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Exposing Peru’s child prostitution rings

In early October police in Peru rescued some 300 women, including 10 girls, who have been forced to work in prostitution rings in illegal gold-mining camps in the south-east of the country.

Save the Children helped bring the issue to the attention of the authorities.

The rescue is a step in the right direction. But more than a thousand girls are being used a sex slaves, as I discovered last year when I travelled to this remote area located in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon.

Gold rush

Guacamayo is a massive illegal gold-mining site in the heart of the Peruvian Amazon. Thousands of miners live here.

Save the Children’s Peru director, Teresa Carpio, visited this area a few weeks ago. She denounced the fact that more than a thousand underage girls are being used as sexual slaves here and in other illegal mining camps in the south-eastern Peruvian state of Madre de Dios.

The area is thriving due to high gold prices. Women are lured into this area by the promise of jobs in shops or as domestic helpers, but end up being forced to work as prostitutes in local bars.

Rescue

The Peruvian government reacted by launching a three-day raid a few weeks ago, rescuing nearly 300 women, including 10 minors, the youngest of whom was 13 years old. The raid was covered on CNN and other channels.

It was one of the largest police operations against illegal children prostitution rings in Peru. But much more needs to be done.

I saw some of these girls during my visit. They had come out from a nearby row of brothels with names like FBI and Noche Azul (Blue Night) with suggestive pictures of naked women painted across the outside walls.

Brothels in Guacamayo

One girl’s story

Most of the girls arrive with no money at all and miners warn brothel owners about any girl trying to escape. With no authority or police around to complain to, the girls are trapped.

Not so Teresa, a 14-year-old I met who had escaped a couple of days earlier from the brothel she had been taken to. She had arrived in Guaca¬mayo under the impression that she was going to work in a restaurant, and she refused to become a prostitute.

“I was brought to the jungle,” she said. “I had no money, nothing, at most 70 cents. They took me to this bar, a brothel. It was horrible. It had tables, chairs, lights, a pole in the middle with loudspeakers, and a room on the side where girls slept. After a few days, when everyone was asleep I ran and ran until I found a man who took me away.”

She was speaking from a refuge, the only one of its type in the area, belonging to a local NGO called Association Huarayo. Save the Children will support this organisation under a new three-year project that will include organising workshops with the local community, politicians and school teachers to raise awareness over this issue in rural areas of Cuzco where many girls are targeted.

Miracle

“The policeman told me that it was a miracle that I had escaped because no one can usually; they rape you and throw you in the jungle,” Teresa continued.

Teresa had explained to the owner that she was underage, but the owner replied that even younger girls worked in the other brothels and that police never came.

“She told me that if I tried to leave, her husband would kill me. He had a gun; I saw it.”

This blog post was written by Alfonso Daniels, Media Officer, Save the Children

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