A ring that sexually exploited minors from Venezuela has been dismantled in Colombia, but this only further highlights the vulnerability of migrants in the country and the apparent inability of Colombian authorities to combat these networks.
On October 7, ten people from a gang known as "La Mona" were arrested, and Colombian and Venezuelan minors between the ages of 14 and 17 were rescued in raids across the Caribbean department of La Guajira, reported El Heraldo.
The group reportedly drugged the minors, dressed them up and then forced them to prostitute themselves for 60,000 pesos (about $17).
According to police, the gang lured Venezuelan children living in poverty with promises of money, lodging and food in the towns of Riohacha, Maicao, Fonseca and San Juan de Cesar, all in La Guajira. They were then driven to different hotels to meet clients.
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Although Colombia is known as a popular destination for sexual trafficking of minors, its conviction rate for such crimes has been weak. Of 85,000 investigations into reports of child sexual abuse between 2005 and 2018, only 6,116 ended in convictions.
InSight Crime Analysis
Hundreds of migrant children from Venezuela have fallen prey to criminal gangs in Colombia and been used for sexual exploitation. In April 2018, the Colombian Family Welfare Institute (Instituto Colombiano de Bienestar Familiar - ICBF) reported that over 400 Venezuelan minors had been sexually exploited in Colombia, including 159 of them who were are under five years old.
Cases of Venezuelan children being exploited are being registered across Colombia and are no longer confined to border areas such as La Guajira. Last July, a criminal gang was brought down after luring teenage girls from Venezuela and sexually exploiting them in the Colombian city of Cartagena.
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In the case of Colombia, impunity in these cases remains high, despite the fact that over 1.5 million Venezuelans have now entered the country as refugees.
And Colombian children are at risk too. One hotspot for such exploitation is the Medellín-Bogotá highway along which dozens of underage girls are forced into sexual exploitation. Although a number of victims have come forward to denounce their abusers helped by local associations, authorities have found it difficult to prosecute these cases.
More than 100 new cases of child sexual exploitation were filed with authorities every month between January 2013 and July 2018. And the situation is getting worse, with the number of reported cases having tripled in the last five years.