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Activists demand end to sex abuse of migrant children in southern Mexico

April 23, 2013|By Tracy Wilkinson
  • Activists march in Mexico's southern Chiapas state last week to demand an end to the sexual exploitation of migrant children, a growing and largely unaddressed problem.
Activists march in Mexico's southern Chiapas state last week to demand… (Photo courtesy of Leonardo…)

MEXICO CITY -- The flow of migrants from Central America across the Suchiate River into southern Mexico is steady but the journey perilous.  Uncounted thousands end up at the mercy of drug-and-extortion gangs that hold them for ransom, force them into slave labor or kill them.

The dangers are especially acute for what officials say is a growing number of children and youths who cross into Mexico without adults. Many are kidnapped and made to work as prostitutes, with police and authorities turning a blind eye, says Ramon Verdugo, an activist based in Mexico's southernmost city, Tapachula, in the state of Chiapas.

And so, with a march and a hunger strike, Verdugo and supporters are demanding that the local government of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, put an end to the child sex trade and punish police and others who allow it to flourish.

“There is a chain of exploitation,” Verdugo said in a telephone interview from Tapachula. “The lives of children are endangered.”

International child advocacy groups estimate that 20,000 children may be caught up in rings of forced labor or sexual exploitation in Chiapas, through which nearly all migrants from Central America must pass, usually with hopes of reaching the U.S.

Children from Honduras, Guatemala and other countries can be seen selling trinkets, gum or candy for pennies in many of Tapachula’s town squares. They are called canguritos, little kangaroos, for the tray stacked with their wares that they strap to their stomachs.

Adding insult to injury, city officials charge the children to work in the plazas, Verdugo said. 

Over a three-day period last week, and then through the weekend, Verdugo and other activists marched through several Chiapas towns to dramatize their demands. They carried signs that labeled the state a “sexual paradise” for pedophiles and a veritable death sentence for Central American migrants.

Verdugo, who runs a shelter for migrant children and youths called Todo Por Ellos (All for Them), staged a hunger strike as well. He suspended it on Sunday after he received a call from the state attorney general’s office saying authorities were willing to meet and discuss the problems.

On Tuesday, Verdugo was still waiting for the meeting. He was encouraged that state prosecutors had gotten in touch -- that alone was a first after many protests -- but remained with his doubts.

“We have been making legal complaints for nearly two years,” he said, “and nothing has ever come of it.”


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