The Infamous Link Between Sex Trafficking, Sex Tourism, and Sporting Events – What Lies Ahead for Brazil?

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Source: The Home Foundation

Every time there is a major sporting event, whether it is the Olympics, World Cup or Super Bowl, the illegal multibillion dollar business in the trafficking in persons flourishes. With thousands of people expecting to attend the upcoming 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, Brazil has a challenging road ahead with the following preparations. Not only is the Brazilian government updating infrastructure, purging the favelas (slums) of drug lords, and modernizing stadiums, but it also has to put a great continuous emphasis on the social issue of child sex trafficking and sex tourism.

Brazil, with a population of approximately 204 million, is the largest country by far in Latin America. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 Trafficking in Persons Report, Brazil is acknowledged as a huge source, transit and destination country for the trafficking in persons. In short, human trafficking consists of the recruitment, transportation and harboring of persons by means of threat or other forms of coercion for the purpose of exploitation, in order for the trafficker to receive payments and benefits. Different forms of trafficking exists, however, with regard to its correlation with sporting events, sex trafficking is in first place.

The commercial view of Brazil is that it is a country of samba, football and carnival. Unfortunately, many tourists visit the breathtaking country not for its culture, but for its renowned reputation of exotically striking people and as a center of personal freedoms. This erotic picture of Brazilians has gained negative attention from inappropriate tourists seeking sexual experiences abroad, whether or not it is consensual or legal, – thus, the sex tourism begins.

The number of children involved in the sex industry has dramatically increased over the years. Presently, UNICEF states that approximately 1.2 millionchildren are trafficked yearly, with as many as 2 million sexually exploited worldwide. According to Sarah de Carvalho of the charity, Happy Child International, “Brazil is overtaking Thailand as the world’s most popular sex-tourist destination”, increasing the number of children trafficked in and out of the country. This phenomenon has significantly developed as a direct result of an increase in the quantity of foreign tourists travelling to Brazil for the sole purpose of what is known as sex holidays, particularly in the northeast region. For instance, when asked about possible cases of sex trafficking with the upcoming festivities, Andreza Smith, lawyer of the NGO ‘Sodireitos’, stated, “Have you thought about a game in Manaus? Who will monitor the river?” Manaus is located in the northeast of Brazil, next to two major rivers, also popular as tourist destinations. With large rivers, comes the problem of human trafficking, since security seems to be lacking when it comes to monitoring river activities. Hopefully Brazil will look past their construction goals and tighten security measures in order to help decrease the presence of human trafficking during the events.

One might ask, does human trafficking increase during sporting events, or is it merely a matter of better security tactics that lead police to crack down on existing cases, leaving to a distorted image of the issue? This question may never be fully answered as it is difficult to differentiate the regular number of human trafficking cases, versus those that spike during sporting events such as the World Cup and Olympics. It is important to note that human trafficking figures are approximations, since the nature of the crime is hard to quantify, with numerous cases underreported. In order to attempt to answer this question, the previous sporting events such as the 2004 Greece Olympics, the 2006 Germany World Cup, and the 2010 South Africa World Cup, for example, should be examined to get a brief representation of the issue.

There seems to be a great deal of debate on the issue of human trafficking as associated with sporting events. When Greece hosted the 2004 Olympics, there was an alarming 95 percent increase in the number of human trafficking cases recorded during the event. However, when looking at the 2006 German World Cup human trafficking figures, according to a report by the Calgary-based anti-human trafficking NGO, The Future Group, “authorities implemented a wide range of actions to combat human trafficking during the event, with relative success. The result was that, while there was anincrease in prostitution, authorities did not detect a rise in human trafficking.” On the other hand, South Africa’s 2010 World Cup revealed that there was in fact a pronounced increase in human trafficking cases. A source interviewed by ESPN’s ‘Outside the Lines’, revealed that there was an increase in domestic trafficking, as well as the setting up of brothels in preparation for the World Cup. Time magazine also ran an article quoting a trafficker who was excited about the world cup bringing in business, stating, “Yeah, this is good! Us people are going to make a lot of money then if you know what you’re doing.” Furthermore, Zambian researcher, Merab Kambamu Kiremire, predicted that human trafficking flowing over from nearby countries would increase in the run-up to the event.

Nonetheless, Brazil is expecting a sex trafficking boom in conjunction with the World Cup and Olympics and has created an arsenal of tactics to fight this problem. For example, the program, “A Goal for the Rights of Children and Teenagers”, will train employees in the tourist industry and police forces on how to detect human trafficking cases. Also, the anti-trafficking program will focus on educating resident teenagers around the hosting cities about the issue, how to avoid being easy prey, and finding alternate ways of earning money rather than becoming underage prostitutes.

Whether or not one believes in the rapid increase of reported human trafficking cases that will be associated with the above cited sporting events, it must remain a top priority for all future host countries. Human trafficking is a serious human rights abuse and needs to be taken seriously. With progress on the drug lords’ removal from favelas, the Brazilian government will hopefully now look to expedite anti-trafficking tactics in order to rid traffickers and minimize sex tourism anticipated in the approaching athletic tournaments.

This analysis was prepared by COHA Research Associate Melissa Beale