Increased tourism in Medellín has caused a rise in sexual exploitation of children has increased

The Dark Side of the Tourism Boom in Medellín: Commercial Exploitation of Children

Medellín, a city once characterised by brutal conflict, armed groups, and drug trafficking, has recently emerged as a top destination for international tourists.

Since the pandemic, the ‘City of Eternal Spring’ has witnessed a tourism boom, with visitors flocking from all over the world to enjoy the city’s vibrant streets, bustling nightlife and natural beauty. The cultural and digital nomad hub received over 1.2 million tourists in 2023, having overtaken Cartagena to become Colombia’s second most visited city.

However, behind this colourful facade lies a looming darkness. Sex tourism has long been an issue for Medellín, with various measures having been implemented in an attempt to prevent it. Yet as the city’s tourism boom continues to reach new heights, the gravity of the situation has been brought to light.

The rise of sex tourism

In March this year, the police found Timothy Alan Livingston, a 36-year-old American man, with two 12 and 13 year old girls in his hotel room in the El Poblado neighbourhood. 

After the paedophile was released by authorities, the case sparked national outrage, and has cast a spotlight on the issues surrounding sex tourism in the city. So far this year, eight foreign nationals have been arrested and investigated for offences related to child sexual exploitation in Medellín. In 2023, the year that attracted the highest number of tourists to the city, cases of sexual exploitation of minors increased nearly 60%.

"Don't even try it"

In response to the rise in sex tourism, the Medellín municipality has launched a campaign to condemn the sexual and commercial exploitation of children.  Foreign visitors arriving at Jose Maria Cordova International Airport are now handed flyers warning them: “don’t even try it, it’s a crime, emphasising that they could receive up to 25 years in prison if they’re found guilty of exploitation of a minor.

The campaign is part of a wider strategy launched in El Poblado by Federico Gutiérrez, the mayor of Medellín, which has prohibited paying for sexual services and has required nightlife venues to reduce their operating hours to close by 1.00am.

It is hoped that the firm measures will combat commercial sexual exploitation and will protect the city’s children and young people.

A smaller piece of a much larger picture

Whilst the situation in Medellín has caused outrage both locally and globally, it’s sadly just a small piece of a much larger picture. Commercial sexual exploitation of children is prevalent across the country, despite new initiatives to tackle the issue. Organisations working in the field have estimated that over 35,000 children in Colombia have experienced commercial sexual exploitation, primarily those living in slums on the outskirts of cities or in isolated rural communities.

Bogotá has been identified as another area where the issue is rife. Downtown of the city, in the Santa Fe neighbourhood, a red-light district thrives, where children are surrounded by unregulated sexual services, drug trade and violence, and where women, LGBTQ+ individuals and minors offer their bodies for as little as £5.

The rights and wellbeing of thousands of children across Colombia are violated at the hands of this industry. At Children Change Colombia, we envision a world where no child has to suffer the traumas of this terrible crime.

How we're tackling commercial sexual exploitation of minors

In 2021, we launched our project “Reducing conflict-related sexual violence and commercial sexual exploitation against children and young people” in Bogotá, Quibdó and Cartagena.

Working with our partners ACJ and Círculo de Estudios, we organised programmes to train children and young people in self-care and self-protection practices to prevent the risks of commercial sexual exploitation. The project also supported parents and carers to identify and prevent high-risk situations impacting children’s rights, and equipped community leaders with the psychosocial tools and skills necessary to address children’s needs.

Initially, we set out to benefit 700 children through the project. So far, this figure stands at over 1,000, with more than 400 direct beneficiaries across the project’s three regions. We have also involved over 400 parents and carers, and nearly 100 community leaders, teachers, and public servants. 

You can read more about the outcomes and achievements of the project in our most recent newsletter.

Over three years later, we remain committed to putting an end to sexual exploitation of children and young people. Soon, we will be launching a second project, which will expand our work in Bogotá, Santa Marta, Cartagena and Barranquilla. The project will work to prevent sexual exploitation by focusing on the importance of early childhood development and education. Together, we will create a society where no child experiences violence or exploitation.

More News

Visit our YouTube Channel

Get your free Cookbook