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In Mexico, kidnapped children usually stay missing

Pictures

August 29, 1996
Web posted at: 7:00 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT)

Editor's note: The first World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children continued Thursday in Sweden.

From Mexico City Bureau Chief Lucia Newman

MEXICO CITY (CNN) -- Sonia Pinto seems like any normal 16-year-old, except that she's spent the last two years desperately trying to piece together her past, which was snatched away a decade ago.

Pinto was only 6 when she was kidnapped and taken to Guatemala to live with a family that never allowed her to go to school.

"I remembered that the man who took me had stolen me and that I was from Mexico, but I couldn't remember the names of my parents or my last name," Pinto said.

Pinto's mother found her nine years later when someone recognized her daughter's photograph, which appeared on a television program about kidnapped children.

Little Maria also has been reunited with her mother, after family members found the kidnappers who sold the then 2-year-old to a childless couple for less than $200.

Still, despite their traumatic experiences, many consider these children lucky. At least, eventually, they were reunited with their parents.

Sign

"Five years ago, my little daughter walked just across the street to buy tortillas," said Angelina De Cortez, whose child was kidnapped. "A witness saw a man put his hand over her face and put her in a car. She hasn't been seen since."

Hundreds of other Mexican children and infants have disappeared without a trace, according to the Foundation of Stolen Children, one of at least five organizations looking for missing youngsters.

Looking the other way

From babies sold for adoption to youngsters stolen for sexual abuse or for begging and selling on the streets, the numbers of kidnapped children are on the rise.

"There are even cases of youngsters mutilated to provoke pity so they can fetch more money," said Rafael Lubiano of the Mexico City Legislature.

Others are kidnapped to help smuggle drugs across the U.S. border. Most of the victims are from working class and poor families. One man says men with shotguns broke into his roadside shack and took away two of his three children.

More signs

Too often, police brush off cries for help.

"In ... Mexico, we get no support. Not from the police, not from anyone," one person said. "The authorities don't even bother to investigate."

That's usually left to the parents. The lucky ones get a stipend from the city government to help check out leads.

Mexico City's legislature is debating ways to increase penalties to deter child trafficking. But the real deterrent -- an effective, sensitive law enforcement system -- requires more than just another law.

It takes a society that makes the protection of its children a priority.

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