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

CHILDREN-ECUADOR: Child Prostitution is Growth Industry

Mario Gonzalez

QUITO, Jul 19 1996 (IPS) - Poverty, homelessness, family violence, and – more importantly – an emerging market, are fueling the growth of child prostitution in Ecuador, according sociologists here.

Some 6,000 children – boys and girls – between 10 and 15 years old, are now engaged in prostitution in “date houses”, bars, massage parlors, and discos in Quito and Guayaquil, they said.

“This is not a problem concerning a certain sector of the population, nor a gender problem…rather, it is a growing phenomenon, like poverty, and it is sustained by a large market which demands child sex”, said Marcelo Roman, a child psychologist.

Child prostitution is “part of a series of crimes which affect children but which society refuses to confront, such as sexual abuse of children by parents…and international kidnapping rings which procure children for adoption,” says Roman.

Children’s problems “seem remote for the rest of society… people know about them, they know they exist. But but they are somewhere out there, far away from us”, he says. It is more difficult “for some” to admit “that we live among people who buy child sex.”

Almost six million people out of Ecuador’s total population of 11.5, live in poverty, according to a report put out by the Esquel Foundation, a non-governmental organization. Fifty-four percent of those poor are minors, said Roman.

Children and adolescents are more sensitive to the effects of poverty within the nucleus of the family, he explained.

The critical triangle for minors – poverty, family violence, and sexual, psychological or labor abuse – leads thousands of Ecuadorian children to search for other ways of life, such as prostitution, say sociologists.

“According to an inquiry by the magazine “15 Days”, networks of child sex traffickers recruit minors in the poorest urban and rural areas. They offer a good salary and the promise of career training in modelling or cosmetology in Quito or Guayaquil.

An office set up in a residential neighborhood of the north of Quito announces “massage services and haircuts” for men and women — known to be a fronts for prostitution activities.

“Three times the authorities closed us down,” said Maricarmen Mina, who worked there one year ago, “but the owners always managed to open it again.”

Mina told the magazine she left her home in Esmeraldas, one of the poorest of the six coastal provinces of Ecuador, five years ago. Then, “I was 11 years old and came to Quito to work as a maid,” she said, “but I got pregnant and had to look for other work, to earn more.”

Margot Sancho of the Youth Worker’s Program (PMT), which has promoted several studies on minors, told IPS that the reality on the streets has begun to make child prostitution evident, but that public opinion still lacks basic information on the subject.

“Although we are still not at the level of other Latin American countries, where there are organized trips for tourists who are looking for sex with children”, child prostitution “could grow at alarming rates if we do not start acknowledging the problem”, warned Sancho.

“Society acknowledges that there are children prostitutes, but it is far from admitting that there could be men who are engaged in those activities”, she added.

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