Fortaleza (Portuguese for ‘fortress’) is one of twelve cities slated to host the upcoming 2014 World Cup games. Located in the northeastern state of Ceará, Fortaleza is Brazil’s fifth largest city and boasts a population of more than 2.5 million people. A passion for soccer is deeply ingrained in the region’s rich culture. And with two of the most popular soccer clubs originating from Fortaleza, it is no surprise that the city was named as a World Cup host.1
Already a top tourist destination among Brazilians, Fortaleza will gain significantly more international exposure as the site for both World Cup games and the 2014 Miss Universe Pageant. Because of the popularity of these events, as many as 600,000 international tourists are expected to pass through Fortaleza’s streets this year.
Greater international exposure and a boom in local tourism should provide a boost to Fortaleza’s economy. Foreign tourists are expected to bring in an estimated 25 billion reals, or 10.8 billion US dollars, during the games.2 Unfortunately, this increased activity in a city with a well-established sex trade is likely to exacerbate the exploitation of vulnerable women and children.
Because traffickers typically scale up their operations in conjunction with an expected increase in tourism, many experts claim that world-renowned sporting events and spikes in human trafficking are linked.3 An anti-trafficking expert at the UK-based Mirror News recently said, “For trafficking gangs, the World Cup represents an unprecedented opportunity to make money.”4
The capital of child sex tourism
With a reputation as the child sex tourism capital of Brazil, Fortaleza is already a prime target for traffickers. Floods of Brazilian tourists have created a demand that has become well-supplied. According to Cecília dos Santos Góis with the children’s rights charity, Cedeca, extreme poverty, drug use, and “a culture of machismo”–which exaggerates male dominance and discounts the value of women and children–have laid the foundation for sexual exploitation in Fortaleza.5
In a recent report by The Guardian, Góis said, “Women in the northeast have traditionally been treated as second-class citizens, as objects even. Many fathers see their young daughters as a source of income, and that is a cultural attitude that’s hard to change.”6
There are already reports of abuse and exploitation of children through sex tourism in the host cities. In a recent survey of 300 workers who are involved with various World Cup projects, 57 percent said they were aware that child sex tourism was occurring near project sites. Even more astonishing is the news that 25 percent of the men interviewed admitted to paying for sex with a minor on at least one occasion.7
A drop of water in a big pool
Brazilian authorities have taken a few measures to “clean up” the darker images of some of their host cities, including Rio de Janeiro,8 but many anti-trafficking groups say that the government’s efforts are insufficient.9
The government has allocated 8 million reals (3.5 million US dollars) to host cities to combat human trafficking and sexual exploitation. But this is a drop in the bucket when compared to the 33.6 billion reals (14.5 billion US dollars) that have been poured into preparations for the actual games. Many anti-trafficking organizations are convinced that the government’s funds and efforts will do no more than scratch the surface of an enormous problem.10 While funding and increased attention to the issues is a step in the right direction, a significant shift in long-standing cultural beliefs along with changes in legislation must take place in order for government efforts to be truly impactful.
“We’re trying to coordinate efforts as much as we can with state and city governments to understand the scope of the problem,” says Joseleno Vieira dos Santos, coordinator of a national anti-exploitation program and a member of Brazil’s Human Rights Secretariat. “We realize we’re only touching the tip of the iceberg with these actions for the World Cup, but we hope to build capacity and implement longer-lasting programs in the future.”11
Pray with us
In these final months leading up to the World Cup Games, we urge you to join us as we pray diligently and deliberately for the city of Fortaleza, the nation of Brazil,and the thousands of women and children trapped in exploitation. We pray that the lives of all women and children will be seen as precious and that government representatives will call for changes that will offer protection for those who are vulnerable.
We also invite you to visit our Liberdade Initiative page to learn more about the trafficking crisis in Brazil. See how we are preparing to fight this injustice during the 2014 World Cup and how you can support our efforts.
- 1“Fortaleza: A Host City for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil,” FIFA, Web. 2013. http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/destination/cities/city=11693/according-to-football.html.
- 2Adriana Brasileiro, “Brazil’s Child Sex Trade Soars as 2014 World Cup Nears,” The Guardian, Web. 9 December 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/dec/09/brazil-child-sex-trade-world-cup-2014-prostitution.
- 3Danielle Restuccia, “Sporting Competitions and Human Rights: Increasingly Connected,” VOXXI, Web. 19 February 2014. http://voxxi.com/2014/02/19/sporting-competitions-human-rights/
- 4Matt Roper, “Child Sex Shame of Brazil: Prostitute Aged 14 Used by Workers at England World Cup Venue,” Mirror News, Web. 8 December 2013. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/england-world-cup-venue-workers-2904052.
- 6Adriana Brasileiro, “Brazil’s Child Sex Trade Soars as 2014 World Cup Nears,” The Guardian, Web. 9 December 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/dec/09/brazil-child-sex-trade-world-cup-2014-prostitution.
- 7Matt Roper, “Child Sex Shame of Brazil: Prostitute Aged 14 Used by Workers at England World Cup Venue,” Mirror News, Web. 8 December 2013. http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/england-world-cup-venue-workers-2904052.
- 8Simon Romero and Taylor Barnes, “Before Global Games, Rio is Fighting to Dim Red Light,” New York Times, Web. 8 November 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/09/world/americas/rio-fights-vice-before-world-cup-but-brothels-endure.html?_r=1&.
- 9Adriana Brasileiro, “Brazil’s Child Sex Trade Soars as 2014 World Cup Nears,” The Guardian, Web. 9 December 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/dec/09/brazil-child-sex-trade-world-cup-2014-prostitution.