/ Updated  / Source: NBC News

Virgin girls as young as 11 are being sold by human trafficking networks to Colombian drug cartels, according to taped phone calls made public in a Colombian weekly, reports Reuters.

Colombian authorities intercepted calls between a 23-year-old woman trafficker who is heard offering girls - including her own 11-year-old sister - to a member of one of Colombia's most powerful drug cartels, the Urabeños.

According to reports, traffickers like "Paola" preyed on poor and vulnerable girls and then recruited them into what turned out to be forced prostitution.

"She delivered girls and adolescents from the Uraba region on the false promises of domestic work, and took them to huts where these criminals would sexually exploit them," Colombia's defense minister, Juan Carlos Pinzon, told reporters following Paola's arrest last week.

The Urabeños, also known as the Usuga Clan, are big players in the cocaine trade as well as in illegal mining, according to the government. The U.S. State Department has placed a $5 million bounty on Dairo Antonio Usuga, known as Otoniel,the group's leader.

The tradition of Colombian drug lords sexually exploiting girls goes back to the days of Pablo Escobar, who was known for demanding teenage virgins. The trafficker's arrest has shed a spotlight on child sexual exploitation in Colombia's gang culture, exposing what was an open secret among local communities living under the control of the Urabeños through threats and intimidation.

The government has no official figures on the number of children trafficked for sex work to Colombian gangs.


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