Child prostitution is not more prevalent in Cartagena than in other Colombian cities, though there is a greater awareness of the problem, according to the Colombian branch of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
“What has been seen is a more consolidated effort in this city, which has permitted awareness of the problem to be raised, and more active reporting of it,” UNICEF representative Rocio Mojica, told Colombia Reports.
“It is very important to understand that in cases like this… when reporting increases, it doesn’t mean that the problem is growing, but it is, rather, a good indicator that society is starting to recognize it as such.”
Mojica’s response compliments a statement from Bienestar Familiar Director for the Bolivar Department Jorge Redondo, published in an RCN Radio article. The director stated that, “From our viewpoint, it would be very difficult without precise statistics to say that child prostitution has increased in Cartagena. We believe that what has happened is that the number of reports [of the crime] have increased in response to all of the campaigns that we have been running.”
According to Mojica, these campaigns include civil society projects such as “La Muralla Soy Yo,” (“I am the wall”), a campaign that draws its title from a reference to the ancient wall which historically protected the city from invaders.
The project is a collaborative effort between the authorities, tourist agencies, non-governmental organizations, and the informal sector to combat child sex tourism on multiple fronts. Among other things, 57 area tourist agencies and 21 hotels have signed an agreement to protect children against sexual exploitation.
The NGO Tierra de Hombres also runs a legal campaign which works to prosecute child sex offenders. The organization’s primary lawyer for victims of child exploitation has so far achieved 19 convictions out of 47 cases, according an article in El Espectador.
UNICEF collaborates with these and other area organizations to promote and strengthen the application of Law 1329 of 2009, which established sanctions for the sexual exploitation of adolescents under 18 years of age.
Regarding the question of the direct and indirect causes of child prostitution in Cartagena, Mojica said that aside from the fact that Cartagena is a prime tourist destination, a high population of impoverished displaced contributes to the prevalence of the problem.
“Although poverty and displacement are not the direct causes of sexual exploitation, they put victims in an additional situation of vulnerability,” in which young girls and boys must join their families in the search for food and money, thus potentially exposing them to sex offenders, said Mojica.
The most recent arrest of a foreign child sex offender in Cartagena occurred this past February, when Paul Anthony Brailsford from England was arrested on charges of the sexual assault of a 14-year-old and child pornography. Braislford currently awaits trial.