Girls allegedly sold as soon as they turned 12
(CNN) — A mother of 14 in Colombia tried to make ends meet, police say, by pushing her daughters into “hell” and selling their virginity for a couple hundred dollars.
Margarita de Jesus Zapata Moreno, 45, was arrested this week together with a 51-year-old contractor who police believe impregnated one of the young daughters.
She broke down in tears when she stood in front of the cameras after being arrested in Bogota, the Colombian capital. The Bogota Metropolitan Police say Zapata sold the virginity of 12 daughters to much older men seeking to have sex with young virgins.
Authorities also say the suspect would begin selling her daughters to men as soon as the girls turned 12 years old. She charged anywhere between 300,000 and 400,000 Colombian Pesos ($160 to $212) for a virgin.
But Zapata strongly denies the accusation. Colombian authorities often show high-profile suspects to the media shortly after arresting them. When Zapata was standing in front of the cameras Wednesday, one of the reporters shouted a question to her: “Did you prostitute your daughters?” She answered: “No, my darling.”
Colombian police say they learned of this alleged case of abuse because one of the alleged victims stepped forward. Authorities say one of the suspect’s daughters forced into prostitution gave birth to a baby boy when she was 14. She had refused her mother’s orders to have an abortion.
Colonel Carlos Melendez, a Bogota Metropolitan Police spokesman, told CNN affiliate Caracol TV the young girl described to investigators the “hell” in which she lived when she was still a prepubescent girl, about being forced to have sex with much older men in her home and about a life of abuse and neglect.
“She was a minor and she still had the courage to report the abuse and also to refuse to have an abortion. That’s when this investigation started, from the threats of her own mother,” Melendez said.
The investigation took more than a year to complete because the only witness willing to testify, the 14-year-old girl, now 16, disappeared, apparently because she feared her mother would kill her for going to the police.
After she reappeared, she also told authorities about a man who had sex with her and got her pregnant.
Police arrested a 51-year-old man who investigators say fathered the son of the girl who was 14 years old when the baby was born. The suspect declined to comment at Wednesday’s police presentation.
Police are asking the rest of the daughters to provide more information about this case. “Those who are watching or listening to us, we would like to ask them to come to the police so that they give us information about transpired in this case,” Melendez said.
Police investigators say Zapata also forced her older daughters to drink alcohol and do drugs. Some ended up working as prostitutes and are missing, police said.
Police say those two arrests are only the beginning. Investigators say they will also build cases against the men who were having sex with these minors.
According to authorities, only two of Margarita de Jesus Zapata Moreno’s 14 children were not forced into prostitution. They were the two youngest — an 11-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl — and they have been placed in the custody of a Colombian government child protection agency.