Sex trafficking 'staggering' in illegal Latin American gold mines: researchers

Wed Mar 30, 2016 12:49pm EDT
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By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The scale of sex trafficking around illegal gold mines in parts of Latin America is "staggering," and thousands of people working there are prey to labor exploitation by organized crime groups, a think-tank said on Wednesday.

"When these mines are directly controlled by criminal groups, or in areas controlled by organized crime, there is an elevated risk of human trafficking," the report by the Geneva-based organization said.

"In Colombia and Peru particularly, and to a lesser extent in the other countries studied, our research uncovered numerous instances of labor trafficking and exploitation, sex trafficking and child labor."

The report by the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime examined the links between illegal gold mining, organized crime and human trafficking in nine countries - Peru and Colombia, the region's largest producers of illegal gold, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela.

Livia Wagner, who wrote the report, said she had seen girls as young as 12 working in the brothels and bars around illegal gold mines in Madre de Dios, a vast province in Peru's Amazon jungle.

"Sexual exploitation is very much prevalent in illegal mining areas, especially in Peru and Bolivia, and my impression is that the girls are getting younger and younger. The scale is staggering," Wagner, a private sector advisor at the Global Initiative, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

High gold prices from 2000 to 2010 created a gold rush and led organized crime groups to move into the multi-billion dollar illegal mining industry, especially in Peru and Colombia, the report said.

It quoted Colombian police authorities as saying record gold prices and a government crackdown on cocaine trafficking had pushed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group and criminal gangs to seek new revenue sources and expand into illegal mining in the past five years.   Continued...

An area deforested by illegal gold mining is seen in a zone known as Mega 14, in the southern Amazon region of Madre de Dios July 14, 2015.  REUTERS/Janine Costa