Prostitution in Mexico

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A street prostitute in Zona Norte, Tijuana.

Prostitution in Mexico has been regulated since 1885.[1] Today it is decriminalized under governmental supervision, but the laws vary by state. 13 of the 31 states of Mexico regulate prostitution.[2] Prostitution involving minors under 18 is illegal, but such activities are common.[3] Some Mexican cities have enacted tolerance zones (zonas de tolerancia) which allow regulated prostitution and function as red light districts. In most parts of the country, pimping is illegal, although pimp-worker relationships still occur, sometimes under female pimps called madrotas.[4] The government provides shelter for former prostitutes.[5]


During the authoritarian regime of Porfirio Díaz in the late nineteenth century, regulations in the forms of monthly quotas, medical examinations, and photographic documentation were imposed upon sex workers.[6] Regulatory practices were most severe on the eve of the Mexican export-mining economic collapse, and had been met with backlash from women's rights groups in Oaxaca, Yucatán, and Veracruz.[7] According to a 1908 study, economic concerns were the main reason for turning to the sex trade in Porfirian Mexico, at which time 15 to 30 per cent of Mexico City's young female population was employed in the sex trade.[8] In translocal border cities such as Mexicali in Baja California, local brothels and vaudeville theatres became spaces for Euro-American tourists, Asian laborers, and Mexican-American sex workers to intermingle in the 1930s.[9] Today, it can be argued that neoliberal reforms instituted in the late 1990s under the PRI administration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari—including the signing of NAFTA in 1994—incubated adverse economic conditions that caused the migration of indigenous women from southern Mexico to northern border locales to find work in the sex trade or in maquiladoras.[10] Violence against sex workers in Ciudad Juárez has been connected to similar atrocities committed against maquiladora workers.[11] Currently, American men make up a significant clientele sector for sex workers in border cities, specifically Ciudad Juárez and Tijuana—in the mid-2000s, more than two-thirds of female sex workers in these two cities had had at least one male U.S. client in the prior two months.[12]

Child Prostitution[edit]

Child prostitution is a problem in the country, and Mexico continues to be a destination for pedophiles who engage in child sex tourism. Mexico is one of the leading hot spots of child sexual exploitation, along with Thailand, Cambodia, Colombia, India, and Brazil.[13]

A study by UNICEF Mexico and the DIF/National System for Integral Family Development estimated that more than 16,000 children in Mexico were involved in prostitution in June 2000.[14] A 2004 study by researcher Elena Azaola estimated that some 17,000 children under the age of 18 are victims of the sex trade in Mexico;[15] the State System of Integral Family Development (DIF) reported that more than 20,000 minors were victims of child prostitution in Mexico in 2005, an increase since the year 2000.[16]

Out of Mexico City’s 13,000 street children, 95% have had at least one sexual encounter with an adult (many of them through prostitution).[13] In the impoverished southern state of Chiapas, children are sold for $100 to $200, according to human rights groups. Chiapas is considered one of the worst places in the world in terms of child prostitution.[13] Poverty forces many rural children, with or without their families, to migrate to urban cities to seek out employment, some of them also migrate across the border to the U.S. These children have little or no parental supervision and many are lured into the sex industry or abducted by child trafficking gangs.

Child sex tourism is most prevalent in the northern border area and in resort areas. The cities where child sexual abuse occurs most frequently are Tijuana, Acapulco, Cancún and Guadalajara. The U.S.-Mexico border is one of the main centers for child sex tourism. Children are sexually exploited through networks involving foreigners, military, police, government personnel, and business officials.[17]

Human trafficking[edit]

Mexico is a source, transit, and destination country for persons trafficked for the purposes of commercial sexual exploitation. Poverty, corruption and the violent drug war have contributed to the proliferation of sexual slavery in the country; much of the sex business is controlled by criminal gangs. Groups considered most vulnerable to human trafficking include women and children, indigenous persons, and undocumented migrants.[18]

Young female migrants recounted being robbed, beaten, and raped by members of criminal gangs and then forced to work in table dance bars or as prostitutes under threat of further harm to them or their families.[19] The majority of non-Mexican trafficking victims come from Central America; lesser numbers come from Brazil, Cuba, Ecuador, China, Taiwan, South Korea, India, Uruguay, and Eastern European countries. Victims are also trafficked to the United States.[19]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mark Overmyer-Velázquez, Visions of the Emerald City: Modernity, Tradition, and the Formation of Porfirian Oaxaca, Mexico (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006), 9-10.
  2. ^ Weitzer, Ronald. 2013. Legalizing Prostitution: From Illicit Vice to Lawful Business. (Excerpt)
  3. ^ "Boy and Girls Sexual Exploitation in Mexico". 2009-10-20. 
  4. ^ Patty Kelly, Lydia’s Open Door: Inside Mexico’s Most Modern Brothel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 126.
  5. ^ "Elderly ex-prostitutes". Reuters. 2007-10-26. 
  6. ^ Mark Overmyer-Velázquez, Visions of the Emerald City: Modernity, Tradition, and the Formation of Porfirian Oaxaca, Mexico (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006), 99, 152.
  7. ^ Mark Overmyer-Velázquez, Visions of the Emerald City: Modernity, Tradition, and the Formation of Porfirian Oaxaca, Mexico (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2006), 152.
  8. ^ Katherine E. Bliss, Compromised Positions: Prostitution, Public Health, and Gender Politics in Revolutionary Mexico City (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2002), 37.
  9. ^ Eric Michael Schantz, “All Night at the Owl: The Social and Political Relations of Mexicali’s Red-Light District, 1913-1925,” Journal of the Southwest 43 (2001): 551.
  10. ^ Patty Kelly, Lydia’s Open Door: Inside Mexico’s Most Modern Brothel (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 4.
  11. ^ Howard Campbell, “Cultural Seduction: American Men, Mexican Women, Cross-Border Attraction,” Critique of Anthropology 27 (2007): 267.
  12. ^ Steffanie A. Strathdee et al., “Characteristics of Female Sex Workers with U.S. Clients in Two Mexico-U.S. Border Cities,” Sexually Transmitted Diseases 35 (2008): 3.
  13. ^ a b c "RIGHTS-MEXICO: 16,000 Victims of Child Sexual Exploitation". Inter Press Service. 2009-10-20. 
  14. ^ "Gateways to exploitation". The Globe and Mail. 2009-10-20. 
  15. ^ "MEXICO: Key Video Evidence Blocked in Child Sex Ring Trial". Inter Press Service. 2009-10-20. 
  16. ^ "Payán: Thousands abused each year". El Universal. 2009-10-20. 
  17. ^ "Child prostitution: a growing scourge". The Panama News. 2009-10-20. 
  18. ^ "US State Department". 2009-10-20. 
  19. ^ a b "2008 Human Rights Report: Mexico". Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. U.S. Department of State. 2009-02-25. Retrieved 20 October 2009. 

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