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Chile detains alleged child prostitution ring

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November 21, 2012 04:53 PM EST | AP

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SANTIAGO, Chile — A judge has authorized Chilean police to hold 16 suspects in jail while they investigate an alleged child prostitution ring.

Police said the gang was led by four women who forced girls between ages 15 and 17 to prostitute themselves.

Judge Santiago Varas ruled Tuesday night that the four women and 12 alleged clients could be held for 90 days during an investigation.

Among the purported clients detained were Guido Vallejos, 83, head of the Chilean children's magazine Barrabases, and Jaime Roman, 69, a well-known former musical producer for state TV.

Defense lawyers said their clients didn't know the prostitutes were minors and therefore never realized they were committing a crime.

President Sebastian Pinera announced measures this year to combat child abuse, responding to a popular outcry over a 22 percent increase in reports of such crimes in Chile, which is one of Latin America's most socially conservative countries.

The government also banned convicted pedophiles from working near children under a new law requiring people convicted of sexually abusing minors or possessing child pornography to be registered in a database.

Several teachers have been accused in recent months of sexually molesting children at day care centers and schools in affluent Santiago neighborhoods.