Magazine article New Internationalist

'Everybody Preferred Children'

Magazine article New Internationalist

'Everybody Preferred Children'

Article excerpt

On a muggy Friday evening in the northern

Brazilian city of Recife, Jonathan Costa is looking out for young girls selling their bodies on the street. Driving through downtown Recife in a white Volkswagen people carrier, he points out the flags of different countries that line the beachfront.

'The sex agents use these flags during the day to meet up with potential customers,' he says. 'It's one of the many codes the industry has here. If you're from Germany, for example, you wait under the German flag and someone will come hook you up.'

Costa is the Assistant Director of Shores of Grace, a Christian charity that works to take children involved in prostitution offthe streets. In 2010 UNICEF estimated that 250,000 child prostitutes were working in the sex industry in Brazil, but local NGOs say it could be as many as a million. A key tourist destination thanks to its breathtaking beaches, Recife is rapidly becoming known as one of the worst cities in the world for child trafficking and sex tourism.

With the World Cup scheduled to take place in Recife and other Brazilian cities in June 2014, there is an urgency to the work of both government bodies and charities working to combat child prostitution. Aware of the threats posed to children during such megaevents, the government began a new initiative, Extra Attention, in 2011. Making its début during the 2011 St John's Eve festival, 40,000 educational kits were distributed, containing information and guidance on how to report child exploitation. The project also set up Child-Friendly Spaces during the festivities. Still, NGO workers like Jonathan Costa know it will be difficult to prevent an 'inevitable' increase in child prostitution during the World Cup. 'I believe that with the World Cup coming up next year we're going to have a major explosion in the sex business,' he said. 'We've already seen more girls on the streets since the Confederation Cup began [in June this year].'

Making ends meet

One girl Costa made sure wasn't among them was Amanda. Sitting on a huge sofa in the NGO's new rescue home, she is watching cartoons on television. Since leaving home to live on the streets, Amanda has had two abortions while working in prostitution. She turns 14 in a few days' time.

'My life was complicated. I was on the streets and taking drugs,' she said. 'I lived with my grandmother because my mum couldn't provide for me. She made me go out and sell gum on the streets.' Amanda was five at the time. She said she would often lie down with men - as old as 50 at times - just to feel safe at night. They would pay her about $3 or give her drugs or food in exchange for sex. 'I was in so much danger, exposed to so much, all because of money,' she added.

Poverty is the main issue that drives girls like Amanda into prostitution, but the contributing factors of drug addiction, familial abuse, police corruption and even climate change all play their part. 'There is a drought in the countryside and an exodus of people coming to the city and selling their bodies,' Costa said. 'We have a 42-per-cent unemployment rate.'

Rafaela Souza's mother looks after Rafaela's son so she can work on the streets - a common compromise for many of Recife's young mothers. 'I started when I was 13,' Rafaela said. 'I would do anything to leave this life but it's really hard because it's just me. …

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