Monday, January 11, 2010

Mexican woman tells of ordeal with cross-border child traffickers


A young Mexican woman who escaped from human traffickers has told US special agents how she witnessed babies and children being "sold to order" to US citizens.

America's Department of Homeland Security in Washington says the girl, known only as Maria, had "significant ~information" and possessed a "remarkable memory" of her experiences inside the gang.

In an interview with Channel 4 News, to be broadcast tonight, the teenager tells of a cross-border trade in babies and young children, where Mexican and US gangs worked together to supply a demand in the United States.

As a result of the interview, US officials and Mexican authorities have begun an investigation into the alleged trafficking.

Maria says she was 16 when she was lured into the gang by a man on the streets of the Mexican border town of Ciudad Juárez.

Since the 1990s, thousands of women have disappeared from the town. Hundreds of bodies bearing signs of rape and sexual mutilation have been dumped on waste ground in the city; thousands more have never returned.

In 2009, 55 teenage girls vanished in the town, which has been gripped by violence as two drug cartels fight a lethal turf war over cocaine smuggling routes into the US.

Maria, who was in hiding when she talked to Channel 4 News, said she had been given presents and promised a job in an office by the gang member but was instead drugged and raped and sold to men.

In late December, US special agents flew the teenager to the US for a full interview.

Describing what the gang did to one girl who tried to escape, she said: "They took a gallon of gasoline and started pouring it over her. One of the men told me, 'If you don't do as I say, I will do the same to you.' I wanted to look away – but they didn't' let me.

"Even though the girl was on fire, they kept hitting her. They were laughing as if they were enjoying what they were doing. They burned her alive."

Maria, which is not her real name, said the gang had held young women in a house on the Mexican border until they were sold to the US as sex slaves. But she said they also dealt in children, and told of one occasion when the gang was contacted by a woman in New York. "She said she needed a seven-year-old girl and a nine-year-old boy – and she needed them in three days," Maria quoted the woman as saying.

Maria told special agents the gang would prowl the streets of poor areas looking for children.

"They stole the children," she said. "One of the gang members took a six-year-old kid. I had to look after him for three hours. He told me he wanted to see his mummy. Then I started crying. I said: 'I don't think you're ever going to see your mummy again.' All he kept saying was, 'I want to see my mummy.'"

Maria, who escaped after a gang member left her alone in a house, says children were often around. But not for long.

"I saw the Americans taking kids," she said: "a four-year-old and another boy. He barely walked. He was only about two years old. They took them to New York."

The US state department estimates that more than 20,000 young women and children are trafficked across the border from Mexico each year. But conviction rates remain low.

Mexico's attorney general, Arturo Chaves, has been accused of failing to do enough to bring human traffickers to justice, he has insisted the country is "definitely focusing" on the issue.

Maria has been told she may have to give evidence against the gang if they are caught. It is something she says she is determined to do.

"Women are sold. They are abducted, bought and even killed by these men. If these men are ever found, jail won't be enough to make them pay for the way they have made us feel."

Back from the Dead: Maria's Story will be broadcast on Channel 4 News tonight, from 7pm.