Millions of football fans will descend on Brazil to cheer on their teams in the World Cup. But a campaign has highlighted the terrifying truth about prostitution in the nation and what Christians are doing to combat it…
As World Cup fever grips Brazil, three Christian charities have launched a campaign to give hope to people whose lives are sold there.
While underground gangsters sell girls into prostitut ion, the IT’S A PENALTY campaign is battling to highlight and halt human trafficking.
Backed by PM David Cameron, the trio of charities – Happy Child International, the A21 Campaign and The Jubilee Campaign – have joined forces to end the cruelty of modern slavery.
The biggest event of the footballing calendar is expected to attract 600,000 foreign tourists to the South American country.
Although it is set to be one of the greatest international sporting events in history, it will be accompanied by an explosion in child prostitution and the sexual exploitation of minors.
The World Cup will encourage sex workers to migrate to big cities and pimps to recruit more underage prostitutes in order to meet the demand from local and foreign football fans.
In a bid to tackle the problem, IT’S A PENALTY aims to raise awareness. The vital message of the campaign is that compensated sex with a minor (17 and under) is a crime, and it will result in prosecution in either Brazil and/or their home country when they return.
The charity spearheading the IT’S A PENALTY campaign, Happy Child International, was set up by Christian mum Sarah de Carvalho, who left a career in TV production in the early 1990s when she felt convicted to do something to help the street children of Brazil, who in those days were being murdered by the ‘extermination squads’.
She said: “First and foremost, we want to make the football supporters travelling to Brazil for the World Cup aware that they could be approached whilst on the streets and in the bars, by girls who may look older than they are. Offenders could be prosecuted in both Brazil and back home.
“We also want to ask the football fans to stand with us against this crime. We’re working with the Brazilian government and UNICEF and if anyone spots anything they can dial 100 from any landline in Brazil and report it 24 hours a day.”
Sarah, who was awarded an MBE for her work in Brazil in 2012, left behind a glittering career in TV and moved to Rio De Janeiro where she lived and worked for ten years, rescuing street children. “I’ll never forget meeting one 16-year-old street girl, Rose, and being so shocked when she told me that she had been on the streets from the age of 11. She told me that most of her clients were from Europe and America,” Sarah said. “By the age of 16 she had given birth to two babies.”
EXPLOITED… While football is enjoyed this summer, pimps will want to take advantage of the situation and recruit sex workers
Rose had to keep on ‘working’ to provide money for her family. She had lost all sense of self-worth. As night fell, her pimp expected her to sleep with as many clients as possible to make as much money for him as possible.
“Rose was a silent voice in a world that couldn’t hear her cry for help,” Sarah said. “She had no hope, no future and knew no other way of earning a living.
“That was when God really spoke to me from Proverbs 31:8: ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.’
“That’s what we’ve been doing for the past 20 years and that’s what IT’S A PENALTY is all about.
“It’s about making football fans aware that children are at risk before, during and after a major sporting event because there are people that will sexually exploit them for profit. So the campaign is to let people know that it’s just as illegal in Brazil as it is in the UK – and there will be consequences.”
With established projects already on the ground, the campaign is about more than just prevention.
“We don’t just want to educate people, we need to get these children off the streets,” Sarah explained. “So we’ve just opened our first home for pregnant girls and we’re trying to rescue as many as we can before the World Cup starts.”
As well as rescuing over 10,000 children, the charity tells the girls about the love of Jesus. She said: “Whilst we can provide these children with a home, friendship, love, support and meet their physical needs, ultimately it’s the love of God that can reach the places that we can’t.
“When I first arrived in Brazil, I did a three-month course on rescue and rehabilitation of street children with Christian charity Youth With A Mission.
“At first I vowed that I would never live in a favela (slum) but after the course, there was nowhere else I’d rather be because that’s where I felt the greatest presence of God.”
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In 1993, Sarah founded the charity Happy Child International which in nearly 20 years has rescued over 10,000 street children in the cities of Belo Horizonte and Recife in Brazil. Beginning with a 24-hour shelter in Belo Horizonte, the charity has expanded by opening 11 further projects in Brazil. “We’ve developed a 12-step programme which includes prevention work, rescue, rehabilitation and reintegration work,” she said.
“Prevention is things like running holiday clubs when they’re off school to stop them ending up on the streets and we have a very strong focus on family reintegration. We also rescue children who are in abusive situations. We work with the services and local agencies in the cities where we operate. We do what we do with a Christian conviction, remembering Proverbs 31 and children like Rose.
“We have projects, from homes with abandoned babies to projects for brothers and sisters so that they don’t get separated. Our homes are run like a family.”