In desperation, a mother asks social workers to intervene. Her thirteen-year-old daughter is being raped every night by her live-in boyfriend, but when the case is taken to the authorities, their question is, “Are you sure she isn’t fourteen?” You see, in Brazil, sex with girls fourteen and older is considered consensual if they are living under the same roof.
The social workers are forced to admit that in three months, when the girl turns fourteen, it will no longer be their problem. When asked why the mother doesn’t leave the abusive boyfriend, she admits that she’s afraid he will kill both her and her daughter if she does.
City of Hope
This case was documented by Hope Unlimited Brazil, a non-profit organization working with the shantytowns in Brazil known as favelas. Watch this video by Capriole Productions, “City of Hope: A Children’s Story,”
According to Hope Unlimited Brazil officials, this case is not unusual because the age of consent in Brazil is fourteen years and older.
Prostitution is not illegal so many young girls—especially those with no education and living in slums—turn to the world’s oldest profession to make a living.
The Age of Consent
The question that haunts human rights activists and social workers familiar with this situation is this: are fourteen-year-old girls capable of making mature, adult-like decisions? The answer is no. Even in other modern countries where prostitution is legal, the youngest age of consent is usually eighteen.
Sociologists and psychologists agree that the low feelings of self-esteem that result from prostitution are very difficult to overcome. While sexual exploitation and trafficking is illegal in Brazil, pedophiles find they can sexually violate children with impunity because of the arcane prostitution laws that allow children to fall into bondage.
The poverty in which these girls live makes them particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
There is a great disconnect in Brazil. It is estimated that 60% of the people in Brazil live in poverty, and yet it is the world’s 8th largest economy. Bridging the gap between its incredible wealth and abject poverty remains one of Brazil’s greatest challenges.
Laws Need To Be Changed
The law should protect all citizens, but if Brazil’s own justice system is lacking, it is overwhelmingly the poor who bear the burden of these abuses. Lack of adequate infrastructure and lack of education are the two primary brakes on Brazil’s emerging economy.
While organizations like City of Hope are on the streets trying to make a difference in the lives of the children living in the shantytowns, real change must begin at the top. Social justice groups need to find ways to work alongside the Brazilian government to change laws that stand up for the rights of children.
A well-trained and equipped police cannot enforce change if the courts do not have the laws to protect the most vulnerable citizens.
The 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro are excellent opportunities to create awareness of this situation and find ways to let others know, too. Fourteen-year-old girls should be giggling and playing with friends, not working as prostitutes with the blessing of their government.
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