Every day 33 people become entrapped in sex trafficking rings in Guatemala, including a “shocking” proportion of children, some of them sold into the sex trade by their mothers, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said.
Nearly 60 percent of the 50,000 victims of sex trafficking in Guatemala are children, according to a report by UNICEF and the U.N. Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which estimates the industry to be worth $1.6 billion a year.
“We never imagined the magnitude of the number of children being sexually exploited. People were shocked by the figures, as were we,” Kagoshima said, referring to the recent U.N. report.
Girls as young as 12 work in brothels and are forced to have sex with up to 30 customers a day, while virgin girls are recruited at schools, she said.
Sex trafficking is fuelled by a “social tolerance” of children being sold for sex work, a business equal to 2.7 percent of Guatemala’s gross domestic product, she said.
“Society collectively closes its eyes to children being exploited. We have to open our eyes to the problem,” Kagoshima told the Thomson Reuters Foundation late on Tuesday.
Poverty is one of the biggest drivers of sex trafficking in the central American country where three in five people live on less than $3.10 a day, UNICEF said.
Traffickers often target poor, uneducated and unemployed women and girls, luring them with false promises of earning money as a waitress or model, UNICEF said.
Guatemala’s engrained macho culture, along with widespread sexual abuse in the home, also fuels trafficking.
“Often human trafficking starts from domestic and sexual violence by fathers and stepfathers. This is a very common scenario in Guatemala,” Kagoshima said.
She said such violence prompts boys and girls to run away from home, leaving them prey to sexual exploitation by traffickers.
The U.N. report cited the case of Claudia, who was caught in a sex trafficking ring aged 12 after leaving home to escape abuse by her stepfather.
“For months, Claudia endured the touching, until the stepfather threatened her one day of abusing her little sister if she would not have sex with him,” the report said.
“She accepted to have sex to save her little sister but she was unable to tolerate the situation for long,” it said. (Thomson Reuters Foundation)