Shift in Sex Tourism
March 4, 2000 ·
Published in Washington Post Service
(March 04, 2000)
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — The sexual exploitation of girls and boys, largely by men from the United States, has reached alarming proportions in Central America, according to children’s rights advocates who say the region is now a priority in their struggle against child prostitution and pornography.
A major reason for growth in the Central American child-sex trade, children’s advocates say, is that traditional destinations for such activity — chiefly .Thailand and the Philippines – have blunted the sex tourism business over the last two years by enacting public awareness campaigns and stricter laws and enforcement measures.
Prostitution among the children who live and work on the streets of Latin America — their number has been estimated, at up to 40 million — has long been a consequence of the region’s poverty.
But as such countries as Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica and Nicaragua step up efforts to promote their beaches, volcanoes and natural beauty as tourist destinations, they attract greater numbers of men from North America, Europe and other Latin American countries looking for sex with children.
“What we are seeing is the dark side of tourism,” said, Heimo Laakkonen, head of Unicef in Costa Rica. Mr. Laakkonen said that while sexual exploitation of minors is not a new problem in the region, the problem has gotten worse with the increase in tourism.
Children’s rights activists have accused governments in Central America, where about 54 percent of the population is below the age of 18, of being slow to confront the burgeoning child prostitution and pornography industry
“It involves a certain level of political maturity on the part of governments to acknowledge the severity of the problem, as opposed to the ostrich syndrome of keeping your head stuck in the sand,” said Bruce Harris, regional director of Covenant House Latin America, an organization that helps street children.
Although there are no statistics to quantify the scope of sexual exploitation of children in Central America, anecdotal evidence, independent surveys and a string of recent arrests of North Americans — as well as of other foreigners and locals – support the contention that the problem is growing.
The increased demand for child prostitutes in this region and others stems partly from the mistaken impression that older prostitutes are more likely than younger ones to have AIDS or carry HIV virus, experts say.
Carlos Roverssi, former executive president of the National Child Trust, the Costa Rican child welfare agency, acknowledged last year that there had been an accelerated increase in child prostitution in the country, which he said was largely the result of the unofficial promotion of sex tourism in Costa Rica over the Internet.
In Nicaragua, a recent Unicef report said, there has been significant growth in the prostitution of children between the ages of 12 and 16 in towns where taxi drivers were reported to serve as middlemen.
Several months ago, agents of the international police organization Interpol operating out of El Salvador discovered a prostitution network that was trafficking young girls from several countries in Central America to work in bars along the border of El Salvador and Guatemala.
Interpol also said that it had rescued about 20 Salvadoran girls from such prostitution and pornography industry prostitution rings during the past three “It involves a certain level of political years.
By Serge F. Kovaleski
Washington Post Service