Unreported World, Honduras: The Lost Girls
June 8 2012
In a tiny, windowless room, a white-haired grandmother is slowly tapping away at an ancient computer. In neat piles around her are hundreds of files, each with a photograph of a young, smiling woman stapled to the front.
Edita Maldonado is a member of the Mothers of Progreso, established by a few women in Honduras 13 years ago when their daughters started to disappear. It now has more than 400 members. “We’ve had to turn into private detectives to try to find our children, because if we don’t, no one else will,” Mrs Maldonado said.
Hundreds of Honduran women go missing every year, most when seeking work in the US or Mexico. Many end up in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest and southernmost state, which has a booming sex industry. Padre Alejandro Solalinde Guerra, an outspoken priest who runs a shelter for illegal migrants in Chiapas, says that migrant women are falling prey to human traffickers. He has housed dozens of trafficking victims and regularly receives death threats.
“Women here are getting sold into the sex trade. For organised crime, for police and for corrupt officials, the women are simply a commodity,” Father Solalinde said. “They force them into pornography or take them to brothels. And it’s all linked to drugs.”
With police pressure and turf wars, drug cartels are diversifying. Human trafficking has displaced arms as the second most lucrative illicit trade after drugs in Latin America, and the International Organisation for Migration estimates that the trafficking of women and girls in the region is worth £10 billion a year. A Mexican congresswoman, Rosi Orozco, recently said that 800,000 adults and 20,000 children were trafficked to Mexico every year.
Patricia Villamil worked as the Honduran Consul in Chiapas for eight months, during which she helped to rescue dozens of girls, many of them underage. Ms Villamil said that the authorities had more than 200 phone calls from Honduran women claiming to have been sold into brothels. “It’s easier to traffic people than drugs, and it’s more profitable. You sell drugs once, but women and children can service 15 to 20 men in a day, every day.”
The Huffington Post
Honduras: The Lost Girls
After a week of hanging out in Mexican brothels, I was no nearer to the story I was investigating on the disappearance of thousands of Honduran women. All the leads pointed to them being trafficked and sold for sex in brothels in Chiapas, Mexico's southern most and poorest state, populated by a disparate mix of smugglers, criminal gangs, drug cartels, rebels, indigenous Indians and illegal migrants. But the working girls were all too scared to talk.
It was the same drill every time we entered a 'cantina'. My translator, producer and I - all females - would walk into the bordello with our male escort and activist, Juan, following us at a discrete distance. Sometimes Juan would introduce us to the girls, pimps and Madams; other times we had to fend for ourselves. The initial reception was always frosty. We weren't good for business and we clearly unsettled the clientele. So we would try to blend in, swigging beers and cracking jokes, hoping the women and punters would accept we were just three wild girls who happened to enjoy getting tanked up at the local brothel.
Mexican brothels aren't the prettiest of places, especially not on payday when bottles of beer and tequila are being chugged down. Men in cowboy hats and jeans stagger to plastic tables and beckon girls over. In buttock-skimming skirts and Perspex heels the girls exchange pleasantries then get to the business of prices and boundaries. The couple disappears for ten minutes, and then it happens all over again.
When the girls approached us, they were curious and welcoming of any non-sexual attention. Nearly all the working girls in all the brothels we visited were Honduran, renowned in the region for their striking beauty, long legs, juicy bottoms and big breasts. They are the punters favourite. I would gently tell them why I was really there - I was a journalist on the hunt for a story - but the moment I steered the subject towards sex trafficking they shut down. Some tried to communicate with their eyes, widening them and slowly nodding their heads; some whispered that yes, girls were being bought and sold. But they couldn't tell me any more because they were being watched. I would scribble down my phone number and subtly hand it over.