Articles on Modern Day Enslavement - Zola M Dube

In midst of Latin American human trafficking pandemic Uruguay seeks to reduce poverty

In 13 Days of Awareness: 13 Nations Profiled on June 30, 2010 at 5:41 PM

Although it might not seem like it, garbage is a huge, multibillion dollar business, and it’s about time that the weakest link in the chain, the sorters, have a decent life and are respected for our silent contribution to the environment.

– Marcelo Conde, Vice President of Union of Urban Solid Waste Sorters

The global estimate of human trafficking revenues is a staggering $32 billion. Of this amount, $16 billion is generated out of Latin America alone. In Uruguay, the usual suspects – commercial sex trafficking and forced labor – are the bulk of human trafficking.

Between 1986 and 2003 the nation experienced a significant increase in the number of children living in poverty; a contributing factor to human trafficking. According to a 2004 report by UNICEF in Montevideo, in 1986 for every poor adult over sixty-five there were two children living in poverty. In 1995 the number escalated to seven children living in poverty, and in 2003 nine children. In a nutshell, the face of poverty in Uruguay has been children.

The relaxation of labor laws in Uruguay over the past three decades opened up children to the informal job market. Mora Podestra is one of Uruguay’s prominent child rights advocates. Since the late 1980s, the work of NGO leaders like Podestra has kept the needs of children in the consciousness of people, particularly among Uruguay’s middle-class. Her work has included helping families create the condition for kids to stay home, strengthening social awareness about street kids and building a national sense of social responsibility. She has implemented projects in Montevideo through programs sponsored by UNICEF and the Inter-American Foundation and provided a foundation of models of success for future projects.

In an article published in 2004 by Raul Pierri, it was reported that seven out of ten children who work did not attend school. Children as young as nine years old “work” in the city. The jobs performed vary from selling poems, singing, and domestic servitude to dumpster diving, aka waste pickers, garbage sorters, or “hugardores” (derogatory term). On the more sinister side, children are sold to traffickers through a web of deception, parental selling and child abduction.

In recent years, the government has created programs that seek to integrate the nations impoverished into the mainstream job market and out of poverty by formalizing the informal job sector. One area of success has been the role of garbage sorters in waste management.

PANES or National Plan to Address the Social Emergency, is leading an anti-poverty initiative. Among the objectives are: raise the wages of workers above the poverty level, reduce the number of employed children and ensure that children stay in school, and restore the dignity of people through a work code that includes uniforms.

During Uruguay’s military dictatorship from 1973 to 1985 dumpster divers, called “hurgudores” were arrested if caught. Today, Uruguay Clasifica (Uruguay Sorts) are no longer on the fringe of society’s superfluous and invisible people, but recognized as valuable contributors to the nation’s waste management needs. Home appliances are refurbished, clothes, shoes, and furniture in good condition are sold in Montevideo’s street markets. Eligibility for PANES services is limited as family incomes actually exceeded Uruguay’s official poverty line.

Numerous studies on human trafficking have indicated that poverty opens up the gateway to human exploitation. Uruguay presents a viable case study for the impact of poverty alleviation on reduction in human trafficking. Compared to Brazil and Argentina, Uruguay does have proportionately lower levels of human trafficking, however further studies are required to prove a correlation.

– Zola Dube

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