A Daughter, Stolen

When her child disappeared this summer, a Bolivian lawyer became a leader in the war on trafficking. Her story, at the Women in the World Summit.

In one of the most wrenching stories of the day at the Women in the World Summit in Brazil, Marcela Martínez Sempértegui, a lawyer and leader in Bolivia's opposition MNR party, told the story of the day her daughter disappeared.

This past June, her 17-year-old daughter Zarlet was kidnapped on the streets of La Paz, apparently by human traffickers connected to an international drug cartel. Since then, Sempértegui has become a leader in the war on human trafficking, suspending her legal practice and all her political commitments to launch a round-the-clock search for her daughter.

Speaking out against a faulty justice system, she has organized vigils and has rallied the families of loved ones who have gone missing to protest against human trafficking, one of Latin America’s most vicious crime rings.

Human trafficking is a multibillion-dollar business around the world, ensnaring people who are kidnapped or tricked into forced labor and prostitution. “It’s a question of historical and social significance. Women have constantly been the most vulnerable,” said Claudia Patricia de Luna Silva Lago, an attorney and the president of the nonprofit women’s group Elas por Elas Vozes e Ações das Mulheres, at the summit. She joined Marisela Morales Ibáñez, former attorney general of Mexico, to discuss the problem with journalist Monica Waldvogel.

The U.S. State Department estimates that 27 million people are victims of modern slavery today. Hillary Clinton said this summer in releasing the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report, “I think labeling this for what it is—slavery—has brought it to another dimension.”