The search for a two-and-a-half-year-old boy who was led away from a market in southern Mexico three weeks ago led police to a horrifying discovery — 23 abducted children being kept at a house and forced to sell trinkets on the street.
Prosecutors in Chiapas state on Tuesday said that most of the children were aged between two and 15, but three babies aged between three and 20 months were also found during a raid on Monday at the house in San Cristobal de las Casas.
San Cristobal is a picturesque city popular with tourists. It is not unusual to see children and adults hawking local crafts such as carvings and embroidered cloth on its narrow cobblestone streets.
The Chiapas State Prosecutors’ Office said in a statement that the children “were forced through physical and psychological violence to sell handicrafts in the center of the city,” adding that the children showed signs of “malnutrition and precarious conditions.”
“According to the children, many of them were forced to go out on the streets to sell things, and moreover they were forced to return with a certain minimum amount of money for the right to get food and a place to sleep at the house,” prosecutor Jorge Llaven said.
A video presented by the prosecutors showed many of the children slept on what appeared to be sheets of cardboard and blankets on a cement floor.
Three women have been detained in the case, and could face human trafficking and forced labor charges.
The children were handed over to child welfare authorities.
Authorities showed a photograph of some of the children, their faces blurred, having a boxed lunch after their rescue.
The search was set off by the June 30 disappearance of Dylan Esau Gomez Perez, when he was with his mother at a public market in San Cristobal.
A surveillance camera from a nearby shop showed that a young girl, who appeared to be about 13, had grabbed the boy by the hand and led him away, raising the possibility that some of the children were used to abduct other children.
After the disappearance of the boy, his mother and relatives began a desperate campaign to find him, but prosecutors did not immediately confirm whether Gomez Perez was among the children rescued this week.
Interviewed on Tuesday outside the National Palace in Mexico City, his mother, Juana Perez, said that officials told her that her son had not yet been found.
“None of the children is my son,” Perez said, sobbing. “I haven’t heard anything about my son.”
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