Peruvian police have rescued 244 women, including 10 underage girls, who were being forced to work as prostitutes in a remote gold mining camp.
During one of the raids last weekend, authorities found a 13-year-old girl, according to Peruvian Security Assistant Secretary Luis Alberto Otarola.
“I personally witnessed the situation she was in,” he said. “They are all forced into cruel practices of sexual exploitation.”
Four men were arrested and face charges of human trafficking and forced prostitution. Trucks with contraband were also seized in the raid, officials said.
Prostitution is legal for women over the age of 18 in Peru. Authorities are investigating whether more than 10 girls were underage among the hundreds they found Friday because several might have initially lied to police and said they were older. All the women and girls are now at shelters.
Poverty is entrenched in the remote Amazonian jungle where the raid occurred. Many women and girls, desperate to survive, end up working at brothels in the areas, according to the international U.S.-based charity Save the Children.
“It’s true some of them don’t want to leave prostitution because, for the first time, they are making money,” said Teresa Carpio, the director of Save the Children in Peru. “Right outside the brothels, they sell dresses and make-up that they had never been able to buy before.”
The women often send the money they make to their families, she said.
Carpio said that the “mafias” control the camps.
Child prostitution carries a sentence of five to 12 years in prison, according to the U.S. State Department which published a 2010 human rights overview of Peru. The report noted that Peru was “a destination for child sex tourism, with Cusco and Iquitos as the principal locations.”