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.