Illustration by Global Eye on human trafficking by IOMTrafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Boys and Male Adolescents in Central America

4 June 2009 - Through its extensive presence in Central America, Casa Alianza, an international NGO dedicated to assisting abandoned children, has been able to recognize the gravity of Commercial Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and human trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation of boys, girls and adolescents in the region. Although women and girls are usually regarded as the "typical" victims of this type of abuse, research conducted by Casa Alianza in 20 Honduran cities found that, from a sample of 1,019 minors victims of sexual exploitation, 42 of them (4 per cent) were male. Amongst the victims that have been screened by Casa Alianza there are also a significant number of persons who either identify themselves as gay or transsexual.

The business of sexual exploitation in Central America At Casa Alianza Honduras, we have been able to document a clear link between migration of minors and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and CSE. Indeed, our experience shows that the majority of migrant boys and girls who travel alone are exploited sexually and many are vulnerable to becoming victims of trafficking. Young migrants are forced into these situations not only because of economic necessity but also, because traffickers, pimps and other intermediaries also coerce them into sexually exploitative situations. The exploiters of boys and male adolescents are most often middle aged men. These men search for boys in lodging establishments, bus stations, and fast-food restaurants, among other places and pay anywhere from 15 to 100 USD.

However, in the Central America-Mexico migration circuit Casa Alianza has documented a case where there was an effort to "buy" a boy for at least 3,000 USD. The most frequent type of CSE in this context is remunerated sexual relations, paid either in cash or in kind with clothes, shoes, mobile telephones, food and entertainment. Certain forms of sexual exploitation such as pornography, sexual tourism or using young males in public/private erotic shows are not easily documented as they usually occur clandestinely. While there are some institutional responses in Central America for female victims of trafficking and CSE, the state response to sexual exploitation of boys and male adolescents is almost non-existent. We believe that in order to address the particular vulnerabilities of young male victims of trafficking and CSE, the following key elements must be taken into account when creating a strategy for protection and service provision targeted at this particular group: a) Masculinity and adolescence b) Humiliation suffered c) Drug abuse d) STDs and HIV/AIDS e) Street violence and "street" survival f) The inalienability of the human rights of the victim g) Sexuality.

When dealing with gay and transsexual boys and male adolescents victims of trafficking and CSE, it is important to respect the sexual identity of minors, and we would advise that assistance targeting this particularly vulnerable group must not try to repress the sexuality of the victim. Indeed, individuality must be at the core of any intervention strategy. Service providers must also remember that adolescents have the same inalienable rights as adults. Homosexuality and transgender are not illnesses or pathologies; therefore, their presence does not in and of itself require psychological, much less psychiatric, intervention. In this context, all victims of trafficking and of CSE, including boys and male adolescent victims, must be given information related to their sexual rights. The provision of services for boys and male adolescents do not vary greatly from the attention that should be given to all minors who have been victims of trafficking and CSE. Psychological assistance, for example should be used to minimize the consequences sexual victimization can have on boys, girls and adolescents. The reconstruction of emotional family links must also be taken into onsideration in order to guarantee full reintegration of the victims into their communities, while taking into consideration that in many instances the family can play role in the exploitation process of the minor. However, there are specific aspects and conditions that are unique to boys and male adolescents. For Casa Alianza, it remains a formidable challenge to communicate the particular conditions and vulnerabilities of this population to the authorities and society at large.

Until these issues are understood, a comprehensive social protection scheme which aims to restore this population with their fundamental rights is not feasible. In the meantime Casa Alianza will continue fighting to integrate the particular needs of this population into the implementation and development of its service programmes. For more information on the work of Casa Alianza please contact the author at honduras@casa-alianza.org.hn

This story is provided by IOM's Global Eye on Human Trafficking Bulletin