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Brazilian program helps get girls out of prostitution

Workers

August 27, 1996
Web posted at: 7:15 p.m. EDT (2315 GMT)

Editor's note: The first World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children convened Tuesday in Sweden. Correspondent Marina Mirabella examined an effort to stop child prostitution in one Brazilian city.

SANTOS, Brazil (CNN) -- Every day, social workers scour the streets of this port town, offering advice and counseling to desperate girls such as Maria Angelica.

The 12-year-old ran away from home two weeks ago.

Maria

"I left because my mother beat me, and I'm not going back. I'll find some way to survive on my own," she says.

Poverty and abuse force hundreds of girls such as Maria Angelica onto the streets of Santos, the biggest port city in South America.

"This city draws lots of sailors who have been at sea a long time, and many of these girls turn to prostitution," said Santos Mayor David Capistrano Filho.

They can earn $50 each time they have sex, according to social worker Patricia Goncalves.


Quote

So many girls are either involved in prostitution or at risk of falling into it that the city started a special program three years ago aimed at getting them off the streets.

Girls are tutored to learn how to read and write, and taught skills such as hairdressing, which they can use to find jobs.

Fourteen-year-old Andrea says she'll never again sell herself for money, or anything else. Andrea has learned how to give manicures, and hopes to find work in a salon.

"I've had sex with strangers in order to get food, clothing and money," Andrea recalls. "It was the only thing I knew how to do."

Tutor

Almost 300 girls have come through the program. Most are now either back in school or working at jobs using the skills they have learned.

The main goal is to build the girls' self-confidence and to give them options, according to the program's coordinator.

In a country with an estimated half-million young prostitutes, Santos' success has drawn national attention. Other Brazilian cities are looking to try similar programs.

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