A controversial ruling by the highest criminal court in Brazil has effectively legitimized child prostitution in the country with the second worst child sex-trafficking record, behind only Thailand.
The March 27 ruling absolved a man accused of statutory rape because the three 12-year-old girls he had sex with in 2002 were engaged in prostitution.
There are two aspects of Brazilian law that complicate the situation. First, adult prostitution is legal, but pimping and brothels are not. Second, the legal age of consent in Brazil is 14.
Exodus Cry, a Kansas City-based organization seeking an end to human trafficking and modern-day slavery worldwide, provides context for the ruling:
“With prostitution legalized and nearly all other sex-related issues legitimized, Brazil has a reputation for child prostitution. Considered a child sex trafficking hot spot second only to Thailand, Brazil has been reported to have between 250,000 and 500,000 child prostitutes.”
There are many issues – both legal and moral – with this court ruling.
First, the court arbitrarily redefined the legal age of consent in an incredible example of judicial activism. Brazilian law defines the minimum age at which a child can legally consent as 14, but the judges have seen fit to make this protection subject to how the child is perceived.
What’s the point of having a legal age of consent to begin with? In general, it’s to protect children from those who would take advantage of them. If this is true, we cannot make exceptions based on the number of times a child has been taken advantage of.
Furthermore, the ruling rejects the generally accepted concept of not re-victimizing the victim by making a judgment based on what the victim has done, rather than what the accused has done. In fact, according to The Economist, the judges went so far as to describe the girls as being “far from innocent, naive, ignorant or ill-informed about sexual matters.”
A statement by the UN Human Rights Office for South America explains that “according to international jurisprudence, cases of sexual abuse should not consider the sexual life of the victim in order to determine the existence of an offence.”
Even in a country where prostitution is legal, the availability of 12-year-old prostitutes is not just business as usual; it specifically targets a market of social deviants commonly known as pedophiles. Many 12-year-olds haven’t even hit puberty yet.
Since this is a potential violation of constitutional rights, the case could be referred to the Supreme Court. If the ruling stands, it has huge implications for human trafficking during the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Historically, major sporting events are incredibly conducive to sex tourism.
Brazil is quickly gaining influence within the hemisphere and the world, but economic growth and size are temporary sources of influence at best. Brazil must achieve – and maintain – the moral high ground, or they will eventually lose the respect of an increasingly flatter and less hierarchical world.
By guest contributor, Jackie M. Briski, of Cuando asi no sea.