Reading this book will break your heart. It reveals a world I didn't want to believe existed.
There is a picture postcard image of Brazil, sun, sea, and samba, that most foreigners only ever see. But there is a very different Brazil just a few blocks away, a world of child prostitution along BR-116, the “highway to hell.”
Matt Roper, a successful journalist at the Daily Mirror, received an email from Dean Brody, a Canadian country music star. Brody had just read a book Roper had written years before about prostitution in Brazil. The two decided to travel along Brazil's BR-116. What they found was an epidemic of child prostitution.
This book is overwhelming. The government overlooks child prostitution because it would reduce tourist income. Parents often sell their children into prostitution as a source of income. Many of the girls start young, at age ten, as it is something their mother and grandmother did. The girls think there is something wrong with them if they do not have a sexually active life by the age of twelve. They are part of a warped culture where girls think that selling their body for sex is cool. Brazil's federal highway police recently identified 272 places along BR-116 where underage girls are known to be sold for sex. That means for the BR-116 length of 2,819 miles, there are children being sold for sex about every ten miles. Roper writes, “It was an epidemic of child prostitution infecting every single town and village, right down to the smallest community.” (163) As one child councillor told them, “Child prostitution's just part of life here. People who have grown up here don't see it like you and I do, even the Christians. Most people have stopped seeing it at all.” (168) Hundreds of girls are forced into the sex trade by their own families. Mothers swap their daughters for a bag of beans or a packet of cigarettes. Girls aged twelve and thirteen are dying of AIDS. The councillor said girls she had cared for one day climbed into a truck along BR-116 never to return. (23)
Roper and Brody decided to reach out to one community, Medina, and the young girls there selling themselves to prostitution. They bought a house that had a room large enough for a dance studio. They painted it pink. Meninadanca was born. Now, in this one community, there is a welcoming place where girls can find a different life. Their vision is to replicate what they have done in Medina in other towns along the BR-116. They are determined to press forward until child prostitution is no longer tolerated in Brazil.
Go to www.meninadanca.org for more information about Meninadanca's work rescuing girls from child prostitution on Brazil's BR-116 motorway and how you can help.
Matt Roper is a freelance journalist living and working in Brazil, after spending eight years as a reporter for the UK's Daily Mirror.
Monarch Books (distributed in the U. S. by Kregel), 222 pages.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel for the purpose of this independent and honest review.