BBC Panorama highlighted the contrast they found when researching the World Cup preparations in Brazil in this documentary two nights ago. It’s really tough watching, but it’s important.
I saw the same contrast when in Rio last year: excitement and promise, financial investment, change and progress…right next to poverty, despair, exploitation, addiction and hopelessness. We stayed in a quiet convent with a view on the city – the Redeemer statue, the stadium, Sugarloaf Mountain, shopping centres, wealthy residences and favelas were as close to each other as the rainbow-coloured tiles in our bathrooms.
The Panorama documentary takes a look at the sense of injustice felt by Brazilians who are living in poverty: they express their outrage at the fact that so much has been spent on the World Cup preparations whilst there is so much need right next to it. They say they feel robbed.
A mother, interviewed next to the Sao Paolo stadium, says she can’t bear to look at the seats that will bring in the money needed to buy a small house for a family (hers lives in a drug-dealer’s squat without electricity) that are right next to the places children sell themselves for sex.
A lot of the documentary is spent looking at the issue of child sex exploitation caused by poverty. Boys and girls as young as 10 sell their own bodies for money to buy food, drink, drugs…to sustain themselves. One has contracted HIV and is trying to stop; another says he has 3 pimps who would kill his family if he stopped; still another takes the BBC to one of the ‘love motels’ she uses.
Pretending to be a buyer, Chris Roger who presents the documentary accompanies 14 year old to the Love Motel – he buys a room without any questions asked by the receptionist, who by law is bound to enquire as to the age of the persons using the room.
Because yes, child prostitution is illegal in Brazil. Children in principle are not criminalised – they are brought back to their families (if they exist) or given help by social workers and charities (though it is hard to ascertain the full picture of what goes on given the secrecy and corruption within the police force). And action is taken only when activity is being picked upon: it was haunting to see shots of minors selling themselves for sex under the eyes of the police.
Some hypothesised that this was because the police didn’t care, others suggested they didn’t interfere because they are often involved.
There are concerns over gangs trafficking children from rural areas into the 12 World Cup cities this summer to be sold for sex. Whether or not it is coerced or forced, child ‘prostitution’ is wrong. When in Rio, we spoke to Brazilian agencies who are climbing a steep hill in terms of challenging culture – there is a current that suggests it is without consequence for children to be selling their bodies for sex with adults and which aims to drown out the voices of the children themselves who do not like what they do. These children do not want to be in prostitution, but they have turned to it because of, most often, economic vulnerability. The effects are bleak: drug addiction, STDs, unhealthy relationships, gang involvement, falling into the hands of a pimp, death. All are realities or fears expressed by the children in the documentary.
What can we do?
1. Cut the demand for children selling sex by challenging the idea that sex tourism is OK, especially amongst the men who will attend the World Cup and who see Brazil as an easy place to buy minors for sex. Support the It’s A Penalty campaign by sharing this video.
2. We can’t cut demand without considering the children currently selling sex in Brazil (and other countries). Why are they selling themselves, or indeed being sold? Because they are vulnerable. We need to support charities and initiatives who work to provide education, build the economy and support people with addictions or other problems. Happy Child is a great organisation working with street kids in Brazil right now.
3. Another great organisation in Brazil is STOP THE TRAFFIK. We got to visit Ebeneezer and his crew when we were in Rio as they launched a UN GIFT Box with the ILO and the local Government in preparation for the World Cup. The aim of this UN initiative is prevention. Northern Ireland is launching its own GIFT Box next week. Exploitation and trafficking happen here, too…even child sex exploitation. Because we believe that informative awareness-raising is a powerful tool in preventing exploitation, including trafficking, we’d love to have you at the Box’s launch. Info here and RSVP here.