In May of 2010, I spent four weeks teaching English at a village school, studying Spanish and travelling the countryside of Guatemala.
The land of Guatemala is beautifully rich with culture and history as 75% of Guatemalans are descendants of the ancient Mayan people groups. However, in the last century Guatamala has been plauged with horrific civil war, state terror and decades of dictatorships. Guatamala exists as a democracy today, however the poverty and inequality of the past still remain.
The crime is inescapable worldwide… as international pressure has been focused on the sex tourism industry of South East Asia, many organized crime groups than control the sex tourism and sex trade industry have moved to less heated spots such as Central America. Guatemala is currently considered the “new Thailand” for sex tourism.
It is estimated that fifteen thousand children suffered sexual exploitation in Guatemala in 2001. The atrocity of this human rights issue is founded on the fact that these children are forced into prostitution to provide for desperately impoverished families. These children are often between the ages of eight and sixteen. It is common for them to have been sold by their parents to traffickers or lured into “jobs” in the city but end up being forced to work in brothels and service clients. Most of the children who are forced to work in the sex industry within Guatemala are originally Guatemalan, although there is a small percentage of working children who are trafficking in from Honduras and El Salvador. Child sex tourists are often Europeans, Americans, Canadians, Japanese and Latin Americans.
Guatemala is the world’s third worst country for economic inequality. A high demand by tourists for sex services from children and the masses of economically impoverished and unprotected children have created a thriving market for child sex tourism. Unbelievably many sex tourists believe that they are helping children by providing them with a source of income, even though they are being raped for a profit.
Gender inequalities and machismo within the culture of Guatemala also lead way to the child sex tourism industry. Women are seen as inferior to men, perpetuating the ideology that females are sex objects and social apathy of the exploitation of many girls. It is socially acceptable for men to have sex before marriage but women are expected to remain virgins. This creates a market for prostitution. In Guatemala, masculinity is often measured by the number of virgins that a man has sex with, also contributing to the rape and prostitution of many young girls in the child sex tourism industry.
Widespread corruption also fuels the problem. Many sex tourists get away with bribing government officials or local police enforcement to allow them to return to their own country without a criminal record if caught having sex with a minor. Globalization and the internet has also made child sex tourism much more accessible. It is not uncommon to find tourist sites devoted to child sex tours. One study found 173 links to sites that promoted child sex tourism in Guatemala. Furthermore, child prostitutes are more likely to contract and suffer from the HIV/ AIDS virus because the forced penetration of a child by a mature individual is more likely to be violent and cause inner tearing, spreading the disease.
The main reason that children are being trapped in the sex trade and child sex tourism is so widespread is because the children are so desperate to earn an income for their survival. Mandatory education in Guatemala is only compulsory to the 6th grade. This sends children ill-equipped into the job market where it is highly unlikely that they will be successful with only an elementary school education.
Human trafficking is without a doubt the human rights issue of the 21 century! I cannot see the faces of the children that I spent time with in Guatemala and not try to do all that I can to protect them!
High media exposure to the situation of the child sex industry in Guatemala also needs to be initiated. A similar desperate situation of child sex tourism in Thailand was combated using a 1993 issue of Time Magazine, revealing the horrors. Criminal laws need to be changed and enforced to punish the brothel owners and child traffickers that are behind the sex industry. Finally, a full scale campaign to raise awareness of the issue needs to be launched by compassionate global countries and within Guatemala itself.
It is us, compassionate people of conscience that need to stand up and confront the social injustices that are destroying the lives of 27 million people around the world, the majority of whom are children under the age of 18 years old. Knowledge is power and with commitment, we can all work together to end the child sex industry in Guatemala, and worldwide.