A platform for voices supporting women's rights
Having lived in Brazil for the past three years, I always read with caution any reports on the country’s development issues that make it to the British, European or American press. Unfortunately, while many contributions are valuable, there are things happening on the ground in Brazil which an outsider or “gringo” can never really understand, no matter how long we live here.
The story covered by Adriana Brasileiro for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, part of the Guardian development network however presents an accurate picture of one of the toughest problems on Brazil’s doorstep; child prostitution.
With the World Cup 2014 drawing ever closer, the eyes of the world are obviously on Brazil, with increasing fears for crime and social problems. The protest marches which took place across the country in June and July earlier this year may have started out about public transportation, but escalated to bring far more concerning skeletons from the closet and only time will tell what effect this will have on upcoming events.
The child prostitution issue however, while attracting world attention due to current events, is one that has plagued Brazilian society for quite some time, and unfortunately it is unlikely to see it being resolved any time soon.
Despite several national campaigns encouraging the reporting and protection of sexual exploitation against children, calls for coordinated action from UNICEF against Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents and attempted input from several Ministries (Justice, Tourism etc) the problem persists. As Brasileiro reports in her article, sources have admitted that some programs have been shut down and that the problem is not of a priority concern on the governments agenda. Most recent United Nations figures estimated 250,000 children in prostitution nationwide, primarily in areas of extreme poverty, and this can well be considered a conservative estimate.
Now with World Cup on its doorstep and an expected 600,000 additional tourists and $25billion to the country in June according to Embratur (the National tourism board) the demand for attention is even greater. With a history in legalized adult prostitution and a widely known sex tourism industry, the demand for services overall is estimated to increase, and so with it incidents of child exploitation.
While the number of tourists expected to visit the country during the upcoming World Cup is substantial, the demand for supply of sexual services is already rife in Brazil from Brazilian clients as well as regular tourists. The fact that the awareness of the problem will be heightened during the upcoming sporting events is not necessarily a bad thing, however it is doing nothing to tackle the real problems which will continue to exist, the main issue being that of poverty. The majority of the young girls come from impoverished circumstances and see this as an opportunity to make much needed money, in some cases even supported by their families to do so. As Brasileiro correctly points out, the young girls are seen as an income source for the family, and if the demand is there, the rationale is “why not take advantage of it?” Many of these families struggle to survive from week to week, despite programs such as Bolsa Familia which claims to be eradicating hunger nationwide, many families are left out of the system and young girls are aware of the limited options they have to earn a living.
Brasileiro points in particular to Brazil’s North-East and city of Fortaleza which is recognized as one of the sex tourism capitals in the world, and highlights the issue of meeting the demand. With tourists, and indeed locals, on the streets every night willing to pay more than many of these girls could earn in a week, and making false promises to take them away from it all, it is hard to an effective strategy to end the cycle. Until we give these girls and families an alternative option, to get an education and another source of income, how can we reasonably expect them to say no to the cash offered by this relatively lucrative occupation?
For the full report click here.