Ramita Navai and The Lost Girls of Honduras

by: Blaine Skrainka

June 11, 2012

Sex work and human trafficking are increasingly becoming  dark and inseparable worldwide commerce. Two and a half million people just this year have fallen victim to this $32 billion trafficking industry. The United Nations reports that 80 percent of these exploited persons were involved in sexual services. Across the globe, completely dehumanized, women are traded as goods. Lured by the promise of a better life, they are bought and sold into pornography or brothels. Trapped in a world of sexual violence, they often face hopeless debt-bondage and a fear of humiliating their families back home.

Ramita Navai, human trafficking

Ramita Navai, a foreign affairs correspondent that explores deep injustices around the world, recently traveled to Central America to examine the proliferation of human trafficking and the devastating consequences it has on women and their families. Navai is no stranger to reporting from perilous situations; she was one of the earliest Western journalists to give a first-hand account of the brutal pro-democracy crackdown in Syria.

For her latest assignment, Navai began her journey in the Honduran town of Progreso, where hundreds of girls have been disappearing with little trace. Charismatic recruiters offer the prospect of jobs in Mexico or the U.S., and an escape from Honduras, a country facing bleak economic conditions and the world’s highest murder rate.

After meeting with anguished mothers, will little recourse but to organize themselves and maintain a record of the missing girls, Navai and her team follow a clue leading them to southern Mexico. They went to the red light district of Tapachula to see first-hand what the women face. In a behind-the-scenes account of the trip, Navai describes the experience of seeking information in a Mexican brothel: “We weren’t good for business and we clearly unsettled the clientele.”

After discretely passing her mobile number to some of the working girls, Navai was able to meet up with a Honduran woman outside of town. She had left behind two children, seeking work, before being unwittingly sold into sex work. She speaks on the condition of anonymity. Navai recalls:

“In a trembling voice she recounted how she was kept under lock and key for two years and repeatedly raped.”

After “The Lost Girls” aired, Navai reported that the woman has since been diagnosed as HIV positive.

Conflicted, the women fear for the safety of their families if they try to escape, while at the same time, face the prospect of humiliation if they were ever to return home.

“I discovered it is that shame that keeps these girls hidden from their families and from the world – too ashamed to seek help, too ashamed to go home.”

A former trafficker tells Navai that he has in the past sold up to 40 girls in a single day with going rate of  $100 per head.

Local organizing and help from human rights activists are no match for a rotten political system. Complacent and corrupt officials – many police are regular clients – do little to stand up for the exploited women, and the careers of whistleblowers are cut short.

“It’s estimated that the trafficking of women and girls turns over $16 billion a year in Latin America and has now overtaken arms to be the second most lucrative illicit trade after drugs in the region.”

 

To watch Ramita Navai’s full report on the “Lost Girls” of Honduras, click here.

Channel 4 has also compiled a list of organizations doing positive work in the region. For more information, go here.

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