Authorities in the Colombia are pledging to work with businesses, tourist agencies, and advocacy groups to combat commercial sexual exploitation to children in the tourist hotspot of Cartegena.
At an anti-trafficking event this week the country’s inspector general, Fernando Carrillo, said organized crime gangs were responsible for pimping and selling children into the sex trade where they are offered to tourists.
“It is no secret to anyone that cruise ship tourists, older men, they are offered children for the purpose of sexual exploitation. We must welcome tourists who come honestly to enjoy this city but we must repudiate the sexual predators of our children and adolescents,” said Carrillo.
He called these sexual predators the “pirates of the 21st century.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
Famous for its colonial walled ramparts, Cartagena is the country’s top tourist destination, attracting millions of visitors each year.
But the 16th century city on the Caribbean coast is also notorious as a child sex tourism hotspot, and Carrillo said the authorities must do more to combat “a tsunami of impunity”. “There are too many laws and too few results,” he said.
The parties agreed to collect reliable data about the issue, better coordinate efforts among the authorities, go after the profits made by criminal networks, and encourage citizens to report the crime.
Mario Gonzalez, a state prosecutor focused on violence against children, said child sex exploitation was “an institutional shame”.
“We’re going to develop the largest operation in the history of Cartagena to dismantle those criminal (organizations) that are trampling over children and adolescents,” Gonzalez said.
Notably, adult sex work is legal in Colombia, but paying to have sex with a child is a crime. Trafficking for sexual exploitation — where a victim is forced, deceived, or coerced into sexual exploitation — is also punishable by law and carries a 37-year prison sentence.
The government does not currently have statistics on how many children are victims of sexual exploitation by tourists in Cartagena. However, anti-trafficking organizations at the event said that it is primarily girls from city’s poor Afro-Colombian community that are most at risk of sex trafficking.