Across Mexico, children are used to beg or sell items, but the number involved in this case is unusually high
By Christine Murray
MEXICO CITY, July 23 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Prosecutors say they have discovered 23 malnourished children - babies among them - crammed in a house in southern Mexico, where they were forced to walk the streets selling trinkets.
The children were subjected to psychological and physical violence to coerce them into selling the handicrafts, the prosecutors said after revealing the find on Monday.
There have been frequent reports of children across Mexico being forced to beg or sell items, but the number of minors in this week's case was unusually high.
The authorities in the state of Chiapas, which borders Guatemala, had been searching for a missing two-year-old, Dylan Esau Gomez, but he was not found, according to a nonprofit working with his family.
The Chiapas prosecutors office said in a statement that the children were made to sell crafts in the center of the tourist hot spot of San Cristobal de Las Casas.
Three women were arrested at the house on charges of human trafficking for forced labor, the office said.
Doctors who examined the children, now in the custody of child protection services, said they had malnutrition.
However, civil society groups had questions about the exact circumstances of both the victims and the three women, raising questions over whether the children had been abducted.
"We need information to know if the boys and girls they say were victims of trafficking really were reported as disappeared or kidnapped," said Juan Martin Perez of nonprofit the Network for Children's Rights in Mexico (REDIM).
Chiapas state prosecutors said that the state attorney general was unavailable for an interview.
Estimates of trafficking victims in Mexico range from 50,000 to 500,000, according to the National Human Rights Commission, the wide spread revealing the dearth of reliable data.
Trafficking prosecutions in Mexico are overwhelmingly focused on the commercial sex industry, with some advocates pressing for an increased focus on other kinds of labor.
More than 73,000 people are missing in Mexico, including more than 12,000 children. The disappeared suffer crimes from kidnapping to homicide, but authorities have said some are most likely the victims of human trafficking.
The family of Gomez - who went missing three weeks ago - continues its search, according to Perez.
(Reporting by Christine Murray; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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