News/Costa Rica: Sex Tourism

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Subject: News/Costa Rica: Sex Tourism
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Mon Nov 29 1999 - 09:24:26 EST


I don't normally post articles about sex tourism. However, as there is
very little information about trafficking in persons in or out of Costa
Rica, I thought that a little bit of information would be helpful.

Does anybody know anything about trafficking in Costa Rica? If so, could
you please post to the list?

Thanks, melanie...

                        Sex Tourism

   By MARIANELA JIMENEZ
 Associated Press Writer
   SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) -- It's Saturday night at the Key Largo, and
Van Halen and Lenny Kravitz blare over the flashing disco lights. But
nobody has come to dance.
   At the bar, a teen-age girl in a transparent white dress approaches a
fortysomething American in jeans and a green print shirt.
   "You're alone," she says softly. "Want some company?"
   He acquiesces in a mixture of English and Spanish and offers her a
drink. She gives no resistance as his hands move up and down her body.
   This may be Costa Rica's biggest boom industry. Thousands of American
men are thought to visit Costa Rica every year looking for sex for pay.
   "It's fabulous because nobody is forcing anybody to do anything," the
American at the bar says, refusing to give his name. "It's an exotic
escape, a fantasy for the bored."
   Children's rights activists say there is nothing innocent about it. They
say foreigners -- especially Americans -- come to Costa Rica increasingly
in search of sex with children.
   Tourism in general has become Costa Rica's most profitable industry over
the '90s, thanks to its pristine beaches and spectacular volcanoes, as well
as its reputation as a peaceful oasis in an unsettled region.
   And with Southeastern Asian countries like Thailand and the Philippines
cracking down on sex tourism, Central America is emerging as a new hot spot
for the sex trade, children's advocates say.
   "The problem exists all over Central America, but the phenomenon is
greater in Costa Rica since the number of tourists coming in is the
highest," says Bruce Harris, director of the children's advocacy group
Covenant House, whose regional operation is headquartered in San Jose.
   Adult prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, and with 27 percent of the
population living in extreme poverty, the country is a fertile ground for
the sex trade. And, until a few months ago, it wasn't even a crime to pay a
child for sex.
   "Sexual tourists look for two things: impunity and anonymity. Costa Rica
offers both," says Erika Linares, a lawyer with the Latin American
Institute for Health Prevention, a group that works with prostitutes.
   Last January, two Americans were arrested after police found 300
photographs of girls between 11 and 16 at a home in Quepos, a popular beach
destination in southern Costa Rica.
   The two men faced 10 years in prison on charges of corruption of minors,
but put up $1,000 bail and are believed to have fled. "This is the typical
example of how Costa Rican authorities deal with predators," Harris says.
   Officials with the government's National Children's Authority say they
lack funds and equipment to deal with the problem. But they say Costa Rica
is trying.
   A police sex-crimes unit has been expanded from two to eight, although
the investigators say they don't have equipment like walkie-talkies or cars
they would need to crack down on the network of hotels, bars, massage
parlors and taxi drivers profiting from sex.
   The National Assembly passed a law in June criminalizing sex with
minors. Now an adult who pays for sex with a child can face two to 10 years
in prison for child abuse.
   In addition, every tourist arriving at the airport is handed a pamphlet
warning they could go to jail for having sex with minors.
   "We have no intention of being known as a country that promotes this
stuff. We only want the right kind of tourists," says Eduardo Leon,
director of Costa Rica's Tourism Board.
   Children's advocates are skeptical the government will really crack
down. "They are more worried about the bad image for their beaches and the
jungles than about their own children," Harris says.
   End Adv for Monday, Nov. 29

Melanie Orhant

morhant@igc.org
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Stop-traffic is a facilitated, international electronic mailing list
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