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Three boxes Triple Border Project,
Ciudad del Este, Paraguay


Along the triple border between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina the commercial sexual exploitation of young children and adolescents is visible along the streets of local towns (Foz de Iguazu Ciudad del Este and Puerto Iguazu). It is estimated that close to 3,500 minors under the age of 18 are victims of commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) in the area. This exploitation is linked to groups that control the trafficking of drugs. There is free movement of people and products for both the legal and illegal trade across these borders, and minors are lured into crossing from one city to another and easily fall into prostitution. In an assessment undertaken by IPEC (May 2002), in the streets of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, 250 girls and adolescents were identified in situations linked to street prostitution. Three quarters of these girls live in areas called settlements, far from Ciudad del Este itself. Most have been subjected to trafficking after having been 'persuaded' by traffickers they could earn enough money to help oneself as well as one's families in the town centres. The girls range in age from 8 to 18 years.

Personal story Mabelia

Mabelia is 10 years old. On November 30, 2002, she was found by a merchant from Ciudad del Este on Adraina Jara y Pampliega street. It was approximately 9:00 p.m. when she was found in, what is perhaps, one of the most frequented corners of the centre of Ciudad del Este, Paraguay.

She was very dirty. Dressed in pants and a pullover, and wearing Japanese-style slippers, when she was found she had about 12 USD (80.000 Gs, Guaraníes) in her pockets, a product of her 'sexual activity'. It had been 48 hours since she had returned to her mother's home, but she feared going back, since she had not met the goal that had been established by her mother, Doña Maria.

Mabelia's first contact was with Mrs. Petrona Perez, of the Local Committee of the Prevention and Elimination of the CSE programme in Ciudad del Este, a group that has been formed by the IPEC Programme on the Prevention and Elimination of the CSE along the Paraguay-Brazil borders. Mrs. Perez had been observing the small girl and had offered to return her to her family. Mabelia told Mrs. Perez that she would not return home, as she was certain her mother would beat her.

Three days later, on December 2, 2002, Mrs. Petrona went with the young girl to the Children and Adolescents Courthouse, to press charges and to turn over the young girl to the authorities. The presiding judge referred the case to Municipal Ministry for the Rights of Children and Adolescents, who then turned over the custody of the girl to a provisional guardian who would provide protection and support, in accordance with the law.

At the Courthouse, the young girl told the judge that the money found in her pockets was the fruit of her 'sexual work'. She explained that, encouraged by her mother, she would leave her house in the morning and sometimes would cross the Puente de la Amistad (Friendship Bridge)to the border city of Foz de Iguazu in Brazil on the pretext of buying candies to sell later. She admitted to having an 'established clientele'.

Based on the evidence, the Municipal Ministry filed formal charges with the General Attorney's Office against the individual or individuals who were sexually exploiting the young, ten year old girla fragile figure, toothless and with a case of dermatitis.

As that municipality did not have a Centre for Sexually Exploited Children (Boys and Girls), from 2 to 8 December, Mabelia went to live with a family assigned to her by the Courthouse. During those days, she was examined by a medical doctor of the Judiciary and underwent a diagnostic gynaecological exam, in addition to a psychological assessment test for victims, also ordered by the Judiciary.

On the basis of the information provided by young Mabelia, her mother Dona Maria , was summoned by Judge R.B. and the court found sufficient evidence to charge the mother . Doña Maria was detained by the police and taken into custody at the Women's Prison in Ciudad del Este. Meanwhile, Mabelia was taken in by a next-door neighbour. However, shortly after her imprisonment, Mabelia's mother obtained parole under the vigilance of her lawyer, and subsequently given conditional liberty

Prior to the involvement of the court in Mabelia's life, she lived with her mother, an employed widow of 40 year of age. Among Mabelia's seven siblings are a 14 year old sister, who ran away with her boyfriend; Javier, a 13 year old drug addict; and Hector, who at 15 years of age works in the streets cleaning windshields.

Young Mabelia was the first beneficiary of the Center for the Prevention and Integral Attention to Boys, Girls and Adolescents of Sexual Commercial Exploitation in Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, an action program executed by the Diocese of the Ciudad del Este, under the framework of the ILO/BIT Programme on the Prevention and Elimination of the Sexual Commercial Exploitation of Infants (Children) in the Triple Border (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay). Today Mabelia. goes to school, receives physical and psychological attention, and takes part in personal development workshops, taking positive steps towards improving her behaviour and outlook. She's been completely taken out of the commercial sexual exploitation situation and away from the influence of the adults, including her mother and step father, who used to transport her from her home to the center of Ciudad del Este (Paraguay) and Foz do Iguazu to prostitute herself. Her family is also receiving assistance from the Center.

A note about one of Mabelia's brother

One of Mabelia's brother, the 11 year old, who used to beg along the streets of Ciudad del Este, went to court to bring charges of physical abuse and labour exploitation against his mother. The case is now going through the judicial process.

Once again, the Attorney General's Office has filed formal charges. At the request of the Attorney General, the young boy was taken to the 'Mita Pyahu Roga' House in the city. From March 21, 2003, the young boy is in an undisclosed location unknown to the mother and other family members.

Doña María, Mabelia's mother, is now faced with two judicial charges: one, under the Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Infants, and another, under the Labour Exploitation of Minors.

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Updated by EM. Approved by NE. Last update: 19 March 2004