“Take care of your daughter, or she will be sold” a phrase reportedly heard in Columbia’s poorer districts. According to Jineth Bedoya Lima, Sub Editor of Columbia’s National Newspaper, El Tiempo, it’s true.
The Global summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict brought Jineth Bedoya to London’s Excel fringe event ‘Coalico’ on Wednesday, where the challenges in documenting sexual violence against children in armed conflict in Columbia were discussed.
Jineth, a Columbian journalist who carries out exceptional investigative work is a survivor of sexual violence and the recipient of numerous journalism and courage awards. She works on the issues of sexual violence and conflict in Columbia.
Jineth began by acknowledging that what she has to share is not only happening in Columbia but in many other countries. She proceeded to alert the audience to her emphatic news:
“Currently Columbian girls are facing a very difficult situation, because there is a new network of trafficking of girls in Columbia around mining areas.” She spoke of her 8 month investigation conducted over a year ago, and reports that “10’s of girls were being recruited from the city and taken to the mining areas to be sexually exploited.”
An earlier report by Human Rights Brief confirms that Human traffickers are taking advantage of increased safety in Columbia, resulting from an apparent decrease in Colombian narco-trafficking. This has driven a mining boom, attracting male labourers from across the country seeking work, many leaving their families behind.
Jineth documents that girls from 9-13 years of age are being sold for significant sums. “This is a crime that is not being tackled, girls are now being victimised and we have seen that in cities such as Medellin and Cali they are paying large sums of money to buy these girls”.
Based on her investigation, she has observed that armed criminal groups which were previously called para-militaries are travelling to Columbian cities to recruit girls. “They look for them, they take advantage of their economic situation, offer them mostly domestic work and by telling them this, they take them to mining areas, they put these girls in camps and then they sexually exploit them.”
Jineth has spoken to some of the girls who have managed to escape from these camps. “The most worrying and frightening thing is to see that this practice is taking place there. We would mostly think that this happens in Governments that have no control over the situation but this is actually happening in Columbia. These girls are being kidnapped and sexually exploited.”
A 2012 Trafficking In Persons Report re Columbia, published by the US Department of State confirms that the Columbian Government fully complied with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking in persons and ‘maintained strong law enforcement actions against transnational sex trafficking offenders.’ However cites: ‘Efforts to investigate internal trafficking cases and forced labour crimes remained weak, with no reported convictions for these offenses.’
In 2012, Women’s Link Worldwide reported on research conducted in Columbia. Ariadna Tovar, the reports lead author clarifies “But what’s less known is that Colombia is a country with high levels of internal trafficking, a problem that’s invisible.”
“Human trafficking isn’t seen as a problem inside Colombia, but something that occurs beyond its borders.”
A reason why Columbian authorities may be ‘weak’ in investigating internal trafficking cases may be their failure to acknowledge it exists. Jineth confirms: “When we asked the local government about this situation, the most common answer is that these girls are part of prostitution because they like it.” Jineth argues there is no logic in this answer as “girls that are 9 years old, they would never know what is good, what is bad so they cannot say they like prostitution and what seems even more illogical is that there is no urgent plan in place to rescue these girls at the moment.”
Ariadna Tovar explains: “Because of high unemployment and poverty rates in the regions where we did our research, prostitution is seen as a job option and it’s seen as something that’s normal and commonplace,”
“As prostitution is legal in Colombia it makes it difficult for society and state authorities to see prostitutes as possible victims of sex trafficking. It also makes it difficult for victims to see themselves as victims of sex trafficking.”
Jineth gave an example of the Columbian city Medellin, which she describes as one of the most modern and important. She reports that 3 out of 5 girls there have been sexually abused or exploited.
“The other thing is what happens to these victims after they have been subjected to this sexual exploitation? The majority have had several pregnancies after being raped or sexually exploited, girls around 14 years old, the majority have had 4-5 abortions already and already they have 2-3 children.”
Jineth highlighted that when she denounced these acts publicly via her editorial, “the official answer I got to this and the answer I got from the authorities is that I was giving a very bad image of the city. They never bothered to look for the girls, to put any medical care in place for them or to put in place a public policy to address this issue.”
“Many of these girls that have been recruited, they find themselves in these camps, so that they are sexually exploited and many never manage to come back after being put there. Based on a report from the intelligence service, many of these girls died in these camps where they are being exploited and those that manage to get away from these camps, we don’t know where they are.”
Jineth concluded with a plea and a call for global solidarity:
“I would like to call your attention to this situation, the responsibility that we have as a society, we need to help support and save these girls. In our world it seems unthinkable that such a situation is taking place in Columbia but I can tell you that there are currently 100’s of girls that are currently being sexually exploited in these areas and worst of all, these girls have no future because they are not considered a priority. We are all here today to take action. I invite you all to act for and on behalf of these girls because they need us. You know the best way so that you can act, so that they know they are not alone. We have to be their voice, we have to do this for them, this is the message that I wish to convey to you.”
Peace and love, Sky