Authorities in Colombia have broken up a prostitution ring exploiting indigenous minors in the Amazonas department, the second human trafficking ring arrested this year in the region.
On July 31, police arrested 13 suspected participants in a criminal network, including three members of local indigenous communities, which recruited indigenous girls for prostitution, according to a police statement.
The prostitution ring was based in Leticia, Amazonas, a city located in the area where Colombia, Peru, and Brazil meet. In the city, the group allegedly used motorcycle taxis to prowl schools in search of girls, who were then transported to Brazil and Peru, where they were forced into sex work. The police say the traffickers charged between 200,000 and 300,000 Colombian pesos (between $61 and $92) per victim as a trafficking fee.
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This is the second human trafficking ring that Colombian police have dismantled in the area in the last six months. In February, authorities took down a criminal network, which recruited indigenous girls in Puerto Nariño, Amazonas, on the border with Brazil. The girls were then coerced into sexual and labor exploitation in nearby cities in Peru.
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The targeting of minors by prostitution rings is just one example of how indigenous communities throughout Colombia remain exceedingly vulnerable to criminal activity.
Often, indigenous populations live in remote parts of the country where access to state services is minimal. A culture of government neglect has further marginalized these communities, leaving them exposed to various criminal threats and intensifying their distrust of state security forces.
In addition, the country’s armed groups repeatedly encroach on indigenous land, often in resource-rich rural areas. In May 2019, for example, a Colombian armed group, known as Águilas Negras, or Black Eagles, declared as a military objective an indigenous community in the western department of Nariño, due to its wealth of natural resources and adequate climate for growing illicit crops.
In other cases, indigenous communities are caught in the crossfire as armed groups vie for control of coca production in areas where the state has minimal influence.
The arrests in Leticia come against the backdrop of mounting aggression towards indigenous leaders nationwide. Between January 2018 and April 2019, 74 indigenous leaders were killed, according to figures from Colombia’s forensic institute, Medicina Legal.