Locations in Central America
Costa Rica was where Seeds of Hope originally began, in the small town of Quepos. In Cost Rica, many children are at-risk for being sexually exploited, trafficked, and sold for sex by their own family members. Costa Rica has some of the highest numbers of child prostitution in Central America, which is a result of their sex tourism industry. Costa Rica is on the US State Departments tier 2 watch list for human trafficking, which means that it does not currently meet the minimum standards to address human trafficking in the country. This is one step up from the lowest possible rating. Seeds of Hope is partnered with two Costa Rican task forces, CONACOES and CONATT, who are working to combat human trafficking of minors. Seeds of Hope offers classes that raise awareness, teach students what sexual exploitation/trafficking are, and also empowers them to break the chain of silence and speak out about these crimes. The mission of Seeds of Hope Costa Rica is to prevent the most detrimental effects of poverty by providing these young people with opportunities they deserve, in a supportive environment where they can grow as individuals who will make a difference.
Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Americas after Haiti, with half of all children living in poverty. 79% of the total population lives on less than $2.00 dollars per day and 45% live on less than $1.00 per day. UNICEF estimates that 500,000 Nicaraguan children aged 3-17 are not in the educational system. These high poverty levels force an estimated 340,000 children aged between 5-17 into the workforce. Nicaragua also has high levels of commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC), child pornography, and trafficking of children for CSEC especially in the main tourist cities like Granada. It is very normal to see a young girl, 12 years old, with a 60 year old gringo male. The system is very corrupt and there is almost no motivation to report anything because of the lack of intervention. These children are not perceived as having any rights, and “in the context of globalization, the rights of the Other are grossly pushed aside by men soliciting sexual favors.” (Carranza, Herrera, Parada, & Jiménez, 2013)
USAID reports that El Salvador currently has the highest homicide rate in the world for youth under the age of 19, and an estimation of 60,000 belong to gangs. El Salvador is plagued with many complex and interconnected issues, mainly high levels of poverty and a long history of gang violence within the country. In 2017, El Salvador was one of the most dangerous places to live that was not inside a war-zone. El Salvador has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, with 94% of the country affected by gang violence. More than 20,000 Salvadorans died from gang violence from 2014-2017, which is more deaths than some countries that were at war during that time. (Martinez, 2018) The youth are the most vulnerable population and are the most heavily recruited age demographic for gangs. Young girls are also often targeted and sold into sex slavery, to support the gangs financially. There are a number of risk factors contributing to high levels of youth violence and crime in El Salvador, including high rates of poverty, inequality, under- age unemployment and school drop-outs, dysfunctional family structures, easy access to arms, alcohol and illegal drugs, chaotic urbanization, and finally local gang structures and organized crime (especially drug trafficking). It is estimated that between 20,000 and 35,000 young Salvadorans belong to youth gangs, the so-called ‘maras’. Members are 20 years old on average, with a mean entry age being 15 years. Social exclusion is a main factor for joining a gang, which represents an alternative source of stability, identity and livelihood. Child labor is also another major issue in El Salvador, with an estimated 1.8 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 forced to work in order to support their families. (Martinez, 2018)