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observatório da menina

  • Meninadança

The world is in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, including Brazil, which is already in lockdown as infections surge and deaths increase by the day.

Before social distancing measures were put in place, our Pink Houses were showing the girls how to keep themselves and their families safe, with 'Coronavirus Corners' with information and practical advice they could pass on to others in their homes. Two weeks ago, as schools and shops were shut, we had to close the doors of our Pink Houses too. But our amazing staff were unwilling to just send the girls home and wait for the epidemic to pass. Instead, they started to arrange one-to-one sessions with the girls, determined to continue to lead them along the important journey they have begun. And after people were advised to stay indoors last week, they have worked out ways to continue to care for the girls at a distance. That includes Whatsapp groups for the girls of each of our projects called 'MD in Quarantine', where our staff give them daily challenges, send uplifting messages, post YouTube videos with dance choreographies, hair styling or other how-tos, and are even doing online 'conversation circles' with the girls, where they talk together about sensitive issues affecting them. The theme the girls were working through before the virus - and which will now continue virtually - is 'courageous women'. Our Pink House staff are also in regular individual contact with the girls, speaking on Whatsapp or arranging times to talk on the phone, providing reassurance, advice and showing them that they are important and loved. I want to thank you all for your continued support at a time of anxiety for everyone, and much uncertainty for many. Your help is and will always be a lifeline for our girls. We will keep keeping you in touch with all that is happening as we continue to bring hope to vulnerable lives. As one of our Pink House women posted on our staff group yesterday: "Nothing, not even coronavirus, is going to stop us doing that!" Matt Roper

  • Meninadança

For those of you who signed our Delegates' Declaration at one of our November events, or who sent a letter to the Brazilian ambassador about the rape of a girl in Cândido Sales, we want to encourage you with this update.

On Friday a delegation from Meninadança met with the vice-ambassador João Marcus Paes Leme, who is responsible for the area of human rights, at the Brazilian embassy in London.

Brazilian TV journalist and Meninadança ambassador Sergio Utsch also took part in the meeting, along with Meninadança's Joseph Campos, Charlotte Piek and Matt Roper.

During our 50-minute meeting Mr Leme listened intently as we told him about the plight of girls on Brazil's BR-116 motorway, and suggested ways the embassy could help raise the issue at the highest level, and push for justice for girls on individual cases.

What gave crucial weight to what we had to say, though, were your signatures and your letters.

During our conferences and events in November more than 400 people signed our Delegates' Declaration, calling on the Brazilian government to do more to tackle the child sexual exploitation epidemic on the BR-116. And hundreds of you have written letters to the Brazilian ambassador, demanding that the rapist of a girl in Cândido Sales be brought to justice.

Mr Leme explained that the letters have been sent to Brazil, and on to the foreign office's department in the state of Bahia, which has informed the state's public security department, responsible for the police. He added that the fact these letters came via the London embassy makes them much more significant and hard for the authorities to ignore.

This week, our Brazilian director Warlei will be in Cândido Sales where he will seek a further meeting with the police chief in the light of these developments.

Mr Leme also received the Delegates' Declaration with your signatures, and promised that it would be sent to Brazil's minister for human rights, family and women, Damares Alves. We hope that this will lead to further positive repercussions in Brazil.

For years the plight of girls on the BR-116 went hidden and untold  - but now, thanks to you, their voices are starting to be heard by those in the highest level of Brazil's government. Thank you for helping us speak up for them.

  • Meninadança

Last week, a 14-year-old girl who had been coming to our Pink House in Cândido Sales went missing.

The teenager had last been seen getting into a truck near a bridge at the entrance to the town at 10am a week last Friday. When she didn’t come home that night, some family members started circulating her photo on social media (above).

Various people had seen her getting into the truck, but nobody tried to prevent it or alerted police.

Days went by and there was no news of the girl. Although a 14-year-old girl was missing, there was no search or appeal to find her and the police didn’t get involved.

When Claudia, our Pink House coordinator, asked the police why they hadn’t even registered the disappearance, they told her she was no longer in their municipality, and she was now the responsibility of the police force of wherever she was.

The case of the missing girl, however, did make some local news websites and blogs, and word got around via social media.

Then, last Thursday, a local blog published the news that she had made contact with her cousin, that she was in another state, but didn’t want to tell them why she had gone or where she was. The story ended with the words: ‘Happy ending’.

We were shocked. A child had been trafficked, and was probably still being abused and exploited, and nobody had any idea where she was or what was happening to her, and just because they now knew she wasn’t dead local people reacted as if it had all ended happily.

We were even more shocked when Claudia spoke to the girl’s aunt, who told her that the family was most worried that the girl would return pregnant, and they would have another mouth to feed. In other words, they weren’t worried that this young girl was being raped; they were concerned that her rape would end up having financial consequences for them.

The girl finally turned up again in Cândido Sales yesterday, and spent the day at the Pink House, where our staff showered her with love and showed her how worried they had been for her. She told Claudia the truck driver had taken her to Recife, the coastal city and well-known sex tourism spot.

This is the reality we face in Cândido Sales, and in the other towns along the BR-116 where we work. Girls as young as ten selling their bodies on the side of the road, getting into trucks, disappearing for days, has become so normal that it no longer causes shock and outrage, and where the normal reaction from police and social services is to do nothing. It's why we need to speak up for girls like this one - because if we don't, nobody will.

Our team is accompanying the girl and her family, and we will also be pressing to find the truck driver who took her, showing the town and its authorities that girls like her should be valued and protected, and the cultural acceptance of abuse and child prostitution needs to be challenged and changed.