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Her mother was demanding that she bring money home, and she saw it as a way to earn an income. Alba was the only underage girl in the bar where she worked, which attracted a relatively upscale clientele. She was also the most popular, to the point that she was the target of envy on the part of her fellow sex workers. But hers is not an isolated case. Although no precise figures are available, in it was estimated that 2, minors were sexually exploited in Guatemala City alone, according to a report by Casa Alianza the Latin American branch of the New York-based Covenant House, a child advocacy organisation and ECPAT an international NGO working to end child prostitution, child pornography and the trafficking of children.
Of those 2, minors, 1, were from El Salvador, from Honduras and from Guatemala itself. The Guatemalan Congress is studying a draft law that would classify sexual exploitation as a crime, which would be punishable by six to year prison sentences. Guatemala is the only country in Central America that has not yet updated its laws in this area, and according to experts, the political parties are in no hurry to do so.
Besides, most of the lawmakers are men, so a sexist viewpoint prevails. Furthermore, the pimps or procurers tend to force the minors themselves to pay the fine, under the argument that they were responsible for drawing the penalty in the first place. And although prison sentences range from one to six years for those who smuggle people into the country to put them to work as prostitutes, hardly anyone ever goes to jail, because if the sentence is under five years, it can be commuted.
The girls are recruited by intermediaries, sometimes their own family members, or by traffickers with links to organised crime rings, who deceive the girls offering them well-paid jobs in restaurants, for example. Alba, however, was able to escape from that world when the brothel where she worked was reported to the authorities and raided, and because of her determination to find a decent job.
She was taken in by Casa Alianza, where she stayed for a month and a half, before returning to her home and getting work as a domestic. But reinsertion into society is often a much more complicated matter. In the last three years, Casa Alianza has provided assistance to more than girls, around 40 percent of whom also suffered from sexually transmitted diseases. The girls who fall victim to sexual exploitation tend to come from poverty-stricken homes, and have often suffered domestic abuse.