When a twelve-year-old girl comes to us at Hope, we assume she has been sexually exploited. Because that’s what happens to children of the favelas in Brazil.
In a place of hunger, of hopelessness, a place of pain, in a place where children are desperate, that’s what happens. A little girl discovers she can trade the only commodity she possesses – her body – and the men at the neighborhood bar will give her a few Reias if she will do what they ask her to do. All of her friends make their money the same way. There is no cultural stigma or moral outrage for what she has done, and the money fills the hunger in her stomach.
But sexual exploitation always brings pain, and soon she will turn to the ever-present drugs – industrial glue, meth, and finally crack cocaine – to assuage the pain. Then more prostitution to feed the growing addiction, and she is on a cycle of escalation with no end but death.
As Daiany said to me just a few weeks after coming to Hope, “I love it here, but you have to understand that I will do anything to get drugs.”
That’s what happens.
Some 600,000 World Cup fans will travel to Brazil. Research from Childhood Brazil documents that reported sex crimes against children increased by a staggering 66 percent during South Africa’s 2010 World Cup. Brazil is already the world’s number one destination for sex tourism – and children are the most vulnerable to the drunken predators who will descend onto the streets.
And little can be done to stop it.
To be fair, Brazil is trying. The country has a code of conduct for taxi drivers and hotel receptionists. When you check into any hotel in Brazil, signs warn that the solicitation of minors for sex is illegal. Adelino Neto, the head of child protection at Brazil’s tourism ministry says, “Every tourist who arrives in Brazil will know that the exploitation of children and juveniles is a crime. He’ll see it in airplanes, airports, bus and train stations and hotels.”
But that won’t stop the problem…
… and organizations like Hope will pick up the broken pieces when the tourists go home.
So when you turn on your television and see the non-stop World Cup coverage, remember the children.
And say a prayer for them with me.