Development & Aid, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population

TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO: Child Prostitution Is A Thriving Business

Wesley Gibbings

PORT OF SPAIN, Feb 14 1996 (IPS) - The arrest of Trinidadian zoo curator Hans Boos in Miami on child pornography charges has stirred a hornets nest of speculation surrounding the sex industry here with the launching of an official investigation into several cases of missing children.

Boos was originally arrested and charged by local authorities in 1993 for possession of pornographic literature. The court had ordered the destruction of a large collection ofr video tapes, photographs and magazines some of which featured the popular zoo keeper in various sexual positions with a number of young women.

Since then U.S. authorities began keeping a close eye on Boos and when he was arrested as he disembarked from a flight from Trinidad to Miami on Feb. 5, there was sufficient evidence to have him charged with starring in and distributing child pornography.

It is being alleged that he not only swapped such material with foreign connections as far as Thailand, the United Kingdom and Germany but that he had personally engaged in sex acts with young children.

On Tuesday Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj announced the setting up of a special unit within the police service to investigate several cases of missing children that might have been linked to an alleged pornography ring.

The Boos incident has also put the spotlight on teenage prostitution, a phenomenon that has been described as one of the fastest growing sub-sectors of the local sex trade.

An IPS investigation proved that girls as young as 14 are being used by modeling agencies, escort services and regular pimps to service the needs of a clientele seemingly undeterred by the threat of criminal conviction.

In Trinidad and Tobago, one can be charged with rape for having intercourse with children younger than 16 years old. If the child is under 14 years of age, the accused is not entitled to plead that it was consensual sex.

Concern is growing in the secondary school community that among the ranks of these young “working girls” are school children from the urban communities of Arima, about 15 km east of Port of Spain; San Fernando, the country’s industrial capital in the south; and Port of Spain itself.

Roman Catholic priest and social activist Father Clyde Harvey believes that the incidence of poverty has something to do with the problem.

“Some of them (girls) ask themsleves: ‘What can I do to survive?’ ”

One source knowledgeable of the industry says part of the attraction of young girls is the fact that most of them meet the needs of their cusotmers for a fraction of what the older heads require. “It is a survival thing. Some of them will take 20 dollars (3.50 U.S. dollars) for everything.”

The thriving escort services, some of which are advertised in the local newspapers, have a minimum charge of 50 U.S. dollars. Other services provide customers with teenage prostitutes at a considerable lower price. “Freelancers” and organised groups of schoolgirls can cost even less.

The clientele comprises a high number of male visitors to the country, but the mainstay of the business remains the local community.

The girls involved are often put at risk of abuse and of contracting sexual transmitted diseases.

Dr Bishram Mahabir, who heads a state-run testing and counselling centre for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) cites statistics which show that in 1994, at his clinic alone, there were more than 300 gonorrhoea sufferers among the 15-19 age group, 59 with syphilis six HIV positive patients.

“This at least proves that there is unprotected sexual activity among this age group,” he said.

School girl sex and prostitution also come hand in hand with the maxi taxi culture. A maxi taxi is a medium to large size public transporation vehicle that is privately owned.

Some drivers and operators of the maxi taxis are widely believed to be chief instigators of drug abuse and sexual activity among young school girls.

Meanwhile a few night spots throughout the country have been discreetly established as reliable “pick up”points for men interested in young girls. Not all the girls consider themselves to be prostitutes but a price tag is usually attached in one form or the other.

The police here are hoping that in their search for adults who sexually exploit young children, whether through prostitution or pornography, they would make a significant dent in the fortunes of these latest spinners.

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