Would you pimp to save your daughter?


Argentine Susana Trimarco, a prominent campaigner against human trafficking, speaks after winning an award from the US State Department in 2007.



Susana Trimarco's daughter went missing in 2002, and she has taken great pains to look for her ever since.

Trimarco even dressed up like a pimp and scoured the country's brothels in search of her daughter she says was kidnapped by a sex-trafficking gang.

Now, 13 suspects are on trial in an Argentine court in connection to the kidnapping and sexual exploitation of her daughter, Marita Veron.

The Argentine mother recently told her harrowing story to BBC Mundo, the UK broadcaster's Spanish-language service, which on Tuesday posted excerpts of the interview.

"I dressed up and put on makeup and made myself pass for a pimp," Trimarco told the BBC. She went to brothels in the northwest province of La Rioja, saying she was recruiting female workers for her prostitution business.

"All the [women] had a look of horror. There were some just 14 years old. When you looked at them they'd drop their heads and cover their scantily dressed bodies. Their bodies showed the terror and pain they suffered," Trimarco said.

Marita Veron has not turned up. Court testimonies reportedly suggest that Veron might have gone to Spain or died.

But Trimarco's undercover work sparked a movement to break up sex-trade rings.

It turned her into something of a national hero, spawned a popular soap opera, and won her an International Women of Courage Award from the US State Department in 2007.

Read more: Trafficked people flow across Argentina's triple border

It also prodded Argentina to crack down harder on the sex trade and pull women out of the country's sex underworld. 

The United Nations estimates 2.5 million people are in forced labor, including sexual exploitation, at any given time as a result of trafficking. Ten percent of them are in Latin America and the Caribbean.

In 2008 Argentina passed a law against human trafficking. The government boasts having rescued some 3,000 women from the sex trade thanks to the law, Inter Press Service reported.

Last year, the government banned prostitution ads in mass media.

Yet despite the clamp down, the US State Department still called out Argentina in its 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report. Argentina is a "tier 2" country, meaning: 

The Government of Argentina does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so.

The report continues saying Argentina has identified record numbers of victims, including many of forced labor. But convictions remain low and specialized services are uneven across the country. Worse, the State Department joined the UN and non-governmental organizations in pointing to government complicity at local and federal levels that prevents anti-trafficking efforts.

It seems more was expected from the government of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.

Meanwhile, Trimarco and her foundation have helped hundreds of women but she said she still is hoping to get her daughter back.