Sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in Brazil

Luciana Temer | Director President, Liberta Institute

The situation of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in Brazil is very serious. We are the country with the second highest rates. And the impression is that no one knows this, because nobody talks about it.

In an effort to resolve the problem, the Brazilian Ministry of Human Rights has created a national free hotline to report human rights violations, including human rights abuses. The national hotline, “Dial 100”, (Disque 100) records cases of sexual exploitation in thousands of municipalities across Brazil. Cases occur in different contexts, such as big construction projects; criminal gangs and militias in urban slums; along highways; and within the coastal and Amazonian tourist areas.

Integrated into Disque 100 is Proteja Brasil, a mobile application created by UNICEF and the government’s Human Rights Secretariat, which facilitates reporting of violations against children. It was launched as part of the “Convergence Agenda for the Promotion, Protection and Defense of the Rights of Children and Adolescents in Major Events” with the aim of preventing the exploitation of children during sporting and other events.

Even so, there is a lack of in-depth research on the scale of the problem. Recent studies estimate that 500,000 children and adolescents are exploited per year. Most of them are between seven and fourteen years of age.

One of the best research reports we have is by the Federal Highway Police in partnership with Childhood Brazil, which is responsible for mapping the vulnerability points of the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents on federal highways.

Vulnerability mapping began in 2004 and since 2009, they have classified vulnerabilities at four levels: low to medium risk, high risk, and ultimately critical. From 2005 until today, this work has already removed 4,766 vulnerable children and adolescents from places of risk. Police actions are planned and carried out according to the degree of vulnerability, which determines the form and urgency of the responses.

The last edition of the study was conducted between 2017 and 2018 and identified 2,487 vulnerability points for sexual exploitation of children and adolescents, an increase of 20 percent over the previous report conducted in 2014.

This is one of the good initiatives supported by NGOs at the national, state, and local levels.

Another good example that we can mention is the initiative of some NGOs (Liberta Institute, Plan Internacional, Childhood Brazil, Abrinq Institute) that, together with the National Secretariat for the Rights of Children and Adolescents, joined forces to form a coalition a year ago to face the problem of sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. Each organisation with its expertise, works together to build national awareness campaigns, with the intention of making Brazil see how serious this problem is and, above all, make our society react to this tragic situation.

The big problem is that in a society with strong patriarchal values, sexual exploitation tends to be normalised and often victims are blamed for the situation in which they find themselves. These factors obviously result in a very low number of reported cases. There is also a tendency to distinguish between exploitation affecting younger victims, under 14, and adolescents aged 15 to 17 years of age. It is assumed that older victims are voluntarily involved in commercial sex.

A recent survey commissioned by the Liberta Institute shows us something very important. Almost all respondents know that paying to have sex with a 10-year-old or even 16-year-old is a crime seriously punished by criminal law.

However, 74 percent of those who saw something like this did not report it. These data confirm that Brazilians do not attach much importance to this crime. Probably for cultural reasons that naturalise the woman as a sexual object. And this also tells us that the last campaign whose slogan is: “Sexual exploitation of children and adolescents. You are not a client, you are a criminal”, is on the right track.

Like other forms of sexual violence, the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents is a criminal problem but, above all, a cultural problem, and cultural issues take time to change. But we believe that we have already begun the slow and difficult process of change here.