As fans flood Brazil for the 2014 World Cup, the demand for one of the country’s darkest crimes is expected to rise.
An estimated 600,000 people are set to descend upon Brazil for the celebrated sporting event. But for many soccer fans it’s not just the competition that’s drawing them in, it’s the accessibility of child prostitutes.
For those who are 18 years old or older, prostitution is completely legal in Brazil. But advocates say that an inordinate number of people selling sex on the streets are nowhere near legal age.
“These girls come from extreme poverty, a culture of social exclusion and a tradition of profound disrespect for women,” Antonia Lima Sousa, state prosecutor, told CNN of the underage prostitutes.
Desperate girls, as young as 10 years old, with nowhere to turn see the World Cup as an auspicious money-making opportunity because of the influx of men to the area. These child prostitutes are selling their bodies in Recife, one of the competition’s host cities, for as little as 1.30 British pounds — a little over $2, the Mirror reported.
Coupled with selling sex, also comes a climate of drug abuse, which some prostitutes say helps them go on.
“Sniffing the glue makes me feel dizzy and numb and it stops me feeling hungry so I don’t need to eat,” a Lorissa, a child sex worker, told the Mirror. “It helps me cope with the violence and danger on the streets.”
The drastic rise in demand for prostitution isn’t secluded to Brazil. Experts say that any major sporting events usually lead to such a spike.
“To understand the dynamics of human trafficking is to understand that events such as the Super Bowl could never not be breeding grounds for sexual exploitation,” Judy Harris Kluger, executive director of Sanctuary for Families, wrote in a HuffPost blog in advance of the Super Bowl. “On the most basic level, any location that sees an exponential increase in large numbers of men traveling for entertainment will receive a proportional increase in those who purchase sex.”
The risk of child exploitation increased by 30 to 40 percent during the World Cups in Germany in 2006 and South Africa in 2010, CBS News reported. Experts expect to see a similar trend in Brazil.
Amanda, 14, has already had two abortions after exchanging unprotected sex for a pack of cigarettes or a couple of dollars, she told Time.
The teen was exposed to the rough city streets when she was just 5 years old and her grandmother sent her out to sell gum to help support the impoverished family.
But Amanda is just one of an estimated 250,000 children who are involved in prostitution in Brazil, according to the U.S. State Department.
While some underserved girls choose to sell their bodies as a way to make some quick cash, many are often sold into prostitution by their parents.
Thiago, 27, a former pimp and trafficker, said that he would convince parents to hand over their daughters for somewhere in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, according to Time.
“I sought the girls in Recife because there is so much poverty there,” he told the news outlet. “It makes it way easier to convince the girls to come down and prostitute themselves.”
The Brazilian government allocated 8 million reais, about $3.3 million, to fight the child sex trade in host cities. But some advocates say that the police aren’t invested in putting an end to child prostitution, according to CNN.
“[The police] aren’t worried about these children growing up in a healthy environment, with jobs and housing, health and education,” Sister Maria, who’s involved with a group that helps pregnant teens, told CNN. “They’re worried about hiding them.”
To help make a meaningful difference, a number of nonprofits are ramping up their efforts during the World Cup.
Together with the UK’s National Crime Agency, Happy Child International, the A21 Campaign, Europol and the Jubilee Campaign have launched “It’s a Penalty” campaign. The initiative aims to raise awareness that having sex with a minor is a crime and will result in prosecution in either Brazil or the person’s home country.
Religious leaders are also joining in the effort.
A coalition of 240 religious congregations recently launched “Play For Life, Report Trafficking.” Participants will hand out leaflets at airports and other tourist hubs that encourage people to report child prostitution or enslavement to police, according to CBS.
“Without awareness,” Sister Carmen Sammut, president of the International Union of Superiors General, told CBS, “without acting together in favor of human dignity, the World Cup finals may turn out to be a terrible shame instead of a feast for humanity.”