Approximately two million children and adolescents are currently sexually exploited in Latin America, according to an anti-sex trafficking coalition, highlighting the potential scale of a transnational crime that all too often goes unpunished.
Ecuador’s country head of the Latin American Coalition Against Trafficking Women - Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC), Rocio Rosero, attributed this alarming statistic in part to trafficking networks that trick children into prostitution in other countries, reported EFE.
According to the coalition leader, available statistics don’t show the full scope of the problem because information is "under-recorded." Rosero added the dual problems of prostitution and sexual exploitation are fuelled by sexist Latin American "machismo," culture and poverty.
Rosero made the comments at the launch of "Tu Plata Maltrata" (Your Money Mistreats), a Quito program that works to raise awareness of the crime of sexual exploitation. In Ecuador, 5,000 children are sexually exploited, she said, with many of them sent abroad as prostitutes.
The coalition also indicated that impunity is a serious problem. On March 20, CATW-LAC Director Teresa Ulloa Ziaurriz stated that 99 percent of cases of disappeared persons in Mexico -- many of these a result of human trafficking -- go unpunished. She attributed this largely to failings on the part of the Attorney General’s Office.
CATW-LAC is a regional coalition that works to prevent sexual exploitation of women and children through awareness campaigns and petitions, as well as technical assistance to similarly oriented feminist groups in various countries throughout Latin America.
InSight Crime Analysis
The CATW-LAC statistics are shocking, though widespread reports of child exploitation make them plausible. A Mexican congresswoman claimed last March that 800,000 adults and 20,000 children were trafficked for sexual purposes each year in Mexico alone, while 75,000 children have been registered as missing by the government since 2006. In Colombia, there were an estimated 35,000 exploited minors as of March 2011, with Cartagena a known sex tourism hub.
Various kinds of networks and circumstances are responsible for child and adolescent exploitation. Often intermediaries or small criminal gangs recruit children through trickery and empty promises or by capitalizing on the poverty of the parents. However, there are also suggestions that larger criminal mafias, especially the the Zetas in Mexico, are increasingly involved in the trade.
In the majority of countries, few sex trafficking prosecutions occur. Both government inefficacy, and the frequently international nature of the crime, make it difficult to put a stop to, as highlighted recently by an investigation uncovering the ability of registered Canadian sex offenders to access child prostitutes in Cuba.