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Peru's First Indigenous Radio Soap Tells Tales of ‘Invisible' Slavery

Members of an indigenous group from the Amazon region attend a meeting with Pope Francis at the Coliseo Regional Madre de Dios in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, Jan. 19, 2018.

Lured by false promises of good jobs serving tourists or cleaning city apartments, Peru's indigenous women and girls often end up being sold for sex — a fate that the government said on Thursday it hopes to avert through a new radio drama.

Across Latin America, indigenous women and girls from poor rural communities with little education are particularly at risk of being trafficked into forced prostitution, begging and domestic servitude, and made to work to pay off their debts.

"They are not people who want to work there. There are circumstances and channels that have made them come to this," said General Oscar Gonzales, head of Peru's national police human trafficking and migrant smuggling department.

"Traffickers take advantage of their vulnerable situation," he said in the capital Lima at the launch of the radio soap, which breaks new ground by telling stories about the dangers of trafficking in Quechua — Peru's most common indigenous language.

A group of indigenous wait for the arrival of Pope Francis in Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios province, Peru, Jan. 19, 2018.
A group of indigenous wait for the arrival of Pope Francis in Puerto Maldonado, Madre de Dios province, Peru, Jan. 19, 2018.

About 1,000 cases of human trafficking were reported last year in Peru, according to the police, mostly girls who are sold into the sex trade.

The figures are not broken down into ethnic groups but indigenous people are a soft target for traffickers who can easily exploit their dreams of well-paid work and a better life.

About one in eight of Peru's 32 million people are indigenous, with about 50 different communities and 47 different languages spoken, from the Amazon jungle to Andean highlands. They often speak basic Spanish or none at all, which means they miss out on help offered by anti-trafficking hotlines and campaigns in Spanish, one of Peru's national languages.

The new soap opera — told in eight five-minute stories — seeks to warn of the dangers of trafficking in a more creative way, and by describing the crime in ways that make sense to indigenous people in their own language.

The words for human trafficking do not exist in many indigenous languages.

Peru's interior ministry also launched radio talk shows in Quechua and the Aymara indigenous language in 2017 that discuss the high risks of trafficking that indigenous communities face.

"This is a clandestine crime ... it's invisible in the eyes of the general population," said Cristian Solis, a coordinator at the interior ministry's anti-human trafficking unit.

Mexico has also translated guides on how to spot and report human trafficking into 21 indigenous languages, along with plays aimed at young people with messages about the risks of sexual and labor exploitation.