Project 116

 

 

 

While child prostitution in Brazil's big tourist cities is regularly documented, the vast majority of victims are found many hundreds of miles away in remote, poverty-stricken villages and towns.  Here, young girls are often expected to provide for their families by selling their bodies to truck drivers traveling along the countryʼs vast network of motorways.

A Brazilian government study in 2010 found that along 41,000 miles of federal motorways in Brazil, there were 1,820 places where children were known to be sold for sex. The worst highway of all for the sexual exploitation of children was the BR-116, Brazilʼs longest motorway stretching from the Uruguay border in the south to the city of Fortaleza in the north. Along itʼs 2,700 miles there were 262 places where child prostitution was known to be taking place – or one every 10 miles.

In January, 2011 we traveled to some of the remote towns along the BR-116 and were shocked by what we found. In some poor areas, girls who had reached 11 or 12 were simply expected to go to the motorway to bring home money for their families.

 

One of these girls was Leilah, who we found walking along the side of the motorway in the early hours of the morning. She had a big purple bow in her hair and she wore a baby blue sundress with flowers embroidered on it. It hung loosely from her small bones, a frail little thing. She might have weighed eighty pounds, and she was a child prostitute. The money she earned on the motorway would be taken back home to help her poor family. Truck drivers would use her then simply throw her out of the cab onto the hard tarmac.

Talking to many of the girls, both in their homes and at the side of the 116, we discovered that many were desperate for a safe place to go where they could get help and find the strength to leave their life of prostitution for good. Many, it seemed, just needed to know they were worth more than the 30 reals they were sold for. Meninadança hopes to open a network of safe houses along the length of the BR-116 to reach out to the victims of child prostitution.

The centres will be similar to the Pink House in Medina, using dance, music, the arts and other activities to attract and inspire the girls, helping them to dream of a better life, and to nurture and encourage their self-worth. The girls will also receive counseling, and offered practical help such as extra schooling and jobs training, as well as working with their families and communities.

Meninadança will work to bring sustainable change along the motorway, to break the endless cycle of prostitution, by offering the girls hope and when possible, justice. To raise awareness in their communities, country and around the world. To help give them a voice and the empowerment to direct their own futures.

The second centre of Project 116 centre is planned for the town of Cåndido Sales, a remote town of 60,000 people, on the BR-116 in the northeastern state of Bahia.