Actress and UNICEF Ambassador Angie Harmon recently returned from a visit to Nicaragua, where she traveled to bring attention to the horrors of child trafficking within the Central American country and across the globe. During her trip Harmon witnessed UNICEF programs to protect children from violence, exploitation and abuse and spoke with adolescent girls and boys about their experiences.
During her trip, Harmon travelled to the Northern town of San Lucas where she witnessed efforts to combat trafficking along the Honduran border and met children and adolescent leaders who demonstrated through skits, dancing, and artwork how they educate their peers.
She also visited with youth mentors, church leaders, and life-skills counselors in Bluefields, a city affected by drug and human trafficking, and participated in a play about issues facing teens in the region. In Granada, the most visited tourist spot in the country, many children beg for food or money in the city center, increasing the risk for them to be sexually exploited and in the worst case, trapped by traffickers. While there, Harmon met with three adolescent survivors of sexual abuse or exploitation and heard their stories.
“In Nicaragua I met adolescents who have lived through some of the most horrific circumstances imaginable, including two 11-year-old girls who were sexually exploited,” said UNICEF Ambassador Angie Harmon. “But I didn’t see victims, I saw survivors. I was awed by their strength and by their desire to help not only themselves, but also their peers.”
Within Nicaragua, children are subjected to sex and labor trafficking, and the country also serves as a source and transit point for trafficking into other Central American nations, Mexico and the United States. Girls are often recruited in rural areas for work in urban centers and then forced into prostitution.
Nicaragua is a destination for tourists from the U.S., Canada and Western Europe, some of whom engage in commercial sexual exploitation of children. In addition, children are forced into working in agriculture, in the informal sector, and in domestic settings in Nicaragua and neighboring countries.
While the full extent of sexual exploitation and child trafficking in Nicaragua is not known, UNICEF is helping the country develop a real-time monitoring system for responses to commercial and sexual exploitation and is completing an analysis to obtain more accurate statistics associated with child trafficking.
UNICEF’s work on this issue in Nicaragua also includes training teachers, adolescents, community and church leaders, among others, to create a protective environment to prevent trafficking in their areas; supporting peer-to-peer mentoring and life-skills workshops for youth to protect themselves from exploitation and abuse; and strengthening the capacities of local networks and institutions to help survivors of sexual violence and their families recover and rebuild their lives.