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Brazzil - Children - February 2004

Brazil: "Respect Our Minors or Else!"

Attempting to shake off Rio's and the Brazilian Northeast's
reputation as a paradise for sex tourists, police have vowed to
crack down on the industry during—and after—Carnaval. Despite
the visible effort it is still common to see fresh-faced girls on the
streets of Copacabana and other tourist neighbourhoods.

Tom Phillips

Tourists heading for the 2004 Rio Carnaval are to be greeted by more than fast-footed samba dancers and caipirinhas. This year the city's governors have a new message for holidaymakers: 'Sleep with minors and you will go to jail.'

The warning is part of a new campaign, launched by Rio's Civil Police, aiming to crack down on the sexual exploitation of minors. Tourists arriving at the city's bus-stations and airports will be given leaflets outlining its sex laws—pointing out, for example, that having sex with under-14s could put you in a Brazilian jail for 10 years.

The leaflets will be distributed across the city by campaigners wearing T-shirts explaining: "Sexual exploitation is a crime."

Child prostitution is a massive problem in Brazil, particularly in its impoverished North and Northeast. According to a recent report compiled for the US Congress: "Brazil has one of the worst child prostitution problems in the world."

"A growing number of sex tourists are going to Latin America, partly as a result of restrictions placed on sex tourism in Thailand, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries," explains the document 'Trafficking in Women and Children: the US and International Response'.

Prostitution is legal in Brazil at eighteen. Yet such is the demand for prostitutes that many minors are drawn into the industry. In 1994, one non-governmental organization (NGO) estimated that 500,000 children were involved in Brazil's sex industry. Ten years on some sources put the figure at four times that.

Authorities now hope to show that the UN's special rapporteur on child prostitution, Juan Miguel Petit, was wrong when he said in November there was a "sense of resignation" towards the issue in Brazil.

Attempting to shake off Rio's reputation as a paradise for sex tourists, police have vowed to crack down on the industry during—and after—Carnaval. Last Tuesday seven minors, amongst them three transvestites, were taken into custody having been found being prostituted on Copacabana's Avenida Atlântica. Yet it remains a common sight to see fresh-faced girls on the streets of Copacabana, Barra da Tijuca, Lapa and São Cristóvão.

A new study claims that 85 per cent of Rio's sex tourists are Germans and Italians. The majority are between 40 and 50 years old and travel alone, according to the Riotur/UniverCidade poll.

Aware that at least some of these are involved in underage prostitution, foreign governments are also taking moves to clamp down on child sex-tourists. Last year, the British government introduced a new sex offences bill, giving it the power to ban convicted paedophiles from travelling abroad, if they are thought to be looking for child prostitutes.

According to the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), British child sex offenders travel to Eastern Europe, South East Asia (particularly Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, and Vietnam), India, Spain, Greece, Cuba—and Brazil.

"The attraction of particular countries relates to a number of factors, including a low age of consent or tolerance of sex with children, inadequate legislation or poorly resourced law enforcement and an established sex industry," explains the NCIS.

In Brazil the latter two are particularly relevant. The UN's special representative was highly critical of the authorities' lackadaisical approach to the problem during his visit at the end of last year.

"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 realize that these young people can have another, better life," he said.

Equally, it's no secret that Rio is home to a vast, well-established sex industry. A host of websites exist, promoting the city as 'the place to be' in terms of 'young', 'eager' prostitutes. Amongst them one declares its focus as: "adult travel… young women, freelance hookers, prostitutes, escorts, located in pick up joints/meeting places [including] coffee shops, restaurants, disco's [sic], bars, public places… and nightclubs, go-go dance bars, sex massage parlours, whorehouses/brothels and other places where Ladies of the Night frequent."

End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT), is one organization fighting the exploitation of children in Brazil. The group defines child sex tourism as "the commercial sexual exploitation of children by persons who travel from their own country to another usually less developed country to engage in sexual acts with children."

"Tourism is not the cause of child sexual exploitation," it points out. "However, exploiters make use of the facilities offered by the tourism industry (hotels, bars, nightclubs etc.). In turn, the tourism industry may help to create a demand by promoting a location's exotic image.

Rio de Janeiro's exotic image hardly needs any promoting. Thousands of overseas visitors are now in 'the marvellous city', ahead of Carnaval, which starts this week. Inevitably some are more interested in Brazil's crianças (children) than its actual Carnaval.

The annual drive against child sex tourism is also taking place in the cities of Salvador and Recife. In the Bahian capital 120,000 similarly themed leaflets have been distributed, translated into three languages. Even the newspapers carry a strongly worded warning alongside their 'professional services' classified adverts: "To prostitute or sexually exploit a child or teenager is a crime, carrying a prison term of between 4 and 10 years."

Tom Phillips is a British journalist living in Rio de Janeiro. He writes for a variety of publications on politics and current affairs, as well as various aspects of the cultura brasileira. Tom can be reached on tominrio@yahoo.co.uk and his articles can also be found at www.leedsstudent.org.uk

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