By Bala Sai:
The 2014 football world cup was meant to be a celebration of Brazil – an alive, buzzing, passionate country with a booming economy and a rich and colorful culture. With a healthy investment climate, a growing industry and a stable government, the proud country was in all readiness to welcome the world to its grand party, a jaguar meant to stand proudly at the pedestal of history’s biggest world cup and roar to the collective admiration of the world. Instead, it just rolled over and bared its dirty underbelly for everyone to see and cringe in disgust.
Brazil stuns in its duality. Beneath the joy and celebration and fanfare, beneath its state of the art football stadiums and teeming tourism industry, there is a dark, ugly face that it desperately tries to hide. However, you just need a couple of dollars or a pack of cigarettes to uncover it.
For almost every tourist the world cup lures into the country (an estimated whopping 6,00,000), there is one girl child selling her body for sex.
In Brazil, prostitution is legal. You can find posters and fliers in public places advertising sex. You can easily find prostitutes in the streets and alleys, spread over various age groups and ethnicities. You can find pimps and crawlers everywhere. If you look deep enough, in the back alleys and deserted roads and desolate bus stands, you can also find children.
Much like in our country, poverty and prosperity co-exist in Brazil. Living conditions in its vast slums have been a subject of much debate and disgust, and rampant acute poverty has birthed civil unrest throughout the nation, as recent protests clouding its World Cup celebrations show. The tantalizing prospect of throngs of international tourists willing to spend big money has driven impoverished women and children to prostitution.
Children as young as 10 and 12, either sold by their own parents to somehow escape the clutches of poverty, or trafficked into the country by agents and pimps, can be found offering sex, some so they can satiate their drug addiction. These children have been slowly victimized to drug abuse, having started out taking ‘glue’ and crack cocaine to help forget their hunger and pain.
The horrific extent of this problem is illustrated by this statement from a victim; according to the Daily Mail, “..one 13-year-old girl told the inquiry that she had been abused by a construction worker at the stadium who impregnated her. ‘After a while he said he would take me,’ she said. ‘My father did not care much. It seems that for him it was good, because it was one less mouth to feed.’”
Child prostitution is an organized business having large, deep, devoted networks of pimps, taxis and hotels, and closely linked to human trafficking and drug pedaling networks, hiding in the shadows of Brazil’s thriving sex-tourism industry.
“For many children in Brazil, prostitution begins with family issues. A child may be abused, beaten, forced to help their family put food on the table, and see prostitution as one of their few income options. Others may be victims of incest and turn to prostitution out of shame and guilt related to their abuse. Still more children may be introduced to sexual exploitation through family members. In a few horrific cases parents themselves sell children to the sex trade at a young age to provide for their families.”
In spite of the government’s crackdown on child prostitution prior to the world cup, critics allege that they have only succeeded in hiding away the problem, and not solving it. The government’s lax attitude has only fueled contempt for the law. In Brazil, the legal age for consensual sex is as low as 14. Recently, a court in Brazil passed a horror judgment that basically ruled that having sex with 12 year old girls is not considered statutory rape if they had been prostitutes before. Although it is illegal for children below 18 years of age to sell their bodies, child prostitution, at large, is only growing, with the industry set to grow by 30-40% in the coming month alone.
This is not an isolated issue. It is the result of widespread, deep rooted systemic problems plaguing the society at large. Addressing them will necessitate stringent reforms in the social, cultural, economic and judicial fronts. The government must take serious measures to eradicate the growing malice and that can be done only by attacking the root of the problem – poverty.
Tonight as you sit back in your couches, supporting your favorite teams, sipping on your Pepsi and tuning into a world continents away, you must realize that the game is only half the world cup. This world cup is about two different worlds that exist in Brazil – the world out there in the football stadiums, the one that fills your TV, huge and happy and full of optimism, and the world just a few minutes way, on the corners of empty roads, on the shady hotels and crawling cars, in crowded slums and silent, broken homes and deep inside the minds of these children – a world shrunken, twisted, punctured, lost.
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.