By Keshar Patel
The World Cup serves as an opportunity for the international community to appreciate competition, nationalism, and excellence. The Cup, however, is also a place where arguably the worst of human rights abuses, sexual exploitation, takes place.
As an estimated 600,000 fans descend on host-country Brazil, so will thousands of pimps and traffickers with their victims. In past Cups, increases in trafficking and sexual exploitation were substantial, which has already proved evident in Brazil. In contrast to the teamwork and passion displayed in the stadium, violence and manipulation prevails in the form of child prostitution on the streets.
Sunday People recently reported on trafficked girls between the ages of 11 and 14 in the host-city of Recife. These girls have been introduced to cocaine and “glue-sniffing,” to stave off the physical pain of sexual violence and hunger, laying the foundation for addiction that only further entangles them in the sex industry’s grip. The report describes a 13-year-old-girl named Lorrisa who sniffs glue to make herself feel dizzy. The report indicates these children can be found on the streets looking for customers right outside stadiums as fans come and go, right in front of policemen who are either completely oblivious or blatantly ignoring such behavior. This is the reality for millions of vulnerable girls in Brazil.
But major athletic events have become a commonplace for the sex trafficking industry. Events such as the Super Bowl, Olympics, and previous World Cups have proved to be substantially profitable for the trafficking business. In South Africa during the 2010 World Cup, estimates indicated about 100,000 people might have fallen prey to the schemes of traffickers.
Despite scant statistics surrounding the validity of such claims, trafficking still remained a major concern during preparations for the 2014 Super Bowl. New traps and tricks are continuously at play during such events, as traffickers see large-scale events as opportunities to strengthen their market.
In Brazil, many girls have gone missing in recent months—a number so high, authorities are unable to keep count. They are believed to have been trafficked to host-cities such as Salvador and Cuiaba, with police reports of crime gangs offering girls as “available” for football fans. The majority of the girls come from extreme poverty, where vulnerability from social exclusion creates profound disrespect for women.
Church leaders have expressed grave concern over the heavy influx of tourists fueling the trade. With this in mind, nonprofits and Brazilian churches have banded together to spread the word about child sexual exploitation in the country. They are working to contact victims, head-start media campaigns, and enlist the help of social media to increase awareness. The network has also formed Bola na Rede, “Back of the Net,” a campaign to alert tourists of the dangers facing the country’s children.
The number of vulnerable children in Brazil’s cities has risen sharply in recent years, largely due to pacification—the removal of favelas, or slums, which were carried out in hoards by policemen and enforcement in preparation for the Cup. Though it represented the country’s attempt to push out armed drug gangs, the shift was also a means of hiding extreme poverty and making the city appear more appealing. This led to an increase in displaced families and children, allowing traffickers to either kidnap or lure young children into trafficking.
This is not a problem exclusive to major cities in Brazil and the Cup, but to the entire country and everyday life there. Child prostitution is an endemic that plagues the entire country; Brazil is recognized as a Tier 2 country by the U.S. Department of State. Surprisingly, the country’s age of consent is 14. Such conflicting laws, practices, and rights have aggravated the prevalence in child prostitution in Brazil. This creates mixed signals and blurred lines, as such laws do not delineate between consent and rape.
Denial and blatant ignorance does not remedy the most existential crime against humanity; it fuels it. Education and awareness of such behavior can, therefore, help to create widespread community attentiveness. And until the Brazilian police takes a stand against the dark industry hovering around its stadiums, the child sex industry will continue as the games proceed.
Keshar Patel is an editorial assistant at World Policy Journal.