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.