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Shame! As Young as 9 and Selling Sex in the Capital of Brazil

Children prostitute themselves in Brasília, Brazil The Correio Braziliense published its most shocking front page on Wednesday, September 24. Through photography, it presented the drama of children between the ages of 9 and 11 prostituting themselves in the Brasília bus depot, the Rodoviária. 

On an inside page, an article written by the journalist Erika Klingl bluntly described the scope of the tragedy with examples of child-victims’ dialogues in their own voices. The front page can be seen as a film; the article, like a theater piece. But it is all true.

As a resident of the Federal District of Brasília, its former governor, a current senator and regional president of a political party in the bloc supporting the local government, I felt shame and revulsion after reading the article. I also remembered past struggles.

With the concern of a resident and the sense of responsibility of a senator and the president of the Democratic Labor Party in Brasília (PDT-DF), I immediately telephoned Governor José Roberto Arruda and told him clearly that it would be impossible to continue as part of a government that is either unwilling to put an end to this tragedy or incapable of doing so.

The governor expressed his will to confront the problem immediately, sending the police to quell this brutal crime against our children’s dignity, physical integrity and future. He also said that the matter is visible now because it was previously hidden behind the chaos of the open-air market alongside the Rodoviária.

The government had the obligation to know about that reality, independently of the artifices hiding it. Besides this, the use of the police is necessary but this is not the solution: it will only push the sexual exploitation of our children into other locations.

I reminded the governor that, between 1995 and 1998, the government of Brasília had solved that problem by employing seven actions:

1) Listing the names of all the boys and girls who were in the streets, especially in the Rodoviária, and placing these names in the computer of the governor himself;

2) Creating a Secretary of the Child charged with finding a way out for each child, identifying their families so that these will take them in, commit to keeping them in school without truancy, and impede them from going out at night, receiving in exchange a Bolsa Escola in the amount of a minimum wage;

3) Setting up a system for the psychological monitoring of these children;

4) Employing much firmness in the police crackdown with closure of the clubs and imprisonment of those involved in the crime of the sexual exploitation of children;

5) Undertaking two intense information campaigns with the titles “Say ‘no’ to the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents” and “Don’t give handouts; give citizenship”;

6) Making conspicuous the presence of police trained to confront the matter;

7) Establishing direct contact with the media, UNICEF, the News Agency of the Rights of Childhood (ANDI), and all the institutions linked to child protection so that they would monitor the problem, denouncing our failures.

All these actions were under the coordination of the Secretary of the Child, Oswaldo Russo, who met almost daily with the governor, analyzing the list and monitoring the fate of each name that came up on the computer screen. In a few months, that crime had disappeared from the streets. Brasília could sigh with relief, free of the shame that has now returned after 12 years of neglect.

I rapidly suggested some of these measures to Governor Arruda, calling upon him to take similar or more efficient actions that may have emerged since we initiated our combat. I made it clear that the PDT will not continue to take part in his government if the matter is not confronted with the necessary dedication, competence, urgency and rigor. The governor sounded totally sympathetic to me, displaying the will to confront the matter. He left me with the hope that, in a few months, the shameful problem will be solved.

Fortunately, Governor Arruda presented some measures the next day to confront the problem. We must have hope and pay attention so that these measures will be made concrete and others, which are still needed, will be taken. If only because these children cannot wait until 2011 for a new government.

There is a current project in the Senate to create the Agency of Child and Adolescent Protection. Governor Arruda would make a correct decision if he would apply that idea immediately in the Federal District. We must give him this chance.

Erika Klingl’s investigative report in the Correio Braziliense, “Sexo com crianças é vendido a R$ 3 no coração de Brasília” (Sex with children is sold for 3 reais in the heart of Brasília), is available online at http://www.correiobraziliense.com.br/html/sessao_13/2008/09/24/noticia_interna,id_sessao=13&id_noticia=34888/noticia_interna.shtml

Cristovam Buarque is a professor at the University of Brasília and a PDT senator for the Federal District. You can visit his website – http://www.cristovam.org.br/ – and write to him at cristovam@senado.gov.br.

Translated from the Portuguese by Linda Jerome LinJerome@cs.com.

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