Costa Rica is renowned the globe over for its amazing natural beauty. Immaculate coastlines, lush jungles and stately volcanoes draw hundreds of thousands of eco-tourists each year. It’s a paradise, offering much more splendor, tranquility and stability than its immediate neighbors. Tourism is the country’s principal source of revenue and the envy of its regional peers.
But there’s a darker underbelly to the industry that serves Costa Rica and its visiting multitudes so well, a seedy lining that lurks underneath and suffocates innocence.
Poverty and abuse feed a sizable population of orphans and street children. That, coupled with legalized prostitution, inadequate law enforcement and systemic corruption, has created a situation that many agencies and advocacy groups have deemed to now be out of control...rampant child prostitution and child sex tourism.
With the highest child prostitution rate in the region, Costa Rica possesses a grim reputation that rivals Thailand and the Philippines as ‘the place to go’ for sex with minors. The bulk of its sex tourism rests squarely on the abuse and exploitation of young children.
(Image: Young child next to an open sewer, Costa Rica, 04/07)
Fundacion Procal is a national NGO that focuses on eradicating violence against women and children. Executive Director, Tapiana Tregar, states that 83% of underage girls working as prostitutes in Costa Rica were originally abused sexually at home. Continued rape and molestation, and resultant low self-esteem, drove them to sell their pre-pubescent bodies on the streets. Tregar says that, "In their minds, the abuse and violence that they suffer in the streets is a continuation of the abuse and violence they had experienced at home...only that in the streets they are making money out of it."
The majority of these young street girls ran away from home and began prostituting themselves well before their 12th birthday. Some are as young as eight years old.
In such a commercial-sex friendly country where even child pornography for personal use is not a crime, the breeding and attracting of pedophiles is a natural consequence.
Pedophiles seek sex tourism destinations where they are relatively safe from prosecution and where poverty and abuse is at such levels to drive homeless children, and even young children’s families, to woefully desperate acts. The beautiful land of Costa Rica offers such an unsanctified mix. Not unlike its majestic volcanoes, a seething force of destruction lies just below the surface, ready to turn beauty to ashes.
Laws are on the books to protect children, but Costa Rica’s sex-crimes division is thinly staffed and resourced. The same 30% poverty rate that produces anguish and abandonment also breeds complacency and corruption. Casa Alianza, another prominent NGO devoted to these concerns, issued a report a few years ago that described how many underage prostitutes are forced to conduct sexual acts for the policemen that arrest them, oftentimes right in the officers’ patrol cars.
But it’s not just the native girls and boys who are at risk. Costa Rica is also a country to which many women and children are trafficked each year to meet the insatiable demands of its burgeoning sex industry. They are smuggled in from countries in the broader vicinity such as Bolivia, Columbia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Panama, but also from as far away as South Asia, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. It is an unholy crossroads for the trade of human flesh, the degradation of women and children who were tricked or stolen into a relentlessly horrific existence.
Either by dire choice, necessity or force, thousands of Costa Rican children are daily subject to the demands of a native prostitution and sex-tourism industry that turns their beauty and hope to ashes and despair…that lays waste to pristine hopes and dreams.
It is into this reality that I am now being submerged.
(Image: young boy at Casa Bernabe House, Costa Rica, 04/07)
Sex tourism and sex trafficking steals the lives, hopes and dreams of children. Please visit TRAFFIC JAM to find out more about this heinous industry and how Highways of Prayer (HOPE) can work to replace highways of despair.