- SALVADOR, Brazil -- This
city, on the north-east coast of Brazil, is rich in African culture, and
rife with underage sex. Driven by poverty and lured by the prospect of
wealthy gringo customers, girls as young as 12 prostitute themselves for
as little as £2. "But I am already too old," says Adrianna,
a pretty 17-year-old who has been working since she was 12. "Gringos
prefer girls between 10 and 14."
- Brazil has one of the world's worst reputations for child
prostitution. Salvador has just been visited by the Juan Miguel Petit,
the UN's special rapporteur on child prostitution, child pornography and
trafficking of women and children.
- Mr Petit called the Brazilian government's attitude "generally
positive", but added: "There is a sense of resignation, as if
these children and adolescents are genetically predisposed or condemned
by fate to be sexually exploited. There needs to be a bigger effort to
realise that these young people can have another, better life."
- Aid workers reckon two million children are sexually
exploited in Brazil, but the lack of data and clandestine nature of the
crime render such figures meaningless. Many involved in the sex trade are
European tourists, mainly from Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands,
and Latin-Americans. Sidney Alves Costa, head of the Tourist Ministry cabinet,
says: "The first myth that needs to be dispelled is that only foreigners
- In Brazil, prostitution is legal at 18. There is even
a union for sex workers in Rio de Janeiro. The Brazilian Justice Minister,
Marcio Thomaz Bastos, whom Mr Petit met in Brasilia, has said he wants
to make underage prostitution "a residual problem within two years".
To do that, the government would first have to eliminate the appalling
poverty that burdens a third of Brazilians, especially in the north-east.
- Heleni Avila, a social worker who tries to help underage
prostitutes, says: "We are talking about mainly girls, but an increasing
number of boys are coming from the poorest section of society, from dysfunctional
families, where drugs and sexual abuse are common. Some children are abandoned
on the streets; others are sent out by parents and told they can't come
home until they have a certain amount of money."
- Salvador has the country's highest proportion of black
people, descendants of slaves brought from West Africa by Portuguese colonists.
Ms Avila adds: "Sex with slaves was common, so our culture is impregnated
with a mentality that it is acceptable to exploit the weak. The girls know
foreigners see them as being more exotic and sensuous because of their
colour. Their inequality causes them a great loss of self-esteem. Prostitution
is almost seen as a way of being appreciated."
- Some aid workers believe this image is partly caused
by the marketing of Brazil abroad. Soraya Bastas, president of the Centre
for the Defence of Children and Adolescents (CEDECA), says: "When
you see a poster of a Brazilian beach, it nearly always has a picture of
a semi-naked woman. It perpetrates the notion that Brazilian women are
constantly sexually available." Until recently, she adds, travel agencies
in Europe offered sex packages with "hot, mulatto girls".
- The government started to tackle sex tourism during the
latest carnival season, when pamphlets warning of the penalties of child
sex abuse were distributed in several languages. Ministers are also negotiating
for publicity space.
- But a weak and often corrupt police force, and a painfully
slow judicial system, offer impunity to the sex tourists. Last week, a
judge in the southern state of Parana was arrested for paedophilia. Andre
Luiz Taques de Macedo is accused of participating in private parties in
which five teenagers aged between 14 and 18 were forced to prostitute themselves.
- One of the main difficulties is collecting evidence.
Of five cases brought to court in Salvador this year, one resulted in a
guilty verdict, and the rest were dropped due to lack of evidence, or suspended.
- A chronic lack of resources is also hampering any potential
crackdown. Waldemar Oliveira, a lawyer with CEDECA, says: "We need
specialised investigators. But the government says it has no budget for
this kind of action. One study shows 10,000 new workers would have to be
hired and trained. And the police lack basic resources such as computers
- Eduardo Pereira, an officer in Salvador's federal police,
says sexual tourism falls under the mandate of the civil or state police.
"We give support only when an international connection is involved."
- Last week, a Swiss citizen, Robert Kuhn, was arrested
for producing and distributing child pornography in Porto Seguro, 600 miles
south of Salvador. Girls aged 13 and 14 said he took indecent photographs
of them in his home after school.
- He is also suspected of trafficking Brazilian women to
Europe. Police found boxes of flyers for European nightclubs, and airline,
bus and train tickets for European destinations.
- The ease with which sex criminals can operate with impunity
in Brazil and the lack of police investigation are demonstrated on the
internet. One website, in English and run by a Robert Charles, shows girls
as young as seven in pornographic poses. Offering deliveries of a CD-rom
featuring "the most beautiful photos of Russian, Asian and Brazilian
pre-teens", he tells potential customers: "Experience shows our
plastic boxes are never opened by custom officers". The business operates
from a PO box in Salvador's head post office.
- © 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd