The World Cup kicks off in Brazil on Thursday in what promises to be a festival of colour. But the country has a darker side of drug addiction and child exploitation, as Mark Williams-Thomas reports.
For the next two months all eyes will be on Brazil as it hosts the football World Cup in a competition that is expected to pull in more than six million tourists and generate an estimated revenue of around £2.7 billion. But in the host city of Recife, on the north east coast of Brazil, poverty and child sexual exploitation is what will greet visiting fans.
For the country with the world’s seventh largest economy, girls and boys as young as 10 are selling themselves for sex.
Accompanied by a translator and the charity Happy Child, who work with children that are being sexually exploited, I spoke to a number of street children.
Many of these children were sniffing from a plastic bottle containing very strong industrial glue, which they call ‘Cola’.
I spoke to Calliem, who told me that she is approached all the time by men looking for sex. She is just 14 years and first started selling her body for sex at the age of 11. “I have had sex so many times with men – they pay 5 Brazilian reais (around £1.50),” she told me.
She also told me she is a regular user of cola, grass and crack.
Whilst with the children I was joined by an older lady, Yara, who had been on the streets since she was seven. She is now 41.
“The children are at real risk from local men and tourists who are picking up young girls and boys for sex,” she told me. She says the youngest child picked up for sex was 10 years old. “The men come up to the children, choose which child they want and take that child away,” she adds.
“The children go with the men because they are high on drugs or need more money to buy the next drugs”. So many of the street children are dependent on drugs in what often seems like vicious cycle: selling themselves to raise money to buy the drugs they are dependent on.
Whilst I have seen so much poverty and sexual exploitation during my time here, there is a sliver of hope. Erica has endured a bleak childhood – first abused aged 10 when she was forced to sell herself for sex. Now aged 14 years and pregnant, she is in a Happy Child shelter and can see a future bringing up her son off the streets and away from sexual exploitation.