In Brazil, while acting as a pimp or owning a brothel is against the law, selling sex for money is perfectly legal. Except when the prostitutes are children, as many girls and cross-dressing boys are.
Johns flying in from other countries target children not just because these men are pedophiles — but because minors are less expensive. “They are underage, so much cheaper than the older ones,” one taxi driver who works with prostitutes tells the BBC’s Chris Rogers, who traveled to Brazil to look at the illegal sex trade. And it’s not just little girls being preyed on, but boys dressed as girls. And their families are keenly aware of what’s going on.
Just a couple of streets away the pavement is lined with transvestites touting for clients. Among them 14-year-old Ronison and 12-year-old Ivan. The cousins look convincing in their stilettos, mini skirts and blouses, and heavy make up. “We need to earn money to buy rice and staple foods for our families,” Ronison explains as he flicks back his long bobbed hair. “Our parents don’t worry about us too much. We tell them when we are leaving and when we’re coming back. And then we give the money to them to buy food. They know how we get the money, we just don’t discuss it”
Rogers’ report includes the necessary details about law enforcement supposedly cracking downs on sex tourism, and hooker houses being raided. But by all accounts this is an industry that goes unchecked and perhaps isn’t even worth policing. The reasons these children walk the streets isn’t because they or their families are thrilled about selling their bodies for sex. It’s because they need money to survive, and the economy provides no other realistic way to get it.