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Brazil: Must tackle child prostitution

Publish Date: 18 Feb 2004

AP WorldStream English: GENEVA

Brazilian authorities must do more to tackle child prostitution, clamping down on sex tourism and improving implementation of laws meant to help youngsters, a United Nations investigator said Wednesday.

"The political commitment of the government to fight child sexual exploitation is strong and tangible," said Juan Miguel Petit, U.N. special envoy on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. But tougher rules are needed to protect young victims who may number up to 500,000, Petit said in a report.

"The policy framework for fighting exploitation is in place," he said. "But filtering policies and programs from the central, federal level down to the grass-roots level is a major difficulty."

Petit, who reports to the U.N. Human Rights Commission, visited Brazil in November. He met with government officials, human rights advocates and ordinary Brazilians.

"Sex tourism is one of the most widespread forms of child exploitation in Brazil," Petit said in his 26-page study released Wednesday.

"The touristic image of Brazil is all too often associated with stereotypical representations of young women, mainly Afro-Brazilians, portrayed half naked in tourist catalogues to convey the message that exotic sexual adventures can easily be available to tourists during their stay in the country."

Petit said child prostitution was "blatantly visible" during a nighttime visit to Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach.

Many of the youngsters are drawn into the sex industry as a way out of poverty, he said.

The 500,000 Brazilian girls who perform domestic work are exposed to increased risk of sexual exploitation, Petit added.

In one juvenile prison 22 percent of girls detained for murder had killed to escape rape and other sexual mistreatment, he said. "This figure is a dramatic indication of the cycle of violence that is perpetuated and aggravated by sexual abuse."

Criminal gangs that prey on youngsters present a special problem, he said.

"The existing enforcement mechanisms are inefficient and replete with constraints and dysfunctional elements," said Petit, urging the creation of special investigative teams and courts to handle sexual exploitation cases.

Authorities also must tackle their own officials who turn a blind eye, are involved in prostitution or tied to death squads which kill street children, he added.

"Strong signals should be sent that impunity will no longer be tolerated."

<>AP WorldStream English (all) -- 02/18/04