Commercial sexual exploitation of children is still rife in the streets and is really changing its image in order to avoid criticism from those who are trying to put an end to this social scourge in the Central American country.
Figures from Alianza por tus Derechos (“Alliance for your rights”) confirm that the trade has become more underhand although it continues to satisfy the demands of adults everywhere in the Central American country who lust over children and who thirst to make films or take photographs of them.
The group’s director, Rocío Rodríguez, pointed out that the main centres of operation for pimps and paedophiles are located mainly around the border areas and coasts.
Non-Governmental Organisations who are also following this issue, confirm that these networks exploit the production of child pornography to great excess, with both boys and girls, according to the digital daily Crónica Hoy.
Puntarenas, Guanacaste and Limón have experienced the biggest number of cases, of both commercial sexual exploitation and pornography, which involves thousands of minors every year.
“These victims have been subject to a great deal of child pornography, just when we are trying to put through a change in child pornography legislation because the punishments currently in place do not fit the crimes that are being committed”, Rodríguez reiterated.
The problem, he explained, is that the crimes aren’t well categorised which is why only one in ten reports that are made to the judicial system end up with sentences.
“The issue of child pornography is quite overwhelming”, concluded the commission director Gloria Bejerano, also a representative from the Social Christian Unity Party.
The congresswomen said that when one of the organisations presented images showing the reality of child pornography, some political representatives even went as far as asking them to be taken down, out of sheer horror.
In her opinion, the problem has become more complex with the onset of globalisation, characterised by wide access to communication and information technology, and other technologies that favour the production of all kinds of audio-visual material.
Among the possibilities of punishing those responsible, there is the option of penalising for resending material as well as encouraging the production of child pornography by caricatures that make reference to the matter.
Complaints made by those who worry for the interests of children show that sexual tourism and exploitation of children, as well as pornography, have grown parallel to the tourist boom in the country, whose selling point is its claim as one of the most eco-friendly country in Latin America.
Tourism came about in the last decade as one of the main driving forces of the economy of Costa Rica, which receives a yearly average of almost two million visitors, according to the National Chamber for Tourism.
Some of these travellers, who tend to come from North America, are motivated by prostitution, including child prostitution, despite which Congress did not include punishment for possession of pornography when it reformed the Penal Code in 1999.
“How disgraceful and saddening it is to see reports on child prostitution in Costa Rica! Some foreigners have asked us if the government knows what is going on or whether or not they care that it is happening. No-one knows the answer”, according to an article published by www.ticopage.com
The article points out that there are those who blame the legal system and maintain that it is the government’s responsibility to sort out the problem, while there are others blame religion or the education system.
But blame aside, what would really be worthwhile would be to finally come up with family and teaching strategies, similar to the measures taken to combat rising poverty and social ills in the country, according to pedagogues and social activists.
In 2011, the National Children’s Board of Costa Rica tried 67 cases of commercial and sexual exploitation of children and its officials admit the possibility of sentences being reduced excessively in relation to the crimes.
Alianza por Tus Derechos shows in its archives many similar cases and reports about networks or people that manipulate children with sexual intent, cloaked with promises that their lives will get better or without any explanation except those concerning how they must behave.
Sexual violence against children is reaching “scandalous dimensions” in Latin America and Costa Rica remains one of the most affected countries, according to UNICEF reports.
With the onset of globalisation, prostitution has become widespread: Girls from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize offer their services in brothels and rent houses in Guatemala, Mexico and the US, as the organisation pointed out.
Child sex traffickers also make huge sums of money every year through pornography, generally promoted by the Internet, where they hide their offers under web address that they temporarily circulate on the Internet.
These proposals pretend to disappear, but appear again in network channels under other codes and signs that usually only frequent customers- paedophiles from different parts of the world- know how to detect.
Quite a large number of children who wander about the streets in Central America selling themselves in order to survive were themselves victims of sexual abuse by family members or people who knew them, but the authorities are not coming up with strategies for this either.
Although it is difficult to determine the exact number of children that have been abused, as UNICEF recognises, it is estimated that every year nearly a million of them are victims of the multi-million industry of sexual exploitation and this reiterates the need to reinforce vigilance everywhere.
Paedophiles make up more than 3% of the 20% who travel to this region and other impoverished regions of the world with sexual motives, UNICEF remarked.
By neglecting such a vulnerable sector of the population and ignoring questions relating to the health and education of the population, the government authorities are simply going along with individual interests and they end up contributing to the recirculation of poverty in these countries.
The possibility of earning money and improving their lot pushes thousands of children each year away from innocent children’s pursuits and emotions and forces them into a premature and dreadful adulthood, in a way that parallels the stunted development of countries such as Costa Rica.
(Translated by José Stovell)