The Brazilian government has pledged for the past decade that it will eradicate child prostitution. In 2001, 100,000 children were found to be working in the sex trade, according to estimates by Unicef. In 2012, that number had swelled to an estimated half a million, says a non-governmental organization, the National Forum for the Prevention of Child Labor. With the 2014 World Cup nearing and social workers anticipating the number of child sex workers to soar in Sao Paulo and other cities, the Brazilian government has yet to take adequate steps to protect thousands of children from being sexually exploited.
Sex tourism occurs across Brazil but is centered in Fortaleza in the northeast, a region of beaches and nearly year-round sunshine. Cecília dos Santos Góis, who works for Cedeca, a children’s rights organization, says that Brazil’s “culture of machismo,” along with with extreme poverty and drug use, means that the country is the “perfect environment” for sexual exploitation of minors. As she explains:
“Women in the north-east have traditionally been treated as second-class citizens, as objects even. Many fathers see their young daughters as a source of income and that is a cultural attitude that’s hard to change.”
Fortaleza is the source of more phone calls to a nationwide a hotline to report child sexual exploitation than any other Brazilian city on a per capita basis. “Organized rings” of pimps, hotel managers and taxi drivers recruit young girls. Antônia Lima Sousa, a state prosecutor who advocates for children’s rights in Fortaleza, says that foreign tourists are able to “order the underage prostitutes before they arrive in Fortaleza” and have them “delivered directly to their hotels.”
When child sex workers are brought to shelters, it is “very hard to convince these girls to lead normal lives. Most of them think abuse and selling their bodies is just a fact of life,” says Leonora Albuquerque, a worker at one if Fortaleza’s four shelters for underage prostitutes.
The Government‘s Response About Children Being Sexually Exploited Is Lacking
600,000 visitors are expected in Brazil for the 2014 World Cup. It is anticipated that they will spend 25 billion reals and add 113 billion reals into the economy. By the time the World Cup is held, the Brazilian government will have spent 33 billion reals on stadiums (in the construction of which two workers have died), transportation and infrastructure and an additional 6 million on advertising.
Despite its vow to end the child sex trade, the government has dedicated only 8 million reals to give to host cities to set up projects to fight child prostitution. It is more than uncertain about how these funds will be used as some cities do not even have a program in place.
Joseleno Vieira dos Santos of Brazil’s Human Rights Secretariat, says: ”[W]e’re worried sexual exploitation will increase in the host cities and around them. We’re trying to co-ordinate efforts as much as we can with state and city governments to understand the scope of the problem.” But he also acknowledges that the government’s efforts will only touch the “tip of the iceberg” of a vast problem.
As Denise Cesario, executive manager of Fundação Abrinq, a local partner of Save the Children International, states, “this subject isn’t really part of the government’s agenda and we don’t see a willingness to combine efforts or increase resources to address the sexual exploitation of children.”
Child Sex Traffickers Are Rarely Prosecuted in Brazil
To too many Brazilian teenagers, working in the sex trade is seen as the only option to escape poverty and, in more than a few cases, abusive households. Pimps and clients are rarely prosecuted and, when a case is built against them, “survivors often change their testimonies and the cases are thrown out,” according to Francisco Carlos Pereira de Andrade, a criminal prosecutor who specializes in child exploitation. Of the 2,000 cases that his department, which handles sexual violence against children, is involved in, only about 20 are related to child prostitution.
Already, reports have surfaced of workers at an England World Cup venue using prostitutes as young as 11. The huge influx of tourists into Brazil will only exacerbate an entrenched problem.What could be called a minimal effort to address a burgeoning number of child prostitutes shows where the Brazilian government’s priorities are — or rather are not.
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