By Laura Cofsky

 

Mariel was lured by the prospect of having a job.

At 17, she was swept into the sex trafficking industry. Her employer transported her from Costa Rica to various parts of Latin America, beating and raping her throughout their travels. She almost ended her life with a knife.<[1]

Mariel is not an unusual case. Though, if anything, she’s one of the lucky ones—Costa Rica is known for prostituting children as young as five and six. Only a few years ago, it wasn’t unusual to see signs at Costa Rican airports warning visitors that they’d be arrested for engaging in the child sex industry.<[2]<

Human trafficking is a major issue in Costa Rica. Although the country is only considered a “Tier Two” country with regards to trafficking—an “intermediate” ranking—the country is considered by some to be the child prostitution capital of the Western Hemisphere.<[3]< There have even been reports of fathers selling their children into prostitution to pay off debts, and one in three children are sexually abused. The ones who seek help are turned away; there are no resources available to help them.<[4]<

Due to increased tourism over the past 20 years and the legalization of prostitution, the nation has actually seen a boom in human trafficking. The same groups that are involved in drugs and arms trafficking tend to be involved in sex trafficking as well.<[5]<

Much of this prostitution takes place at sex clubs, online, and at short-term hotels.<[6]< There are also sex tours.<[7]<

This is an issue that affects an estimated 2.5 million victims—mainly women and children. It is considered the best source of income in the country, making it a difficult problem to tackle. Costa Rica is a source, transit, and destination country for human trafficking.<[8]<

The government is making an effort to curb the problem, such as implementing procedures for identifying and assisting victims, increasing staffing at the anti-trafficking police unit, and the creation of a team to identify trafficking victims among migrants.

However, none of the government’s efforts have any teeth. The nation failed to prosecute any of the offenders or establish shelters for victims. And the government is not working to raise awareness of the problem.<[9]< In fact, many government officials have been fired over the years for having child pornography on their computers.<[10]<

Several outside organizations are pushing for tougher laws and more resources for victims. The Rahab Foundation, for instance, is pressuring the government to tighten up its trafficking laws. Meanwhile, the Foundation identifies and tries to rehabilitate victims.<[11]<  Individuals, such as Maria Fejervary, have worked to build safe houses for the victims. Fejervary’s house is the first licensed safe house in the country—it offers children beds, an education, classes in parenting and hygiene, and yoga. Children are also taught their legal rights, so that they can avoid future exploitation.<[12]<

There are also various petitions going around to urge Costa Rica to create better policies or to encourage other countries to get involved.<[13]<

Another issue is that victims don’t always fully cooperate with authorities. They are often scared of being captured again, and suffer from depression. Many of them have attempted suicide multiple times.<[14]<

 

Laura Cofsky is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English literature. Upon graduation, she hopes to become a journalist.


[1] Dominique Farrell, “Costa Rica lags in sex trafficking fight,” http://www.ticotimes.net/Current-Edition/Top-Story/News/Costa-Rica-lags-in-sex-trafficking-fight_Friday-January-27-2012 (January 2012)

[2] Vanessa Pinto, “International Sex Tours: What are You Really Buying?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-pinto/sex-tourism_b_2770720.html (March 2013)

[3] “Costa Rica Trafficking in Person Report 2011,” http://costarica.usembassy.gov/crtip2011.html (2011)

[4] Dominique Farrell, “Costa Rica lags in sex trafficking fight,” http://www.ticotimes.net/Current-Edition/Top-Story/News/Costa-Rica-lags-in-sex-trafficking-fight_Friday-January-27-2012 (January 2012)

[5] “Stop Child Prostitution in Costa Rica,” http://www.causes.com/actions/1736924-stop-child-prostitution-in-costa-rica (March 2013)

[6] Dominique Farrell, “Costa Rica lags in sex trafficking fight,” http://www.ticotimes.net/Current-Edition/Top-Story/News/Costa-Rica-lags-in-sex-trafficking-fight_Friday-January-27-2012 (January 2012)

[7] Vanessa Pinto, “International Sex Tours: What are You Really Buying?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-pinto/sex-tourism_b_2770720.html (March 2013)

 

[8] Dominique Farrell, “Costa Rica lags in sex trafficking fight,” http://www.ticotimes.net/Current-Edition/Top-Story/News/Costa-Rica-lags-in-sex-trafficking-fight_Friday-January-27-2012 (January 2012)

[9] “Costa Rica Trafficking in Person Report 2011,” http://costarica.usembassy.gov/crtip2011.html (2011)

[10] Vanessa Pinto, “International Sex Tours: What are You Really Buying?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-pinto/sex-tourism_b_2770720.html (March 2013)

[11] Dominique Farrell, “Costa Rica lags in sex trafficking fight,” http://www.ticotimes.net/Current-Edition/Top-Story/News/Costa-Rica-lags-in-sex-trafficking-fight_Friday-January-27-2012 (January 2012)

[12] Vanessa Pinto, “International Sex Tours: What are You Really Buying?” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/vanessa-pinto/sex-tourism_b_2770720.html (March 2013)

[13] “Stop Child Prostitution in Costa Rica,” http://www.causes.com/actions/1736924-stop-child-prostitution-in-costa-rica (March 2013)

[14] Dominique Farrell, “Costa Rica lags in sex trafficking fight,” http://www.ticotimes.net/Current-Edition/Top-Story/News/Costa-Rica-lags-in-sex-trafficking-fight_Friday-January-27-2012 (January 2012)

Image c/o http://www.flickr.com/photos/jetpunk/3001203196/.

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