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Panama: The Starfish Project

"One day an old man was walking down the beach just before dawn. In the distance he saw a young man picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the sea. As the old man approached the young man, he asked, "Why do you spend so much energy doing what seems to be a waste of time?" The young man explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. The old man exclaimed, "But there must be thousands of starfish. How can your efforts make any difference?" The young man looked down at the starfish in his hand and as he threw it to safety in the sea, he said, "It makes a difference to this one!"
— Loren Eiseley

As you drive through El Dorado, neon lights flash with words like, Fantastic Casino, Lucky Casino and alluring names like Club Miami and Gold Fingers. There are numerous massage parlors and sex shops with tinted black windows concealing, but nonetheless purveying pornographic material and sexual encounters by the hour. El Dorado undeniably promotes and advocates gambling and the sex trade. And it's not just El Dorado, other parts of the city are host to brothels, bars and actual persons on the street "working their trade".

Unfortunately prostitution is legal in Panama, though regulated by requiring prostitutes be registered and carry ID cards. According to the U.S. Department of State’s 2008 Human Rights Report for Panama, 2,650 sex workers were registered with the government, but the majority of the prostitutes were not. There is no accurate information regarding the number of persons practicing prostitution in the country. Although the law prohibits trafficking of people for the purpose of sexual exploitation and forced labor, people are trafficked to, from, in and through the country. The report found that most victims trafficked into the country came from Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and Central America, and their final destination was Jamaica and Europe. There were many cases of child prostitution, child pornography, and child trafficking, though the majority of victims were women older than 18.

Recently, it has become evident that more young women from Slavic countries are being trafficked to and through Panama. Additionally, children have been murdered for their organs and indigenous girls have been lured from their villages with the promise of a job working as a nanny; only to find themselves thrust into the dark and dismal world of prostitution.

The Starfish Project is part of the vision of one, to end human trafficking for all. The initial goal was not to begin a coalition building organization, but to create an organization that would provide a safe haven to victims. However, it has become evident that not only is a safe haven critical, there is also an emergent need in Panama to facilitate anti-trafficking coalition building, educational outreach, and collaboration with other national and international organizations in the global fight against human trafficking.

The mission of The Starfish Project-Panama is to work toward the elimination of trafficking in persons, especially women and children trafficked for the purpose of forced labor and in particular sexual exploitation.

Activities through which the mission is actualized include:

  • Educating the general public in The Republic of Panama, on the regional, national, and international scope of trafficking, forced labor, and in particular sexual exploitation.
  • Conducting research pertaining specifically to the trafficking of women and children including documenting specific cases, contributing causes, regional public policy, and the psychosocial implications of trafficking.
  • Advocating for the judicial, legal and law enforcement systems to become accountable enforcers of the laws and rights of the people in Panama through a system of checks and balances of those with the power to enforce the law; the provision of mental health services; and other psychosocial reintegration support for victims of trafficking.
  • Collaborating with organizations working to eradicate human trafficking, including non-governmental organizations, governmental agencies, and grassroots advocacy groups. Especially as it relates to enforcement of laws and rights and accountability of those in positions of power and influence in the judicial and legal systems.
  • To provide a safe haven for those in Panama who have been identified as victims of human trafficking.

For more information on how you can partner with us in this work, please contact us at jjacklaw@gmail.com

If your case falls outside our area of practice, we can still get you the help you need. We can refer you to a local, highly-specialized legal professional. For cases involving:

  • Employment Litigation
  • Personal Bankruptcy

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