An anti-human trafficking coalition identified a number of possible prostitution recruitment centers throughout Ciudad Juarez this week, prompting the Chihuahua State Attorney General’s office to launch its first-ever investigation of human trafficking in the city.

The investigation is a direct response to a complaint filed Monday by a coalition of human rights organizations, including the State Commission of Human Rights, regarding the 2009 disappearance of 17-year old Jessica Terranzas (photo above). Terranzas left her home in December of 2009 to look for work, but was never heard from again. According to Ciudad Juarez’s El Diario, human trafficking has long been a concern in the city, but advocates lacked concrete evidence to bring the matter to authorities.

The complaint alleges that delinquents “hooked” teenage girls looking for work in the city’s downtown area, posting misleading wanted ads in clubs, bakeries, internet cafes, and even schools.

Human trafficking and child abduction are becoming increasingly common in Mexico, as drug cartels diversify their criminal portfolios. Human trafficking, kidnapping and extortion are on the rise as gangs look to increase their earnings as drug interdiction efforts by both the Mexican and United States governments are stepped up. Last month, the president of Mexico’s Association of Missing and Stolen Children estimated that the country has more than 50,000 child abductees, referring to the country as the “Bangkok of Latin America.”  There are suggestions that human trafficking is now the third most lucrative industry in the world.

Both the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels are currently fighting for control of Ciudad Juarez, which saw a record murder rate last year. According to testimony by Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias “La Barbie,” arrested in August 2010 in Mexico City, the two organizations were once allied. In 2007, however, Sinaloa boss Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo,” broke his pact with Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, alias “El Viceroy,” of the Juarez cartel and killed Rodolfo Carrillo Fuentes, Vicente’s brother. The resulting feud turned Ciudad Juarez into the most violent battleground in Mexico.

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