How do you weather the global economic crisis? Following Brazil’s example, it seems that one way is to permit, if not encourage, large-scale sex tourism. The country has long attracted significant numbers of tourists, but, as a BBC reporter pointed out in a recent article, the country’s “erotic” reputation often results in an “unwanted” kind of tourist.
The legal age for prostitution in Brazil is 18, but in reality, many of the country’s sex workers are younger. Some begin working when they are as old as seven or eight; Unicef estimates there are 250,000 child prostitutes in Brazil. Some work to fund crack cocaine habits; others, because there are simply no other options. And although the Brazilian government has engaged in a significant crackdown on sex tourists, arresting offenders and taking underage girls into care, the problem is still incredibly widespread.
The people who operate care houses for underage prostitutes report that girls routinely arrive with varying stages of cervical cancer; others are pregnant. Other girls live in a state of constant fear, under the influence of a pimp who threatens them if they try to escape.
“I had no choice but to do what he said. I felt I was losing my childhood, I was only nine years old,” explained one twelve-year-old girl. “I was scared. Sometimes if I came back without money for him he’d hit me.”
Prostitution has a complex history in Brazil; it is legal but not regulated, and although condom use is high, due to a large-scale education campaign initiated by the Brazilian government. The government has been trying to curb sex tourism for decades, with limited success. And although child prostitution is often targeted, Brazil is usually ranked second behind Thailand in terms of child sex trafficking.
The BBC article, which is a little strange (why the accompanying pictures of the BBC reporter talking to various child prostitutes?), nevertheless gets its point across. Child prostitution is a huge issue in Brazil, and the government, whatever it’s doing, is not effective enough.
Photo from Flickr.