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January 13, It's 5 a. They've been working all night, and flowers aren't the only thing they sell. Child prostitution is a problem that has plagued much of Latin America for decades.
But just as Chile has been sheltered from the rest of the region's economic problems, to most people here this was a social problem that existed only elsewhere. That changed late last year with the eruption of a sex scandal involving business impresario Claudio Spiniak, whose family made its fortune building a luxury-spa empire. He is alleged to have been at the helm of a prostitution ring that recruited street children.
Spiniak denies the charges. The sordid case has been front-page news for the past three months, with police officers and high-ranking businessmen under arrest.
Two senators, one a former mayor of Santiago, are under investigation. It has taken a scandal of this magnitude to open Chile's eyes to a problem long ignored. Now that it has come to the fore, the government is taking bold steps by strengthening laws and increasing funding to groups working on the problem, all in the name of helping thousands of at-risk children. It is showing people that a problem exists, that this is a crime, and that it damages those children.
That wasn't recognized before. Francisco is one of the hidden tragedies. His mother died giving birth, and his father was shot shortly after that. He grew up in orphanages, and at the age of 7, he escaped to an even rougher life on the streets.