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From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Thu Jan 18 2001 - 08:46:56 EST


OTC 30/Nov/00 2:02 AM

  SAN JOSE, (Nov. 28) IPS - Adult prostitution is legal, unregulated and on
the rise in Costa Rica, where thousands of Central American, Caribbean and
European women are being sexually exploited, say human rights activists.
    The non-governmental group Casa Alianza, with offices in Mexico and four
Central American countries, has expressed deep concern about the increase
in trafficking of foreign women who are brought into the country to work in
the sex trade.
    "This is a growing business, and every day we hear more reports" of
women caught up in the trade, Bruce Harris, Casa Alianza director, told
    The organization, which specializes in helping children and adolescents
who are unprotected and exploited, this year received the million-dollar
Conrad Hilton Prize, considered the world's top humanitarian award.
    Women working as prostitutes in this country include Russians,
Bulgarians, Filipinas, Panamanians, Costa Rican, Nicaraguans and
Colombians, said Harris.
    "We respect the laws of Costa Rica that permit prostitution, but we are
against these activities" and the publicity that the country's sex tourism
industry receives via the Internet, he emphasized.
    Costa Rican legislation prohibits child prostitution and punishes those
who produce or disseminate pornography, those working as sexual procurers,
or pimps, and those who profit from managing minors or adults for sexual
    But if an adult woman in Costa Rica wants to work in the sex trade on
her own, the activity is permitted under law.
    Harris calls on the Costa Rican authorities, through IPS, to make a
greater effort to fight sexual procurers and promoters of sex tourism, who
offer women to hotel guests in the capital and in the country's beach
    The lack of official statistics has so far prevented an accurate count
of people involved in the sex trade here, whether adults or minors.
    In this respect, Casa Alianza announced that it will present a study in
February on the magnitude of the trafficking of children for sexual
    The authorities, meanwhile, reject the criticisms of activists who say
the government is taking a passive stance with respect to the prostitution
problem, and who call for a planned and responsible public strategy.
    "We are not being passive. We have attacked the pimps and we have
already dealt a sharp blow to the U.S. citizens who were promoting sex
tourism," Liliam G"mez, public prosecutor for sex crimes and family
violence, told IPS.
    G"mez says that in the international environment people have wanted to
compare Costa Rica's sex tourism to that of Thailand, but, she stressed, it
is not true and it "is irresponsible" to make such a comparison.
    "Even one case of sexual exploitation should be motive for concern, but
to go from there and say there are thousands and that there are no
controls, we have to say it is not true," G"mez maintained.
    The official explained that, as part of the government's strategy to
fight sex tourism, a bill has been presented before parliament that calls
for the property of convicted pimps to be confiscated, and for the
legalisation of telephone wiretaps to track down those who promote sex
    She also pointed out that banning adult prostitution in Costa Rica could
be counterproductive, as doing so would mean the exclusion of women sex
workers from the public health system, which could in turn mean the further
spread of venereal diseases.
    The growing reputation of Costa Rica as a destination for sex tourism is
one of Casa Alianza's greatest concerns.
    According to the humanitarian group, there are individuals who advertise
themselves -- their work in the sex trade -- over the government's Internet
    Harris showed IPS a letter he sent in June to Costa Rican Radio-Graphics
(RACSA), the enterprise that provides the country with Internet access and
electronic mail.
    The Casa Alianza director points out in the letter that an e-mail
address provided by RACSA is accessible from a website to "promote sex
tourism" in Costa Rica.
    Harris warned that, if there is no response in the next few weeks from
the company's executives, he will take the case to the courts, charging
that RACSA is abetting publicity for the country as a sex-tourism
    IPS contacted the RACSA offices to obtain general manager Marco Cruz's
statements on the situation, but did not receive a response.
           Copyright (c) IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.

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