Brazil tackling child prostitution for World Cup

By Shasta Darlington, CNN April 2, 2014 — Updated 0624 GMT (1424 HKT)

Fortaleza, Brazil (CNN) — The newly-renovated Castelao football stadium looms into sight up ahead. Driving just past it, we see women standing on street corners, leaning into cars and flashing nearly naked bodies in the low light.

We’re in Fortaleza in the northeastern corner of Brazil, one of the World Cup host cities but also known as a magnet for sex tourism.

Prostitution is legal in Brazil for those 18 or older, but government and soccer officials are trying stto crack down on the child sex trade before the tournament kicks off in June.

Antonio Carlos da Silva, a social worker with O Pequeno Nazareno, says the prostitutes around the stadium now cater to truckers but dream about big bucks from visiting fans.

“Ever since Brazil was selected to host the World Cup in 2014, it created these huge expectations,” he says as we drive down a darkened avenue.

“The girls keep asking me “where can I take English classes so I can get more clients?””

We pull up to chat with Taina, an 18-year-old transsexual who has been working the streets since she was a minor. “Sometimes people want trannies, sometimes they want girls,” she says.

Hiding down side streets

She says that child prostitutes hide down side streets or behind bus stops.

According to critics, officials have pushed the child sex trade out of sight, but haven’t done enough to eradicate its root causes. They warn underage prostitution could explode during the World Cup.

“These girls come from extreme poverty, a culture of social exclusion and a tradition of profound disrespect for women,” says Antonia Lima Sousa, a state prosecutor.

She says the desperation is so great, some parents even put their own children on the street.

But there is also a serious problem with organized crime.

“It involves a whole tourism network, from agencies to hotels to taxis,” she says. “With these mega events, sexual exploitation is also going to be organized much more via the Internet.”

Despite promises to eradicate child prostitution, the number of estimated child sex workers in Brazil stood at about half a million in 2012, according to the non-profit National Forum for the Prevention of Child Labor.