Colombian street gangs are recruiting girls as young as ten in a sickening trade that sees their virginities auctioned off to drug barons and foreign tourists.
The youngsters are plucked from the slums – or communas – into a life of organized crime with the promise of stylish clothes, cocaine and financial help for their families.
But once they enter the gang’s uncompromising influence, they are ruthlessly protected like the highly profitable commodities they have now become – and threatened with death if they refuse to co-operate.
In Medellin, the home town of drug lord Pablo Escobar, whose demand for teenage virgins was notorious, the tradition of offering girls up for orgies with mafia kingpins is depressingly common.
Luis Pardo, Director of NGO Corporacion Consultoria de Conflicto Urabano (C3), which has been investigating the phenomenon over the last year, told The Independent: ‘This is a girl’s first [sexual] experience.
‘They pass from the hands of one capo to other capos and by the end they have become prostitutes.
HOW CLIENTS WILL PAY FOR A VIRGIN ON SECRET AUCTION SITES
Trusted clients are offered brochures of the children – either physical copies or in an online version – of up to 60 girls, according to an investigation by Corporacion Consultoria de Conflicto Urabano (C3).
- They are then passed a secret PIN which grants them access to bid on the auction website.
- Prices as high as five million pesos (US$2.700 dollars) are known to have been paid to take a girl’s virginity.
- When the auction is finished, the sites are taken down and the brochures destroyed.
Perversely, the improvements in security that have revolutionalized Medellin from a drug-ridden war zone to thriving city, have opened it up to sex tourism – and another client base for the gangs.
Clara Ines, the director of Medellin women’s rights NGO Vamos Mujersaid: ‘In the context of the war, and in the context of the “narcotizzation” of the culture, women have gone from being thought of as sexual objects to becoming merchandise.
‘Women have become the spoils of war.’
The authorities say they are powerless to intervene because of the grip the cartels hold on the street, to the point of charging their own taxes to resolve neighbourly disputes.
At the height of his power in 1989, Pablo Escobar, head of the infamous Medellin Cartel, was ranked the 7th richest man in the world by Forbes magazine.
In that year, he sold 80 per cent of the world’s cocaine, bombed governments and is believed to have killed nearly 4,000 people.
Although an enemy of the U.S. and Colombian governments, he was a hero to many in Medellin where he distributed money to the poor.
He was shot dead in December 1993 as he tried to escape police.
They also claim they are tied by the silence that surrounds the issue as many of the children enter the trade of their own volition.
However, many of those working with the victims say the response of the authorities has been weak.
‘This phenomenon exists and it is getting worse every day, but there is no state or police action,’ says Pardo.
Medellin earned its unfortunate reputation as one of the world’s most dangerous cities thanks to Pablo Escobar, the most renowned criminal of all time.
The city was the fortress of the cocaine king and every day several car bombs could explode as Escobar’s cartel went to war with the state.