* thought she was being punished for disobeying her parents.
That’s what the people who trafficked her to work in the Peruvian sex trade told her. Social worker Amalia Ravelo Arias had to explain that Eva’s parents were actually searching for her, and her only mistake was trusting a friend too much.

Amalia Ravelo Arias works for Catholic Relief Services’ partner Caritas in Madre de Dios, Peru, one of the regions most affected by human trafficking. The local government rescued 322 victims in the last year alone.

In Eva’s case, a friend told her she should leave her family and make some money. Other girls respond to fake advertisements for restaurant workers or nannies. In other cases, a “boyfriend” convinces a girl to move with him or parents allow “sponsors” to take their children to get a better education.

Human trafficking in Madre de Dios and surrounding areas has a strong connection to illegal gold mining. An estimated 80% of the local economy depends on mining. Much of it is being done illegally, which means the workers are not registered. But for those lacking a national identity document, the mines may be their only chance for employment.

“They create entertainment centers, bars and brothels. Madre de Dios is truly a place where the issue of trafficking is a very serious problem. Women are pulled from their place of origin, from their communities. They bring them to Madre de Dios to make them work in a forced way in those bars and those brothels. The bulk of that population is underage women. They are girls,” says Tattiana Cortrina, CRS Peru project manager.

Even the migrants who travel to Madre de Dios of their own free will can fall victim to human trafficking. They are recruited in their communities with stories of others striking it rich and get very few details about employment conditions. Some workers may receive money or clothing as “gifts,” which turn out to be debts to be repaid. Other workers are sold by their family members, who receive money for recruiting them. When they get to the camps, they do not receive a salary. Instead they are told they are paying off their “debt.”

Our Catholic faith calls us to defend life and human dignity, to fight conditions that lead to the enslavement of people. CRS and Church partners work to prevent human trafficking and to protect the victims in Madre de Dios and beyond. We provide safehouses for victims and educate communities about trafficking.

Through Catholics Confront Global Poverty, CRS and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops are pushing for U.S. policies that assist victims, combat human trafficking and address its root cause—poverty. Join us as we urge our legislators to support transparency in supply chains and ensure our products are not the result of child and forced labor, slavery and human trafficking.

*Name changed to protect identity