A UN official has warned that drug gangs are trafficking young girls from indigenous communities on the border between Honduras and Nicaragua -- a phenomenon that could be driven by the countries' sex tourism industries.
Mirna Cunningham, president of the UN's Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, said girls between the ages of 10 and 15 in the Coco River area of the border region are sold to drug traffickers for as much as $2,000 each, reports El Nuevo Diario.
Cunningham, who based her statements on information from womens' organizations in the region, said that fear of reprisals by drug traffickers discouraged residents from reporting the practice to the authorities.
Melvin Duarte, spokesperson for Honduras' Public Ministry, said the special prosecutor for children's issues has ordered an investigation into the trafficking of young girls in the indigenous region of border, an area known on the Nicaraguan side as the Autonomous Region of the Northern Atlantic (RAAN).
In Nicaragua, Public Ministry official Odett Leyton said the armies of Honduras and Nicaragua were coordinating a joint investigation into the issue, AFP news service reported. El Nuevo Diario notes that Carmen Poveda, head of the Commission for Women in the RAAN, said that the region is an important drug trafficking route, and that the intelligence service of Nicaragua's National Police is already investigating human trafficking in the region.
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The reports offer further evidence of the links between drug trafficking and sex trafficking in the region.
The indigenous people of the Coco River area in Honduras and Nicaragua are particularly vulnerable to this practice, due to high levels of poverty and a low state presence. The victims are sometimes sold to traffickers by their own families, according to the UN's Cunningham.
According to the State Department's 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report, victims of sex trafficking in Nicaragua and Honduras are often taken from rural areas to work as prostitutes in urban areas, in many cases lured with false promises of better employment. Both countries are international sex tourism destinations, contributing to the demand for sex workers, which organized criminal groups have stepped in to fill.