Brazil’s World Cup Raises Fear of Rampant Child Prostitution

The world's most popular sporting event—to be held in Brazil next year—may be a magnet for sex tourists seeking underage prostitutes

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Yasuyoshi Chiba / AFP / Getty Images

A favela in Manaus, Brazil, on November 27, 2013.

Amanda sits curled up on the sofa watching cartoons on television. She will soon turn 14, but her youth belies her past. The young girl has suffered two abortions already, the result of exchanging unprotected, adolescent sex for a pack of cigarettes or a couple of dollars. “My life was complicated. I was on the streets and taking drugs,” she says.

Poverty in the favelas of the northern Brazilian city of Recife was the main driver for a life in prostitution. “I lived with my grandmother because my mom couldn’t provide for me. My grandmother also looked after my other siblings. She made me go out and sell gum on the streets, to help her provide for us all.” This was around the age of five. “I was in so much danger, exposed to so much, all because of money.”

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Amanda remains in Recife though now lives with a family that has adopted her, under the care of a local charity. Yet, in Brazil where prostitution above the age of consent is legal, there are many more children selling sex like Amanda — 250,000, according to Unicef. Local charities believe that number is likely to grow as the country looks forward to next year’s World Cup. Brazil is already one of the world’s top destinations for sex tourism. The country’s age of consent is 14, however official reaction to sex with minors here can be disturbing. Last year a court in Brazil decided that sex with a 12-year-old did not necessarily constitute statutory rape, in part because the girls in question had worked as prostitutes. The ruling was described by Amnesty International as giving “a green light to rapists.”

In Recife’s downtown square, Praça do Diário, pre-pubescent girls sell packs of gum, just as Amanda described in her own past. Others, slightly older, wear tight dresses and seductively smile at passers by. Emmanuelle —who says she is 19, though looks much younger — is one of them. She is clad in a colorful and revealing dress. “I know girls here who are 10,” she says, talking about the prostitutes in the square. “I’ve been coming here since I was very young,” she adds, shying away from admitting exactly when this was. Recife is one of the 2014 World Cup venues and will host fans from the U.S., Mexico, Germany and Italy.

Thiago, 27, has worked as a pimp and trafficker across Brazil, convincing the mothers of girls like Amanda and Emmanuelle to hand over their daughters for some $5,000 to $10,000. “I sought the girls in Recife because there is so much poverty there,” he says in São Paulo, asking that his last name not be published. “It makes it way easier to convince the girls to come down and prostitute themselves.”

In São Paulo, underage girls would earn much more than they do on Recife’s streets. Clients would be charged some $60 for sex; the prostitute would take about half of that, minus debt for clothes, drugs, alcohol and cosmetics. “Realistically, the girl would get about a quarter of what the client paid,” says Thiago, who admits enjoying underage girls himself. “Alcohol and drugs would help the girls to deal with everything. They wouldn’t feel anything anymore. They’d just be objects.”

Thiago left the business after receiving death threats and eventually found religion. “I destroyed their lives,” he now admits. When asked whether he thought there was anything wrong with selling sex with minors at the time, Thiago is pragmatic. “Sex was sex,” he says. “For me, it was normal. The girls were looking for something—so were my customers.”

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At hotels in Recife, it is possible to ask for a “menu” of local girls—some very young—and take your pick for the night. If they are not to the client’s taste, hotel staff and taxi drivers are able to point sex tourists in the right direction. “The foreigners are coming from Europe and the U.S.,” says Jonathan Costa, 25, a director at Shores of Grace, a religious charity working with prostitutes in the city. Costa and his organization oversaw Amanda’s rescue from the streets, a long process that began two years ago. “She asked me to take her to a salon and do her hair,” he says. “That broke my heart; that’s the dream for a girl on the streets! They’ll sleep with a guy just to have protection overnight because it’s dangerous out there,” he says, adding that his organization has found girls as young as eight working as prostitutes.

Brazil plays host to the World Cup soccer tournament in June 2014, which will likely lead to an increase in demand for sex workers. “We’ve seen more girls on the streets since the Confederations Cup began [in June this year],” Costa says. “That’s only the Confederations Cup, not the World Cup where this will increase hugely.” World Cup hosts often see an influx of prostitutes hoping to cash in on fans from around the world. Brazil is expecting some 600,000 foreigners for the soccer tournament, according to authorities here. Thiago, the ex-pimp, says that 70-80% of the clients at his São Paulo brothel were tourists.

The Brazilian government under President Dilma Rousseff has attempted to bring in some measures to both put an end to child prostitution and make life for older prostitutes safer. At major festivities such as Carnival in recent years, the government has distributed thousands of kits containing information on how to report child exploitation. However, the government’s more recent “happy being a prostitute” campaign, which aimed to persuade sex workers to use condoms, backfired when launched in June. “We are fighting childhood prostitution and here comes a campaign encouraging it,” said Federal deputy Liliam Sá at the time, according to Reuters. One NGO is currently helping by offering English lessons to sex workers but relatively little is being achieved to curb the industry in child prostitution, despite former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva making it one of his campaign pledges a decade ago.

Back in her safe house, Amanda looks forward both to her 14th birthday and life ahead. “I dream to have a husband and family. I’d like to be an engineer,” she says. But she keeps running back to her life on the streets. Says a disappointed Costa: “It is heartbreaking but it needs to be her choice to move on.”

MOREBrazil’s ‘Happy Prostitute’ Slogan Gets a Chilly Reception

73 comments
RenHeld
RenHeld

Brazil is the paradise of prostitution, citizens from many countries come to Brazil to strengthen prostitution and trafficking. Here all can.

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

Luke 17:2

It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

ThaddeusGregoryBlanchette
ThaddeusGregoryBlanchette

Please see my post at my blog for a more in-depth critique of this article... http:// omangueblog.blogspot.com.br/2013/12/time-magazine-has-now-tossed-its-hat. html


ThaddeusGregoryBlanchette
ThaddeusGregoryBlanchette

Short response: this Time article is yellow journalism at its worst. There is no proof that massive numbers of children are being trafficked to the games. This accusation happens every World's Cup and there is no evidence for it.

Ana Dolores Zelaya Zelaya
Ana Dolores Zelaya Zelaya

Brasil .... potencia emergente sin reducir la pobreza en las FAVELAS, Crimen y prostitución de niños.....

Elaine N Lala
Elaine N Lala

The Bush Administration ruined the worlds economy

Erin Ham
Erin Ham

Thank goodness y'all are reporting on this. It is a major issue at very sporting event that takes place. The bigger the event the more human trafficking exists.

Rafael Dominador
Rafael Dominador

prevalent in brazil were women are beauties... i should say the pedophiles must be caught and let them be raped in prison

Rodolfo Dos Santos Fernandes
Rodolfo Dos Santos Fernandes

Brazil overall is a bad place, ever was, and now even more with this government destroying the place for 12 years, and still, people think that it's ok

Yvonne Rodriguez
Yvonne Rodriguez

This article is sicking, sure give the pedifils and the sickos more information.

Brian Lo
Brian Lo

Cancelling a game ? NOOOoooooo What will Nike, Adidas , Coke and all the BIG names do without this game? Sell shoes and drinks to a population who don't even do sports?

Vijay Banga
Vijay Banga

Is someone taking care of this serious situation, games mixed with shame will be degrading

Marina Fernandes Schneider
Marina Fernandes Schneider

Brazilians never wanted the Soccer Cup, the corrupt government used public money to build new stadiums and left schools and hospitals falling a part. We are ashamed of news like this but it is all true...Please do not come to Brasil and support an event that will not bring any benefit to Brazilian people.

Allan Brasília
Allan Brasília

Bernardo Carvalho seu nome português ou brasileiro nos levaria a crer que não fosse tão ignorante sobre o Brasil. Que estupidez. Que asneira que vc escreveu.

Tom Hayes
Tom Hayes

This is proof the devil is at work

Elisha AutoZone
Elisha AutoZone

gezz this article is like an advertisement for tourist, not helping at all

Bernardo Carvalho
Bernardo Carvalho

Brazil is overall a bad country. World Cup in there is a massive risk, but let's wait and see

Yesenia Jimenez
Yesenia Jimenez

Just so you know human trafficking is also happening here in the USA.... not just in other countries. .

Little Manly
Little Manly

Good advertising Time. Now all the paedophiles will know.

Trish Coate
Trish Coate

Excuse me, TIME: when a child is prostituted, he or she is not a "sex worker" but a victim of serial rape!!!

mdiasines
mdiasines

Mariana,

Ao invés de Você questionar MATÉRIAS mentirosas como esta, Você apoia ? Primeiro precisamos  adquirir informações sobre a procedência da matéria. NÓS Que Atuamos na Linha de frente na Proteção a Criança e adolescentes, Que compomos os fóruns, Redes, Comitês e Conselhos de Direitos Não concordamos totalmente com esta Matéria, pois a um exagero Muito grande. Principalmente REFERENTE AO Quantitativo considerado envolvido na Exploração SEXUAL.  a População infanto-juvenil da Cidade  É Pouco Mais DE 250 mil, e se for assim  ATÉ Minha FILHA DE 2 anos ESTA na Rede de Exploração?

ESTA matéria  nos expõem e traz inverdades, o que para nós é muito ruim, pois parece que nós a sociedade e outros órgãos inclusive da sociedade civil organizada (ongs) não estamos fazendo nada, o que não é verdade.

Existe no estado de Pernambuco um plano decenal de enfrentamento a violência sexual contra crianças e adolescentes, existe também um código de conduta ética no turismo elaborado conjuntamente com o sistema de turismo local, incluído capacitações a hotéis, bares restaurantes, taxistas entre outros setores. O que implica em dizer que a exploração até pode ocorrer mão não da forma como dita a matéria de forma descarada e com o aval da sociedade recifense ou pernambucana. 

MarianaSuica
MarianaSuica

Thank you for even sharing it! That's totally true.