Brazil tackles sex tourism

HOSPITALITY: Brazil has enlisted the help of bar workers and hotel staff in a new offensive against sex-tourism, whereby hoteliers are fined and suspected sex-tourists are challenged

THE OBSERVER , LONDON

Fri, Sep 30, 2005 - Page 7

Natal in northeast Brazil: strong local culture, friendly people, warm weather all year round and beautiful never-ending coastlines. But for Natal the downside is sex tourism.

After Thailand, Brazil is the No. 1 destination of choice for sex tourists. Many hundreds of thousands of Brazilian teenagers and adults are coerced or duped into exploitative sex, with poverty and social deprivation always a factor and, more even more chilling, it's believed there are something like half a million child prostitutes in the country.

In January, the Brazilian government counter-attacked launching an action plan at the fifth World Social Forum in Porto Alegre which enlists the support of Brazil's hospitality sector through a new code of conduct. Its main aim is to make hotel and bar staff, taxi drivers and street-sellers aware of the problem and teach them how to challenge suspected sex-tourists. Specialist police units have also been created.

And bringing hospitality workers on side already seems to be bearing fruit. Police in the northern city of Fortaleza, further along Brazil's Atlantic coast from Natal, acting on a tip off questioned a group of foreigners in a restaurant with children clearly not their own, and there have been reports of hotel staff stopping foreign guests trying to return to their rooms with them.

Campaigns against sex tourism could affect tourism generally. The mayor of Natal, Carlos Eduardo Nunes Alves, is undeterred and his administration actually distributes leaflets throughout the town warning about the consequences of crimes associated with sex tourism and has set up a confidential hot line for local people to use to alert police when they spot a tourist acting suspiciously with children.

Authorities are taking a tougher line and warning hoteliers that they risk losing their trading licenses if they turn a blind eye to their guests bringing children back to their rooms.

But the aim is not simply to protect children. Maria Jaqueline Leite de Souza is the general coordinator of CHAME, an organization focusing on adult victims of Brazil's sex tourism, itself to some extent the product of Brazil's own, historically naive (as she see it), tourist industry. Tourism colleges, she says, are only a decade old and, over the years, the industry has been promoted around an image of sexual liberty with much advertising showing semi-naked women.

She says the sex-tourist is an ordinary man: young, not so young, and old as well although she admits Brazil tends to attract the younger, more adventurous end of the spectrum because of safety issues. The women involved are not necessarily prostitutes. They have sex with these men during their visits for free because they are promised a better life abroad as wives. In some cases, what really happens is that they become victims of human trafficking.

She makes a point of not confusing sex tourism with the sex industry and of the need not to interfere with a woman's right to date a tourist.