Nothing abounds more than gold in Peru’s isolated Amazonian mining communities than underage prostitutes waiting for clients in brothels locally known as “prostibars.”
According to daily La Republica, which published a special report Friday, approximately 400 girls and boys are being sexually exploited in the lawless enclaves of Huepetuhe, Pukiri and Delta 1. The practice is widely known in these small towns and improvised mining camps — where the youths sell sexual services for 50 soles or about $17, but an unwritten law of silence and violence prevails.
In the Amazonian department of Madre de Dios, a region in southeastern Peru bordering Brazil, Bolivia and the Peruvian departments of Puno, Cuzco and Ucayali, the illegal exploitation of gold has dramatically increased the recruitment and coercion of adolescents into prostitution through false employment offers.
Individuals known as “hooks” usually target their victims in markets and bus stations in some of the poorest and least developed regions of Peru. Children and teenagers, aged 10 to 16, mainly from Puno, Abancay and Cuzco, are tricked into leaving their Andean towns and low-paying jobs as domestic employees for promised employment in laundromats or restaurants.
Persuaded by an assured 360 soles or $126 monthly salary rather than 60 soles or $21, adolescents are also lured into Peru’s jungle by gifts that include clothing and free bus fare.
But once in Madre de Dios, their real employers — pimps and drug traffickers — tell them they will temporarily work as waitresses or cashiers in a bar.
“They tell them that this will be their job for a short period of time,” said Peru National Police Major José Rodriguez in comments to daily La Republica.
“These people evaluate the adolescent. They tell them to work the bar’s cash register, then convince them to accompany clients by offering them beer and then oblige them to prostitute themselves.”
Though Peru National Police have carried out a few crackdowns in some of the bars, La Republica reported, the trafficking of women and children for prostitution as well as child labor in the region is increasing because of the international demand for gold.
“First it was mahogany, and then came the Interoceanic Highway and now the gold,” said Rodriguez. “The three factors have done nothing less than increase illegal activities like prostitution.”
In January, the non governmental organization Huarayo, which offers temporary refuge for victims of sexual exploitation, reported that at least 200 underage girls are being subjected to forced prostitution in the mining zone of Delta 1.
“Those who resist are obliged to reimburse the cost of the trip, accommodation and food, but since they have no money they have to accept the exigencies of their employer sooner or later,” said the director of Huarayo, sociologist Oscar Guadalupe Zevallos.
During his visit to Delta 1, Zevallos determined that there were approximately 100 “prostibars.”
“We estimate that each bar has an average of 5 girls, of which two are underage, so we can say that 200 are adolescents victims of sexual exploitation,” said Zevallos.
In the makeshift mining camps and towns of Huepetuhe, Pukiri and Delta 1, very few authorities are present. In these no-law zones and safe havens for human and drug traffickers, the only representatives of the state are the mayor, the Child Ombudsmen and a deputy, a civilian filling in for the “authority” in a place too small to have a police force or even a single police officer.
“The Child Ombudsmen in Huepetuhe, Delta 1 and other mining centres try to rescue girls and adolescents that are victims of sexual exploitation and child labor in the prostibars,” said Zevallos. “But many cases can’t be resolved because they fear retaliation and the violence exercised by the exploiters and traffickers.”
In Peru, a country of origin for the trafficking of persons to Europe and the United States, children continue to be the most vulnerable and least protected citizens. Of the 3.8 million people living in extreme poverty, 2.1 million are children, with more than 60% of the under-18 population living below the poverty line.
A comprehensive anti-trafficking law was passed in 2007, but the implementing regulations have yet to be approved.
And, according to the United Nations, “the limited awareness among the population on sexual exploitation and abuse and on the available measures to identify and report cases of abuse is also a matter of concern.”
But though Peru does not entirely fulfill the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking of persons, it is making considerable efforts to do so.
The Child and Adolescent Code prohibits forced labor, economically exploitative labor, prostitution, and trafficking, and Peru’s Penal Code, as amended in 2004, provides that a person who forces another to work without payment by means of violence or threat may be punished with imprisonment for up to two years.
The Penal Code prohibits pimping and the promotion of prostitution of minors, with a penalty of five to 12 years of imprisonment if the victim is under 18 years of age.
And in 2002, Peru ratified ILO Convention 138 on the Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, and ILO Convention 182 on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.