Crack blamed for rise in Central American child prostitution
GUATEMALA CITY -- (AP) -- To support her crack habit, 15-year-old
Sandoval does what she can. ``Sometimes I beg. Sometimes I rob,'' she says.
``Or I get into cars with men.''
The number of Guatemalan street children working as prostitutes
is rising and the
booming use of crack cocaine is largely to blame, government and aid groups
``It didn't used to be so hard for girls on the street to get
drugs such as glue,''
says Arturo Echeverria, director of the child advocacy group Casa Alianza. ``But
the higher price of crack has induced more children into prostitution.''
The pattern is being repeated across Central America, where younger
younger girls are becoming prostitutes as drug use rises.
In a recent study of 300 street children by the Nicaraguan Ministry
of Family, just
over 80 percent said they had begun to work as prostitutes in the past year. Most
said they did so to get drugs, with nearly 30 percent saying they needed the
money to buy crack.
Casa Alianza, an advocacy group for street children, says many
venereal diseases, a sign that prostitution may be common.
In response to growing complaints about sex tourism, Costa Rica
strengthened its family and child code to allow prosecutions of adult sex clients
for child abuse even when they pay children for the services.
Nowhere has child prostitution taken off like in Guatemala.
A big factor is the increased availability of cocaine. U.S. Embassy
drug gangs now use cocaine instead of money to pay people who help smuggle
drugs from South America to the United States, adding to the local supply.
Also, a slight reduction in cocaine use in the United States has
traffickers to try to expand their Central American markets. And the general rise
in crime since the 1996 peace accords ended Guatemala's 36-year civil war has
aggravated the problem.
More children are ending up on the streets because the economy
has not kept
pace with population growth and migration to the capital, says Cesar Estrada,
director of Casa Alianza's home for teen-age mothers in Guatemala.
In a nation of 11 million people, 3,500 children live on the streets,
government figures. Child advocacy groups put the figure closer to 6,000. No one
has statistics on how many are working as prostitutes, though there is general
agreement the number is increasing.
Leslie says she left home two years ago to escape family problems.
``My stepfather left my baby sister outside, and she got sick
and died. I was so
sad because I loved her so much,'' she says. ``He was beating my mother, and I
was going to kill my stepfather if I didn't leave. My sister took me to the streets
and I got to know people here.''
She now lives with friends in a cardboard-and-wooden shack behind
Her clients, generally older Guatemalan businessmen, pay her 20
equivalent of $2.60. She needs two clients to earn enough to buy two crack rocks
the size of marbles -- enough to provide a half-hour high.
She says some of her friends also work as prostitutes to buy crack. Few admit it.
One friend, Roxana Adolf, says only that she's been tempted. Roxana
is 16 and
has a tattoo on her back reading: ``Mother, forgive me for the wild life I lead.''
She said her boyfriend would kill her if she prostituted herself.
``Yesterday a man came up and asked me. I was going to take the
run, but he said we had to go to the hotel first, so I said no,'' Roxana says. ``He
was so fat and ugly.''
Neither the government nor private agencies have much hope of
slowing the rise in
Guatemala's police are overwhelmed by other crime and have made
prostitution a low priority.
Deborah Cobar, director of the Attorney General's Office on Child
the state doesn't have the money to provide the counseling that could help
children get off the streets.
A few private institutions, such as Casa Alianza, offer help,
but they are finding it
increasingly difficult to raise money.
``It's out of fashion,'' Cobar says.
Organizations are under pressure to show their work is having
an effect, and
rehabilitating prostitutes is a long-term project. ``It's difficult to show results over a
short period of time,'' she says.
Sometimes, it takes a pregnancy to jolt a teen-ager into quitting
says. But then the need to earn money to support the child drives young women
with little education right back into prostitution.
Those helping prostitutes sometimes have to resign themselves
only modest goals. A social worker is helping Leslie and her friends write rules to
govern life in their shack.
One rule reads: ``I will not steal anywhere on this block.''