Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

MEXICO: Child Sexual Exploitation Fuelled, Protected by Economic Clout

Adrián Reyes

MEXICO CITY, Jul 27 2006 (IPS) - While the Mexican government is touting the imprisonment of businessman Jean Succar, accused of running a child sex ring, as evidence of its tough stance against child sexual exploitation, authorities also admit that the number of minors subjected to such crimes has increased from 16,000 to 20,000 over the last six years.

Paedophilia and sexual exploitation of minors are not classified as serious offences in almost half of Mexico’s 31 states, increasing the likelihood of impunity, according to Ana Rosa Payán, general director of the Office and System of Integral Development for Family Welfare (DIF), created in 1970.

Succar’s capture, extradition from the United States and imprisonment in Mexico “is an example we hope all states will follow; when charges are laid, they need to follow up until the case is resolved,” said Payán.

However, she said that over the past three-year legislative period, the Chamber of Deputies – whose members will hand over their seats to newly elected representatives Aug. 31 – gave priority to political and economic issues, and pushed threats to children to the backburner.

Journalist Lydia Cacho told IPS that the Mexican state has failed to effectively address the needs and protection of victims, and some organisations, such as the DIF, have even “allowed some minors to fall into the hands” of sexual abusers.

“Mexico is a paradise for child prostitution and pornography, because these rings have enough economic power to corrupt and operate with impunity,” said Cacho. Her book, “Los demonios del Edén” (The Demons of Eden), contains the personal accounts of minors who talk about the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of a child prostitution and pornography racket she alleges was run by Succar.

She added that the abuse and sexual exploitation of minors is closely linked to other phenomena, such as organised crime, drug trafficking and money laundering.

The 43-year-old activist and writer herself has been under police protection since she began to receive threats last year, after she was arrested by the police, driven 900 km to the state of Puebla, held for 30 hours, mistreated and threatened.

Kamel Nacif, a textile magnate with factories in Puebla and other states, had filed suit against Cacho for criminal libel last October. He is named in her book as a close friend of hotel owner Succar.

When the news of her arrest broke, the rights watchdog Amnesty International, the World Organisation Against Torture, the Inter-American Press Association and other international groups raised an outcry, and Cacho was released on bail.

Cacho, also the co-founder of the Centro Integral para Mujeres Víctimas de la Violencia (CIAM), a shelter for victims of domestic violence and rape in the southeast tourist mecca of Cancún, has also warned of paedophilia rings in Jalisco and Guerrero, southwestern states with major tourism resorts like Puerto Vallarta and Acapulco.

Deputy Rodrigo Iván Cortés, of the ruling conservative National Action Party (PAN), agrees that the paedophilia case in Cancún is not an isolated incident, saying Acapulco also is plagued with the scourge, fuelled by people with great economic clout.

Cortés, a member of the special parliamentary commission on children, adolescents and family, lamented that the “pettiness” of other political sectors in the Chamber of Deputies blocked significant progress on more stringent legal measures that would have facilitated the fight against organised crime.

During the nearly six years that President Vicente Fox – also a member of the PAN – has been in office, very little progress has been made towards congressional approval of comprehensive reforms to Mexico’s justice and public security systems, he complained.

But “We are confident that the next legislative session, which opens Sept.1, will take up these bills once again, and lawmakers will do what they need to do in order to push them through, with the aim of cracking down harder on organised crime, which is harming society,” added Cortés.

The legislator pointed to the creation of the “Cyber Police,” in the Office of the Public Prosecutor, as a major step forward in combating and stamping out paedophile rings. The task force has shut down more than 400 Internet sites that had been distributing child pornography.

Mexico has joined the fight against international paedophile rings and has focused particularly on the distribution of material over the Internet, said Cortés. He added that perpetrators tend to become addicted to their deviant behaviour and progress to more serious crimes.

He also said child sexual exploitation has a base of wealthy supporters, such as Succar in Cancún. “We must let those who use money to exploit minors know that their wealth will not protect themàEconomic power should not be able to buy impunity,” Cortés stressed.

A judge in Cancún notified Succar last weekend that he would remain in prison to face criminal proceedings. He has been charged with corruption of minors, statutory rape, criminal sexual contact, child pornography, and money laundering.

At least seven victims have brought charges against Succar and have complained of harassment from the businessman’s lawyers, who allegedly have offered money in exchange for dropping the charges and withdrawing statements.

The victims, most of whom are girls or young women, have testified that Succar himself has called to say “he didn’t mean to hurt them and that he loves them.”

Cacho, who worked with several of the victims through her organisation, told IPS that the younger victims “suffered horrifying and unimaginable abuse – they were tortured.” All the more reason for judicial authorities and the federal government to ensure that this high profile child abuse case does not go unpunished, she added.

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