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On 5th July 2011, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner signed a decree banning all “adult services” sections published in the classified ads – known as “Rubro 59”– of Argentine media. In seven articles, Decree 936 spells out provisions to prohibit “explicit or implicit reference to the solicitation of people for sex trade, by any means”. It also orders the creation of a special branch of the human rights ministry called ‘The Office of Monitoring the Publication of Sexual Commerce Advertisements’ that will survey all classified ads to make sure that the law is followed.
“Newspapers can’t print headlines demanding that we fight human trafficking, while their back pages present ads that humiliate women” said President Fernández during the ceremony at the “Women’s Hall” in Casa Rosada. “This is a giant step forward in the fight against double morals and hypocrisy.”
The Fight Against Human Trafficking
Among the special guests at the ceremony was Susana Trimarco, founder of the Fundación Maria de los Ángeles, an NGO that fights against human trafficking. Trimarco started the organization in 2002, after her daughter Marita disappeared.
“In the search for my daughter I found the face of human trafficking in Argentina. Rather than being intimidated, I continued searching with much more momentum and strength, finding dozens of young women and providing them assistance to get out of trafficking networks and to reconnect with their families.” Trimarco expressed gratitude to President Fernández for what she saw as a step forward in ending human trafficking.
In addition to Fundación Maria de los Ángeles, dozens of other Argentine NGOs are incorporated in a network of Argentine NGOs called “Red No a la Trata”, or the Network against Human Trafficking. La Casa Del Encuentro, or the Meeting House, is one of the feminist organisations included in the Network. Fabiana Tuñez, administrator of the Meeting House, also spoke in favor of Decree 936. “The problem has been the absence of official figures on this activity in Argentina, and the lack of government work on the subject,” she explained.
Jane Kellum, a member of the team at the Meeting House, added, “From our perspective here in La Casa, we’re 100% in agreement [with the new decree]. We think every step made to stop trafficking is a step forward.” Though the Meeting House has a policy of not commenting on the presidency, Kellum added, “We do believe that there has been progress since 2008. That’s a statement I can make. Rubro 59 is a huge step.”
In April 2008, during the first half of Fernández’s presidential term, congress passed a law that formally and legally prohibited all forms of human trafficking. The law bans the collection of people, whether for sexual exploitation, slavery-like practices, forced labour, or illegal harvesting of organs and tissues. Convicted perpetrators face up to six years in prison, or up to 15 if the victim is a minor. The enactment of the law was followed by over a hundred raids within six months, which resulted in 120 arrests and 133 rescues. Controversially, though, only 33 of those arrested remained in detention by the end of 2008.
During her speech on 5th July, President Fernández reminded the attendees that ending human trafficking has been one of her priorities during her presidency. She recalled that since 2008, 2,221 people were released from captivity in various networks of sexual or laboyr exploitation, 1,044 of which were women.
This Tuesday, 19th July, another initiative in the campaign against human trafficking was put into effect: an emergency line exclusively dedicated to human trafficking. Any person suspecting or experiencing any activity related to trafficking, regardless of situation, and can call the number 145 and reach help. The line, dependent on the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, is completely free, anonymous and independent of the federal police, and will be open for calls starting 29th July. “There’s a level of transparency that’s a really positive step. This is something that’s been needed for a long time,” said Kellum about this latest initiative.
Sex Workers Feel Targeted
Though human trafficking was criminalised in 2008, prostitution remains legal in Argentina. According to Luis Jorge Cevasco, law professor and former Secretary of the National Court for Criminal Sentencing, “There are no laws that prohibit charging money to have sex, but it is not legal to carry out sex acts in brothels.”
In fact, in 1994 a group of sex workers in Argentina formed a union called the Argentine Union of Female Sex Workers (AMMAR) in response to constant arrests and police violence. The union, which now has over 1,700 members and is an integrated part of the Argentine Workers’ Center (CTA) and the Latina American and Caribbean Network of Sex Workers (RedTraSex), lists three principal demands: respect for their right to practice their profession freely, government assistance and recognition, and harsher punishments for human trafficking.
AMMAR opposes President Fernández’s decree, arguing in a press statement that “the government should not get carried away with alleged magical solutions. Banning ads is a measure that only succeeds in criminalising our business.”
The organisation was apparently unconvinced by the president’s insistence several times during her speech at the Women’s Hall that the ban on Rubro 59 “does not mean a condemnation of women who work in prostitution, but the defense of an inalienable human right.” The president expressed pity for the plight of female sex workers, saying, “This is just one of the many acts of discrimination against women, maybe even the most humiliating one. We will never condemn a woman [sex worker], because in most cases, no one has the chance to choose the life they lead.”
The Upcoming Election
Those who oppose President Fernández, such as alderman candidate for Rosario, Agapito Blanco, have argued that Decree 936 is an empty populist statement that targets women’s votes in the upcoming election. Blanco says that President Fernández’s solution is merely “cosmetic,” failing to consider the issue of regulating sexual offerings as a whole, taking into account the “broad spectrum and the simultaneity of social nuances.”