Country Study
36 of 167Prevalence Index Rank


  • 376,800 Estimate number living in Modern Slavery
  • 0.30% Estimate percentage of population living in Modern Slavery
  • 47.02/100 Vulnerability to Modern Slavery
  • BB Government Response Rating
  • 127,017,000 Population
  • $17,108 GDP (PPP)


How many people are in modern slavery in Mexico?

The 2016 Global Slavery Index estimates 376,800 people or 0.30% of the total population live in conditions of modern slavery in Mexico. This is based on a random-sample, nationallyrepresentative survey undertaken in 2015, that sought to identify instances of both forced marriage and forced labour within the general population (survey conducted in Spanish language).

Country Findings of Prevalence


Estimate number enslaved

Victims of modern slavery in Mexico are primarily Mexicans themselves or citizens of Central and South American countries.[1] There have been some isolated cases of victims from Eastern European countries, Asia and Africa.[2] By some estimates, 70 percent of modern slavery cases in Mexico are related to organised crime groups.[3] The various cartels[4] commit kidnappings for forced prostitution and forced labour across all age groups, often with the complicity of local, state and federal authorities.[5] Groups with increased vulnerability include women and children, indigenous people, the disabled, migrants and LGBTQ-identified persons.[6]

Anecdotal evidence from escapees indicates that Mexico's desaparecidos (the disappeared) crisis, where tens of thousands of men, women and children have vanished since 2006, involves camps in which forced prostitution, labour and criminal acts are sanctioned by the cartels.[7]

Commercial sexual exploitation

The commercial sexual exploitation of Mexican women and children both within Mexico and in the USA persists. The city of Tenancingo, Tlaxcala is dubiously dubbed the sex trafficking capital of the world, with often poor, uneducated and indigenous girls duped into 'love relationships' with local men who essentially trap them into forced prostitution.[8] Some of these women and children are relocated to the infamous kerbcrawling district of La Merced, Mexico City where street and brothel-based prostitution is rife.[9]

Others are trafficked across the border into the USA, some serving clients in New York, others being transported around the country to service migrant farm workers in what is known as 'city to farm sex pipelines'.[10] Traffickers from Tenancingo rank on the USA Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) list of most-wanted human traffickers. In 2015, ICE announced it had caught the 12th member of a Tenancingo trafficking ring, the outcome of a lengthy operation that rescued 25 Mexican commercial sex trafficking victims in New York City.[11]

NGOs in El Paso reveal the commercial sexual exploitation of Mexican girls continues on a daily basis in their city and across the USA, with highways in New Mexico and Texas rapidly transporting girls across the country within hours of their arrival across the border.[12]

The commercial sexual exploitation of children to service tourists continues, particularly in the areas of Acapulco, Cancun and Puerto Vallarta.[13] Studies of Mexican children forced to enter sex work found they experienced a higher prevalence of sexual violence and substance use risk, with associated health impacts.[14]

Despite verified evidence of CSE cases in Mexico, the Walk Free survey did not identify any victims in this sector. This is a limitation of the survey highlighting difficulties accessing victims of CSE, rather than a reflection of no cases of CSE occurring.

Forced labour

Low, semi- and unskilled, domestic and foreign labourers are at risk of forced labour within the agricultural sector, particularly in maize harvesting, tomato fields,[15] tomato processing plants[16] and other plantations such as chilli pepper, cucumber and eggplant,[17] in 18 states.[18] News media reported that 49 victims, including children, were found working in a cucumber field under modern slavery conditions in the Mexican region of Colima.[19] This added to the 452 persons found working in conditions of servitude from February to March 2015.[20] In July 2015, exploited agricultural workers from San Quintin Valley staged mass protests against their abusive treatment and conditions.[21]

Mexican seasonal farm workers are also found in conditions of forced labour in the USA, where they are subject to poor living and working conditions that may amount to forced labour— particularly, excessive working hours, withholding and nonpayment of salaries, confinement to plantations, refusal of medical care, and physical and sexual abuse.[22] Under a loophole in US labour laws, children as young as 12 can work in agriculture with no minimum wage requirements or cap on working hours.[23] Mexican workers in the USA also fulfil low-paid and low-skilled roles in food processing, construction, janitorial/cleaning jobs, child/elderly care and manufacturing.[24] A recent study found the highest rate of reported trafficking violations and abusive labour practices occur in the construction industry, with janitorial and cleaning businesses the next worst.[25]

Forced labour is prevalent in the mining sector, with the coal and silver industries accounting for the poor labour conditions of men, women and children in Mexico.[26] There are also reports of modern slavery in the garment sector; in February 2015, a further 129 workers (121 women and eight men, including two adolescents under the age of 18) were rescued from forced labour conditions in a garment factory in Zapopan, Jalisco State.[27]

The Walk Free Foundation Survey did not identifty cases of domestic workers in forced labour. This is despite evidence of the historical exploitation of this group[28] and the fact that more than 2.3 million women are currently employed in this poorly regulated sector. Most domestic workers do not have formal contracts and many domestic-worker maltreatment cases continue to be brought to the attention of NGOs.[29]

Forced marriage

Although the WFF survey results uncovered no cases of forced marriage, the literature suggests that forced and child marriage persists with UNICEF estimating as many as 28 percent of Mexican girls wed before the age of 18.[30]


There have been some reports of kidnapping of babies for illegal adoptions to couples throughout North America and Western Europe[31] though little recent data reveals the prevalence of this type of human trafficking.[32] Surrogacy continued to be a contentious political issue in Mexico in 2015 with some politicians conflating surrogacy with human trafficking. However, it remains unclear to what extent Mexican women are informed and willing to provide this service versus those who are exploited by agencies. On 14 December 2015, the state Congress of Tabasco State approved legislation preventing foreign couples paying women to carry their baby.[33]

Walk Free Foundation 2015 survey data

Number % % male victims % female victims
Forced labour 376,800 100 95 5
Forced marriage 0 0 0 0
Modern slavery total 376,800 100 95 5
Forced labour by sector of exploitation %
Domestic work 0
Construction 69
Manufacturing 0
Other manufacturing 20
Farming 5
Sex Industry 0
Drug production 0
Retail sector 5
Other 0
DK 0
Refused 0
Total 100

Uzbekistan is the world’s sixth largest producer of cotton. During the annual cotton harvest, citizens are subjected to statesanctioned forced labour. Monitoring by international organisations has meant the government has begun to take steps to improve the situation, however, reports from the 2015 harvest estimate that over one million people were forced to work.

Photo credit, Simon Buxton/Anti-Slavery International


What factors explain or predict the prevalence of modern slavery in Mexico?

Endemic internal violence resulting from cartel activity, a high risk of kidnapping[34] and the weak rule of law all contribute to a high risk of modern slavery in Mexico. Cartel violence across North and Central America has displaced many men, women and children resulting in large-scale migration attempts to the United States. Migrants that reach the border of Mexico and the USA remain vulnerable to coyotes and polleros or border 'guides' who may elect to sell them into slavery or hold them in debt bondage once they have entered the United States.[35]

Average Vulnerability Score


CountryCivil & Political ProtectionsSocial, Health, & Economic RightsPersonal SecurityRefugees & ConflictMean

Limited formal employment opportunities for Mexican men in some smaller towns is reportedly driving them to become pimps and traffickers. In turn, they are deceptively recruiting women and children into the commercial sex industry. Women from poor southern states, particularly Chiapas, Oaxaca and Guerrero are highly vulnerable to recruitment into the sex industry in Northern Mexico and abroad, as limited livelihood opportunities exist in their villages.[36] Young indigenous girls and those from the mestizo ethnic group are highly vulnerable to coercion into the commercial sex industry—mestizo women are favoured for their fair skin while traffickers can purchase indigenous women at the lowest price.[37]

Persisting government corruption and involvement at local, state and federal levels allows organised crime groups to operate freely in the country.[38] Some public officials are known to accept bribes from traffickers, extort bribes and sexual services from adults and children in the commercial sex sector and irregular migrants, and threaten victims with prosecution if they do not file official complaints against their traffickers.[39] Some cartel members have infiltrated institutions obligated to uphold the rule of law, leaving victims unwilling and often unable to come forward to authorities to report abuse without fear of re-victimisation. Ongoing, horrific, unpunished human rights violations in Mexico perpetuate the climate of impunity for perpetrators.

From the 'Less than Human' series. A large cargo boat is seen in Songkla Port, Thailand. 09/03/2014. Photographer Chris Kelly worked undercover to expose the link between prawns being sold in big name supermarkets, and the slaves who live and work on Thai fishing boats miles out to sea.

Photo credit, Chris Kelly

Government Response

How is the Mexico Government tackling modern slavery?

Despite initial hopes that Mexico's National Programme for the Prevention, Punishment and Eradication of Crimes on Trafficking in Persons and the Protection and Assistance to Victims 2014— 2018 would reduce trafficking, at the time of writing, no funds were allocated to execute the plan. National activists report that the human trafficking response is fragmented with some states, such as Coahuila, actively policing and prosecuting cases, and others implementing localised anti-trafficking committees.[40] However, NGOs report that only half of Mexico's states are performing prevention and prosecution, leaving significant gaps in victim protection.

Government Response Rating


Mexico has taken steps to combat modern slavery crimes at a transnational level by signing agreements with some key countries including Guatemala, Peru and the USA to streamline and strengthen coordination. Particularly important is the Merida Initiative between the USA and Mexico, still operational from 2008, focusing on combating transnational organised crime including trafficking.[41] Gaps in Mexico's provision of victim shelters and ad hoc referral processes have resulted in victim identification and support as Mexico's weakest response area. NGOs reported a desperate need for government supported compensation for victims and support services, with many services provided through private financing.[42]

Throughout 2015, criminal charges have been laid against traffickers, particularly for cases of sexual exploitation. In October 2015, six traffickers were charged for the exploitation of 27 people in Mexico City.[43] This follows success in sentencing the first person for child labour exploitation in 2014. Four people were sentenced to four years and six months in prison for forcing ten children aged between seven and 17 years to work and beg in the town of Texcoco.[44] In January 2016, after a lengthy police operation in Cancun, 16 trafficking victims were rescued, seven of whom were minors, and six people were arrested. NGOs reported this was indicative of better police awareness of and attention to trafficking crimes, particularly victims of commercial sexual exploitation.[45]

These are positive steps by the Mexican Government, which has previously displayed consistently low levels of convictions in cases of modern slavery.[46] Mexico's efforts to build the capacity of the legal profession through wide-ranging training programmes are contributing to a stronger criminal justice response. However, these developments must be closely monitored considering the complicity of Mexican officials in human rights abuses and corruption in modern slavery cases.[47]

There is slow momentum to combat the sexual abuse of Mexican children in Puerto Vallarta—the Ministry of Tourism signed a National Conduct Code for the Protection of Children in the Travel and Tourism Sector, which identifies hotels and accommodation establishments as free from human trafficking.[48] Although NGOs suggest that many hotels continue to turn a blind eye to blatant cases of child sexual abuse.[49]

Rajshahi, Bangladesh, January 2013. Dipa is 13 years old and has been engaged in prostitution for five months. She used to go to school, but stopped in class three after her family could no longer afford to send her. Her two sisters are also engaged in prostitution, but clients prefer to visit Dipa as she is the youngest of the three. She gets between four or five clients and earns about 1,200 Taka (US$15) a day.

Photo credit, Pep Bonet/ NOOR


What do we recommend


  • Investigate and prosecute government officials at all levels complicit in modern slavery cases in Mexico.
  • Increase investigations and prosecutions of drug cartels for crimes relating to modern slavery including forced labour and forced prostitution.
  • Strengthen victim identification processes at border crossings into the US, and at airports, bus and train stations, particularly around the human trafficking of children and young adults.
  • Create a national coordination mechanism to streamline the implementation of each state's counter-trafficking legislation.
  • Promote legal and regulated migration as the safest means of emigration to increase the number of Mexicans emigrating via formal channels.
  • Develop a comprehensive strategy to raise awareness among labour migrants on their rights in destination countries.
  • Strengthen workers' organisations and unions to empower workers through the delivery of information about human rights and labour rights.


  • Businesses operating in the tourist sector should adopt the National Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children and Adolescents in Sector Travel and Tourism.
  • Members of the National Association of Hotels and Motels (Asociación de Hoteles y Moteles) should continue to train employers on victim identification.
  • Sectors particularly vulnerable to child labour, including agriculture and construction, should join efforts to implement industry-wide standards on policies and practices to address the use of forced child labour.
  • Businesses employing Mexican citizens abroad should verify policies on the recruitment of migrant workers, ensuring all employers are employed via legal and regular channels.


  1. Diagnostico Nacional: Sobre le Situacion de Trata de Personas en Mexico, (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2014), accessed 02/04/16:
  2. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Mexico Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2015), p. 244, accessed 02/02/16:
  3. Ioan Grillo, 'The Mexican Drug Cartels’ Other Business: Sex Trafficking', Time Magazine, July 31, 2013: accessed 03/02/16:
  4. Currently, the most active cartels include the Zetas, the Knights Templar, Barrio Azteca, BLO, Tijuana, Juarez, Sinaloa, Gulf, and EPR. 
  5. Mexico’s Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored, (Human Rights Watch, 2013), pp. 20–30, accessed 03/02/16:
  6. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Mexico Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2015), pp. 243-244, accessed 02/02/16:
  7. Miriam Wells, 'Criminal Groups Enslaving Mexicans in ‘Forced Labor Camps', Insight Crime, July 15, 2013: and Mexico’s Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored (Human Rights Watch, 2013), pp. 20–30, acessed 03/02/16:,
  8. Nina Lakhani, 'Teancingo: The Small Town at the Dark Heart of Mexico’s Sex-Slave Trade', The Guardian, April 5, 2015, see also: Juan Diego Quesada, 'El Pueblo de los Ninos Proxenetas', El Pais, June 30, 2013, accessed 03/02/16:,
  9. Anel Hortensia and Gomes San Luis, 'Prostitution of Young Girls and Adolescents: an Approach to Their Social Representation Among Traders o' ʻLa Merced'', Peninsula 9, no.2, (August 2014), accessed 04/03/16:
  10. Christina Sterbenz, 'City-to-Farm Sex Pipelines Expose a Disturbing Trend in America', Business Insider, February 7, 2015, accessed 04/02/16:
  11. Judith Matloff, 'Brothel State in Mexico is Conduit for Human Trafficking in New York', Al Jazeera America, June 1, 2015, accessed 04/02/16:
  12. Personal communication. 
  13. 'IOM Works with Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Combat Child Trafficking', International Organization for Migration, October 24, 2014, accessed 04/02/16:
  14. Goldenberg et al., 'Exploring the Impact of Underage Sex Work Among Female Sex Workers in Two Mexico–US Border Cities', AIDS and Behavior 16(4) (2012): pp. 969–981, accessed 04/02/16: 
  15. Richard Marosi, 'Hardship on Mexico’s Farms, a Bounty for U.S. Tables', Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2014, accessed 04/02/16: 
  16. 'Mexico Rescues 275 Workers From ‘Slavery’ At Tomato Plant in Toliman', Agence France Presse, June 13, 2013, accessed 04/02/16:
  17. Richard Marosi, 'Hardship on Mexico’s Farms, a Bounty for U.S. Tables', Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2014, accessed 04/02/16:
  18. Namely, Sinaloa, Sonora, Baja California, Baja California Sur, Chihuahua, Guanajuato, Zacatecas, Jalisco, Nayarit, Colima, San Luis Potosí, Querétaro, Veracruz, Morelos, Hidalgo, Michoacán, Mexico State and Chiapas 
  19. 'More Farm Labourers Working as Slaves, Mexico News Daily, March 24, 2015, accessed 04/02/16:
  20. As above. 
  21. Guillermo Castillo, 'San Quintin Valley: From Labor Abuse to Labor Mobilization', Americas Program, July 16, 2015, accessed 04/02/16:
  22. 'Human Trafficking and Farmworkers', Freedom Network USA, March 2013; See also: "Who are guestworkers?", National Guestworker Alliance, 2013:,
  23. Stephen Stock and David Paredes, 'Child Labor: Young Hands Picking Our Food', NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit, August 31, 2012, accessed 06/02/16:
  24. Sheldon Zhang, Looking for a Hidden Population: Trafficking of Migrant Laborers in San Diego County, (San Diego State University, 2012), p. 11, accessed 05/02/16:
  25. As above, p. 12. 
  26. 'Mexico – Country Mining Guide', (KPMG International, 2013), p. 17, accessed 06/02/16:
  27. 'Mexico Rescues 129 Workers, Including Children, ‘Abused’ at Garment Factory', ABC News, February 6, 2015, accessed 06/02/16:
  28. Personal communication. 
  29. Katy Watson, 'Maids in Mexico: Defending the Rights of Domestic Workers', BBC News, December 23, 2015, accessed 06/02/16:
  30. "At a Glance: Mexico", UNICEF
  31. Erin Siegal, 'Mexico Adoption Bust Reveals Vast Child Trafficking Ring', The Huffington Post, February 29, 2012: ; See also: 'Women Held in Mexico-to-Ireland’ Adoption Racket', MSNBC, July 17, 2012, accessed 01/04/16:,
  32. Carolin Schurr and Laura Perler, ''Trafficked’ into a Better Future? Why Mexico Needs to Regulate its Surrogacy Industry (and Not Ban It)', Open Democracy, December 17, 2015, accessed 03/03/16:
  33. 'Tabasco lawmakers end foreign surrogacy', Mexico News Daily, December 15, 2015, accessed 03/03/16;
  34. Joshua Partlow, 'Kidnappings in Mexico Surge to the Highest Number on Record', The Washington Post, August 15, 2014, accessed 02/04/16:
  35. Edson Servan-Mori et al, 'Migrants Suffering Violence While in Transit through Mexico: Factors Associated with the Decision to Continue or Turn Back;, Journal of Immigrant Minority Health 16, no.1 (February 2014), pp. 53–59, doi: 10.1007/s10903-012-9759-3. 
  36. Diagnostico Nacional: Sobre le Situacion de Trata de Personas en Mexico, (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2014), accessed 02/04/16:
  37. Arun Kumar Acharya, 'Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Women and Girls in Mexico: An Analysis on Impact of Violence on Health Status', Journal of Intercultural Studies 35 no.1 (March 2014), p. 189, accessed 02/03/16:
  38. 'Mexico’s Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored', (Human Rights Watch, 2013), pp. 20–30, accessed 06/02/16:
  39. Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons ,Trafficking in Persons Report: Mexico Country Narrative, (United States Department of State, 2015), p. 244: accessed 02/03/16:
  40. Personal communication. 
  41. Clare Ribando Seelke and Kristin Finklea, U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: The Merida Initiative and Beyond, (Congressional Research Service, 2016), p. 1, accessed 05/03/16:
  42. Personal communication. 
  43. 'PGJDF Rescued 27 Trafficking Victims in Cuauhtemoc Colony', Quadratin Veracruz, October 25, 2015, accessed 05/03/16:
  44. Heriberto Santos, 'Condenan a Cuatro Personas por Explotación Laboral en Edome', El Milenio, June 15, 2014 accessed 04/02/16:
  45. Personal communication. 
  46. Programa Nacional para Prevenir, Sancionar y Erradicar los Delitos en Materia de Trata de Personas y Para la Protección y Asistencia a las Víctimas de Estos Delitos 2014–2018, (Mexico Secretary of the Interior, 2014), p. 28, accessed 16/02/16:
  47. Mexico’s Disappeared: The Enduring Cost of a Crisis Ignored, (Human Rights Watch, 2013), p. 3, accessed 04/02/16: ; see also Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, Trafficking in Persons Report: Mexico Country Narrative (United States Department of State, 2015), p. 271, accessed 04/02/16:,
  48. 'IOM Works with Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Combat Child Trafficking', International Organisation for Migration, October 24, 2014, accessed 09/02/16:;nmm
  49. Personal communication. 


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