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Abu Ghraib Is Here, in Brazil

 Abu Ghraib Is Here, in 
  Brazil

Why do we not confront
the evils of child prostitution, of child
labor, of degraded schools, of abandoned childhood, of street
children? Because we are more indignant about the photos of the
distant Iraqi prison than the photos of our own local Abu Ghraib.
Child abuse degrades our children in a graver way.
by: Cristovam
Buarque

In the last few weeks the images of the treatment of Iraqi prisoners within
the Abu Ghraib Prison have frightened the entire world. Many more people would
be horrified if international television would show what Brazil does with
its children.

Child prostitution degrades
our children and adolescents in a way that is graver than the shameful acts
occurring in that Iraqi prison. All across our nation hundreds of thousands
of girls and a growing number of boys are taken from their families and submitted
to the evils of the sexual trafficking exploiters and usurers. Instead of
becoming horrified, every week we receive planeloads of sexual tourists from
Europe to mistreat our girls.

The Brazilian judicial
system has already sent an American pilot back to his country for making an
obscene gesture at a federal police officer; the federal government has already
invalidated the work visa of an American journalist who wrote heedlessly about
the President.

But how many sexual tourists
who have mistreated our girls might we have returned to their countries? Certainly
very few. First, because our politicians and judicial system seem to be of
the opinion that a newspaper article opposing the President or a gesture directing
against a police officer hurts the national honor more than a foreigner’s
sexual violence directed against our children. Second, because the tourist
pays in dollars, a little for the girl and her family, more for the hotels
and restaurants.

And so we continue to
close our eyes to our own Abu Ghraibs.

A joint Congressional
Commission of Inquiry (CPI) confirmed the names of dozens of people involved
in the sexual trafficking of children and adolescents. Among those identified
are personalities, authorities, people society considers respectable.

And all those concerned
with the matter are asking themselves what is going to happen to those criminals.
If they should at least be punished, like the American soldiers who tortured
in Abu Ghraib, or if they will continue laughing and committing their crimes.

If the speech made in
the Federal Senate by Senator Patrícia Saboya Gomes were to be circulated
as a videotape, the entire world would call for immediate measures against
these brutalities.

But we cannot merely concern
ourselves with punishing those responsible. The American government decided
to suspend torture as an interrogation method; it prohibited maltreatment
in the Iraqi prisons. Yet we do not show the necessary will, do not use the
necessary energy, the necessary resources, to put an end to our own Abu Ghraib.

Nothing Done

In February 2003, when
the Lula Government had been in office less than two months, a meeting was
held to discuss the problem of child prostitution and define the means of
confronting it. From then until now, as Senator Patrícia Saboya Gomes
recently stated, nothing concrete has been done.

In that meeting it was
said that four steps would suffice to solve the problem. First, defining that
it is a priority, not only from the point of view of aiding the girls who
continue to be prostituted, but from that of abolition, so that child prostitution
will cease to exist in Brazil. That decision has not yet been clearly made,
as if we do not believe that the problem has a solution.

Second, setting a time
limit for this solution to take effect. We cannot continue merely trying to
confront the problem without defining when it will cease to exist, running
the risk of being asked every day to explain how the confrontation is going.
It is better to be held responsible for the incapacity to do something than
for the shame of not having an objective.

Third, naming a coordinator
to take responsibility for the matter, one who would be dismissed in a few
months if he or she could not show results. As long as the problem is handled
in a scattered manner, without a central responsible person, by so many ministries
and groups that aid victims or repress crime, we are not going to eliminate
it.

Finally, implanting the
programs that we already know—a special Bolsa-Escola (school scholarship)
for those girls and their families, psychological care, daily scholastic monitoring
for each of them.

In the Federal District
between 1995 and 1999, the government showed that it is possible to confront
the problem. Naturally it costs money. But it costs much less than what we
spend upon other things, many of them less important.

This was what was done
with each project that Brazil carried out throughout its history, all much
more difficult. We built a capital, hydroelectric plants, freeways, universities
while all around we allowed children to continue in prostitution.

Why do we not confront
the evils of child prostitution, of child labor, of degraded schools, of abandoned
childhood, of street children? Because we are more indignant about the photos
of the distant Iraqi prison than the photos of our own local Abu Ghraib.

Cristovam Buarque – mensagem@cristovam.com.br
– is a professor at the University of Brasília and a Workers Party
(PT) senator for the Federal District. He was also Brazil’s Education
Minister during the first year of the Lula administration.

Translated by
Linda Jerome – LinJerome@cs.com.

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