Jan.6, 2010 Update:
Among the best recent news in Brazil travel is the pact against child sex tourism signed in Milan in September 2010 by Brazil Minister of Tourism Luiz Barreto and Italy Minister of Tourism Michela Vittoria Brambilla. That effort reinforces a broader commitment on the part of the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism which includes actions in support of families considered vulnerable to child sex tourism. The Ministry's TSI (Sustainable Tourism and Childhood) program aims to provide families with income alternatives which make them less likely to rely on child sex tourism as a means of survival.
The fight against child sex tourism in Brazil is, to an unknown number of Brazilians, a belated effort which failed to save them from the long-term consequences of child abuse and neglect.
To a younger generation, the fight represents a gleam of hope which has been made possible by tireless child rights advocates and which stems from a growing knowledge of the potential of sustainable travel, as well as a stronger awareness of the all-around destructive power of child sex tourism.
The Darkest Side of Brazil Travel
When Brazil finally awakened to the unchecked horrors of the child sex tourism industry, cities like Fortaleza and Recife had become safe havens for international travelers, mainly Europeans, whose sole purpose upon boarding a charter flight to Brazil was to abuse children sexually.
The logistics of a sexual offender's trip to Brazil have involved travel agencies dealing in this crime as well as local accomplices, such as hotel staff or taxi drivers who bring children to clients. Poverty and parents who offer their children up as prostitutes to foreign travelers have been key factors in this criminal activity.
Brazil Tackles Child Sex Tourism
The Ministry of Tourism has been instrumental in determining national policies and concerting efforts from many organizations committed to child protection.
Local governments have engaged in year-round prevention and awareness campaigns, with a peak of activity at the critical risk time: Carnival.
Brazil is struggling to show child predators that there is a difference between the excesses of consenting adults during Carnival and the sexual abuse of minors. Special police actions at Carnival target neighborhoods and situations which have been identified as potentially dangerous to children.
Cities Take Action
Cities formerly known for their lax control of child sex tourism are struggling to change their situation - and their image. Revenue is openly mentioned as one of the motivations, since studies show that child predators spend less money on their trips than healthy-minded tourists.
Investing in programs which prepare young people for work in the travel tourism is one of the ways cities are fighting abusive activities.
Fortaleza is an example of a city promoting actions against child sex tourism, such as forums, prevention campaigns with distribution of informative material, promotional shows, and seminars which involve people from all walks of Brazilian society.
The city is a pilot for programs which the Ministry of Tourism plans to implement in other Brazilian cities.
Non-governmental organizations such as CEDECA - the Center for Defense of Children and Adolescents - are actively helping in the protection of children in Ceará.
Praia do Futuro, in Fortaleza, also happened to be the site of a controversial application of article 217-A of law 12.015 of August 7, 2009, when an Italian man was arrested for what was deemed inappropriate contact with his eight-year-old daughter. The controversy hasn't diminished the support of a large number of Brazilians for that law.
In April 2008, Fundação Getúlio Vargas awarded Pernambuco State for efforts in the fight against child sex tourism. All hotel workers in the state are being guided in the prevention of sexual abuse against children.
Pernambuco's winning campaign involved the Recife Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Pernambuco branch of ABIH, the Brazilian Hotel Industry Association, and Ciaf (Integrated Center for Family Support). Ciaf is a non-governmental organization whose mission includes protecting children and helping their families advance through education and professional training.
May 18 and the Fight Against Impunity
In 2000, Brazil defined May 18 as the National Day for the Fight Against Child Exploitation and Abuse. Every year on this date, events are held all over Brazil to debate solutions for problems afflicting Brazilian children, including child sex tourism.
The date honors Araceli Cabrera Sanches, an eight-year old girl who was abducted, raped and murdered on May 18, 1973. Because her killers were released, the date has also become a symbol of the fight against impunity in Brazil.
In May 2008, Heico Bergrath, a German tourist, was arrested in Morro de São Paulo when the manager of the inn he was trying to stay at pretended to accept his story about the underage girl with him being his foster child. The manager warned the inn owners, who called the police.
What You Can Do to Help
A simple way to help the fight against child sex tourism is to accept the fact that your hotel in Brazil must ask you for your child's identification as well as yours. This recommended procedure is one of the steps which, if consistently adopted, will let criminals know that Brazil is cracking down on pedophiles. If your hotel does not ask you for your child's ID, question management.
If you spot children in a situation which strongly indicates prostitution or abuse, tell a Tourist Police officer if possible. Not all Tourist Police officers are fluent in English, but one of them told me that if necessary, they will call an officer who is.
You can call 190 for the Military Police or ask your hotel manager to call and report suspicious activities involving adults and children. If you're staying at a reputable hotel, they should be happy to help you participate in the fight against child sex tourism in Brazil.
Support sustainable initiatives. Stay tuned for companies which are investing in the development of the community around them. Helping families thrive is one of the best ways to prevent child sex tourism.