Miners have flocked to the jungle region of Madre de Dios hoping to strike it rich in the country’s gold rush.
But the mass influx of miners has also been fuelling both adult and child sex trafficking in the area.
One of the main reasons is the widespread belief among miners that having sex with a girl — especially a virgin — can bring them luck in finding gold, as well as protect them from danger deep within mines and tunnels. This has, in turn, created an incentive for human traffickers to bring in women and girls from various parts of Peru.
Antonio, a veteran miner, explained that “Those who have just arrived are the expensive ones, they can be 12 or 13 years-old, brought here for good luck.”
“Miners inherit these myths and turn them into beliefs,” said Carmen Barrantes, a researcher and trafficking expert for children’s charity Terre des Hommes.
“They think, ‘If I have sex with a girl, I’ll have more gold.’ They are convinced it will work,” she said.
Thomson Reuters Foundation reports:
Driven by poverty, it is often parents and relatives who sell their children into the sex trade, rights groups say.
Poor, uneducated and unemployed women and girls are vulnerable to recruiters’ false promises of work as cooks, cleaners and waitresses. They are often forced into commercial sex work.
The Peruvian anti-human trafficking group CHS Alternativo says there are least 400 bars in Madre de Dios alone where child sexual exploitation takes place, with girls working 13 hours a day.
Yet the true scale of sex trafficking is unknown, as fear and shame prevent victims coming forward to report the crime.
“I try to help people here,” said Carmen Bustos, a Peruvian lawyer who does pro-bono work for abused women and children in Madre de Dios.
“But it’s almost impossible because they don’t know the real name of the abusers, they lie about their age, about what they did in the bars, and more often than not, it’s their family who sold them.”
In the Madre de Dios region alone, 79 cases of human trafficking were reported from 2014-2016. Recently, seven trafficked women were rescued in a police raid.
Still, Rosario Lopez, lead prosecutor and head of the attorney general’s victims’ and witness unit, says the government needs “to go beyond raids.”
“We’re not tackling the problem radically, with strategies that can also attack the structural causes, like poverty and lack of opportunities,” Lopez said.