At present, only 18 of the 32 states of Mexico regulate prostitution.
Each big city has a red zone (zona roja) where prostitution is allowed.
Prostitution cannot take place in public places - such as public buses, subways, or in public property. It is allowed on private property only with the approval of the owner.
Prostitutes have to be registered and have to pay for and receive weekly health checks and have to carry a health card to prove it.
There is a more complete account of the legal situation available.
The age of consent is 18, however, most things in Mexico do not go by the law.
Percentage of estimated prostitutes working:
On the streets: 48%
At bars: 38%
At bordellos: 14%
Mexico has no laws defining or sanctioning child prostitution as criminal activity.
An estimated 5,000 children are currently involved in prostitution, pornography and sex-tourism in Mexico. Nearly 100 children and teenagers a month fall into the hands of the child prostitution networks which are mafias or organized crime syndicates.
More than 2,000 girls and young women have been sold to Japanese brothels. Traffickers belong to criminal syndicates operating along the US border and associated with Japanese "yakuza" gangs.
The US-Mexican border is one of the main centers for child sex tourism. Thousands of Americans cross into Mexico daily looking for cheap sex with underage prostitutes. Mexican authorities, who admit that about 18,000 minors were used to produce child pornography, have taken little action.
Organized Mexican cartels smuggle girls as young as 14 into the US. The Cadena network has smuggled many young Mexican girls to south Florida. Despite the arrest of a number of key players by US authorities, the head of the Cadena hydra remains at large. US investigators have also apprehended several employees of the California-based Chamblee Agency for trafficking laborers into the US, some of whom were forced into prostitution and debt-bondage.
The most degrading and often dangerous work of women and children can be found in prostitution. Tens of thousands of Mexican women and girls (as well as men and boys) work as prostitutes in all of the major cities of the country. A recent study by the Mexico City government Youth Commission headed by Angeles Correa found that Mexico City had 50,000 prostitutes of whom 2,500 were minors. Elena Azaola of the Center of Higher Research and Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) found that there were 5,000 child prostitutes in all of Mexico (90 percent female). But Rosa Marta Cortina de Brown of the Female Association of Tourist Enterprise Executive estimates that 250,000 children between 10 and 16 have been the victims of "sexual tourism" in cities like Guadalajara, Cancun, Acapulco, Puerto Vallarta and Tijuana. Recently there have also been reports on child prostitution in Veracruz, Queretaro, and Ciudad Juarez. Girls in prostitution face constant problems of possible pregnancy, immature childbirth, violence, alcohol and drug addiction, sexual transmitted diseases including HIV-AIDS.
The city government has given a new shelter for aging prostitutes in a 1,500-square-meter mansion in the heart of the Merced neighborhood, Mexico City, one of Mexico City's main red-light zones.
Distressed to find aging homeless women still working as prostitutes in downtown Mexico City, womens' groups are preparing a roomy retirement home to take 65 of them off the streets.
Rejected by their families and stripped of much of their earnings by policemen and pimps, the elderly sex workers say they have no choice but to keep working, sometimes for less than $2 a day or just a plate of food.
"I may have two or three clients a day but I can't charge what the young ones do. Sometimes I just ask for food or a hotel room," said Gloria Maria, a kindly faced woman of 74 who mostly sleeps outdoors in a grimy downtown food market.
Funds raised this week will go toward fixing the roof of a an elegant but crumbling 18th century building donated by the Mexico City government to serve as a retirement home for Gloria Maria and others.
Like many of her co-workers, Gloria Maria was raped as a teenager and fell into prostitution soon afterward.
Prostitution is not legal in Mexico but sex workers are tolerated, along with the shoe shiners, orange juice vendors and tamale sellers who clog the streets of big cities, creating a gray economy that absorbs millions of unemployed.
While some of these workers can put savings under the mattress for old age, or hope their children will support them, prostitutes often have nothing after a life of exploitation by pimps and paying bribes to avoid arrest.
Few are in touch with their families or children.
"Other people pay taxes and can retire with a pension. We are exploited by society then thrown away when we get old," said one lithe young prostitute, with long blond hair and funky platform shoes.
Prostitutes wait for clients at a street in the Merced neighborhood in Mexico City, Mexico on Saturday March 19, 2005.
"We should have the same rights as anyone else," she said at a fund-raising concert for the retirement home on Tuesday.
Organizers are collecting funds from private donors and hoping local companies will provide beds and help with improvements to the retirement home like painting, plumbing and rewiring.
The women will be expected to cook and clean for themselves and earn money through handicrafts to help with running costs.
The home is seen as a pilot project and the organizers realize it needs to be part of a longer-term solution for sex workers.
"Sex workers are doubly marginalized," said Emilienne de Leon, head of a local womens' rights group called Semillas.
"They are rejected by society and by their families. When they get old, either they sell themselves very cheaply or they don't have enough to eat. It's a very difficult world."
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