Pagina Principal  

English Report

Brazil is described as a country where women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation, both within its borders and across South America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Japan, the United States, and the Middle East.  This document also states that approximately 70,000 Brazilians, the majority women, are sex workers in foreign countries, many of them victims of human trafficking. Brazil’s main problem, however, is the small number of convictions of human traffickers.

Human trafficking in Brazil

Marcia Anita Sprandel[1]

The movement to end trafficking in persons

 is more than a human rights objective; it is a matter of global security.[1]

Condoleezza Rice, Trafficking in Persons Report, June  2006.  

We believe that the free circulation of people could help to prevent human trafficking.

Piriápolis Declaration, presented during the 2nd Iberian-American Civic Meeting, November 2006.

There is a set image of Brazilians of certain social levels,

colors and body styles that construct them as prostitutes.

This stereotype permeates the climate of the reception of Brazilian women abroad,

and allows the humiliating treatment of them.

Guarulhos Report, 2005.

In the publication Trafficking in Persons Report/2006, from the U.S. Department of State, Brazil was classified as “Special Level 2/in observation:” a country whose government has not completely fulfilled what the Trafficking Victims Protection Act/TVPA of 2000[1] foresaw, although it is making significant efforts to reach that goal.

Brazil is described as a country where women and girls are trafficked for sexual exploitation, both within its borders and across South America, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, Japan, the United States, and the Middle East.  This document also states that approximately 70,000 Brazilians, the majority women, are sex workers in foreign countries, many of them victims of human trafficking. Brazil’s main problem, however, is the small number of convictions of human traffickers.

But what exactly is “human trafficking?” Who are the victims?

Human trafficking is a relatively new category in the legal, political, and social scene. It originated at the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (2000), more specifically in its additional protocol relating to Prevention, Repression, and Punishment of Human Trafficking, especially Women and Children, ratified by Brazil in 2004.[2]

In the Protocol, human trafficking is defined as the recruitment, transport, transfer, and housing or shelter of people, using the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud, deceit, abuse of authority or the situation of vulnerability; the delivery or acceptance of payment or benefits to obtain a person’s consent who has authority over another for the purpose of exploitation. The consent given by the victim is considered irrelevant.

Exploitation can include, at the minimum, the exploitation of prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, work or forced services, slavery, or practices similar to slavery, servitude, or the removal of organs.  In this article, we will limit our analysis of trafficking to prostitution/sexual exploitation, more specifically on the international level. This is treated as a premeditated crime in the Penal Code (articles 231 e 231-A)[3] and in the Statute of Children and Adolescents (article 239)[4].

This topic gained more visibility in Brazil after the publication in 2002 of the Study on the Trafficking of Women, Children, and Adolescents for the Purpose of Sexual Exploitation (Pestraf), which identified the existence of 241 trafficking routes of women, children, and adolescents by land, air, sea, and hydroplane[5]. Pestraf served as the starting point for the work carried out in 2003 and 2004 by the Mixed Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry. The Commission was created for the purpose of investigating situations of violence and networks of the sexual exploitation of children and adolescents in Brazil, and its final report highlighted trafficking.

Parallel to this, since December 2001, the federal government (National Secretary of Justice/SNJ) and the United Nations Office against Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) had been developing a technical cooperative agreement to combat human trafficking, especially of women, for the purpose of sexual exploitation. The project, currently in a phase of renegotiation, functioned until August 2005 in four Brazilian states: Goiás and Ceará (because they are considered locations of origin for a large portion of the victims of this crime) and Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (because they have the main international airports in the country). There were three workshops carried out to address human trafficking:[6] skill-building courses with people working in law and other public servants in the network that serves the victims[7], a national campaign of public awareness, with posters in the airports and distribution of pamphlets along with passports issued by the Federal Police[8].

Between 2005 and 2006, the Mixed Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry investigated situations of trafficking for prostitution/sexual exploitation, dedicating a chapter and various recommendations to the subject, in order to identify crimes and other penal and civic offenses committed with illegal emigration of Brazilians to the United States and other countries. These recommendations are better known as CPMI of Illegal Emigration.

At the same time, the press reported a series of operations by the Federal Police that were carried out to stop groups who were trafficking people, mostly women and transgendered people, who were being exploited in Europe: Operation Castelo (2004); Operation Babilônia (2005); Operation Tarantela (2006); Operation Tarô (2006) and Operation Caraxuê (2006). According to the Federal Police Department, while the first investigations of international trafficking of women for sexual exploitation occurred in the early 1990s, the number of investigations grew significantly starting in 1999. In all, from 1990 to 2006, there were 480 cases investigated.

In 2006, the federal government created the National Policy to Combat Human Trafficking, a proposal elaborated by representatives of the Federal Executive Power, the Federal Public Ministry, and the Public Ministry of Employment, available for public consultation. In June 2006, a national seminar, “The National Policy to Combat Human Trafficking,” occurred with broad civil society participation[9], and had the objective of discussing the proposed suggestions. The event was also supported by Partners of the Americas/USAID, the International Labor Organization (OIT), and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

As a result of this seminar, on October 26, 2006, the Decree #5,948 was published, signed by president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and by the Minister of Justice, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, who approved the final text of the National Policy to Combat Human Trafficking and instituted the Interministerial Work Group[10] in order to develop a proposal of the National Plan to Combat Human Trafficking—PNETP. According to the aforementioned decree, the National Policy to Combat Human Trafficking aims to establish principles, lines of direction, and actions for the prevention and repression of human trafficking, in addition to support for victims in accordance with national and international standards and instruments of human rights and national legislation.

It is noteworthy that, during all these years of debate about this subject, the trafficking victims continue to be discussed more than heard.  The media, above all, defines them as women who look for various jobs in Europe who are tricked by groups that prostitute them, or prostitutes that seek a position in the European market and are exploited by groups that keep their passports and charge impossible fees for their trip expenses.  There are very few references to the situations of these women and adolescents who are sexually exploited in frontier regions.  Their situations are of great vulnerability, perhaps due to the fact that their displacement is how internal trafficking unfolds.

For the Davida Research Group[11], an association of social scientists who study prostitution from the sex workers’ point of view, a large number of the adult women who are prostituting themselves in Europe are not victims of trafficking, and to treat them this way characterizes a violation of their right to work in the sex market.  For Jacqueline Oliveira Silva, coordinator of the study “Trafficking of human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation in Rio Grande do Sul” (SNJ-MJ/UNODC, June 2005), to speak of human trafficking is to speak of sexuality, of prejudice, and of the internationalization of the prostitution market: dealing with this theme implies, therefore, the comparison of the different sexuality projects, the relationship of trafficking to violence and with the process of market redefinition from the point of view of its internationalization, and of the ways to socially produce goods and consumption (p. 6).

In fact, the universe of human trafficking and prostitution is complex, heterogeneous, and overlaps with racism, xenophobia, prejudice, poverty, and international migration. It is quite worrisome to us, for example, to find out that women and transgender people were simply held and deported like illegal immigrants in the operations that the Federal Police carried out with European police to repress human trafficking, even though it is known that they should be treated as victims of trafficking and should receive some type of special protection.

Are the human rights of these women and transgender people being respected, whether or not they are victims of human trafficking[12]? Under what conditions are they being identified, held, and deported? How are they treated by the police and immigration employees? How are they treated on the flight back to Brazil? How are they received in Brazil? Is there an official reception protocol in place? How many return who are actually relieved to have their freedom? How many of them want to return to Europe and try again? How do they do that?

To help answer these questions, it is essential to read the report titled Indications of human trafficking in the universe of deported women, and women who are turned away, who return to Brazil via the Guarulhos airport (SNJ-MJ/UNODC, August 2005), coordinated by the anthropologist Adriana Piscitelli, from the Gender Studies Nucleus- PAGU/UNICAMP[13].

This report presents samples that help construct the universe of women who are not admitted or are deported and that show related aspects to the insertion of some of these people in the sex market abroad, some of which indicate trafficking (p.19). Socio-economic profiles, motivations, and networks of the informants’ relationships were surveyed. The study also calls attention to the treatment given to Brazilian women in many different countries based on preconceived notions that, according to the interviews, extend themselves from foreign police employees to airline workers.

These stories point out the importance of social networks, especially female and familial networks, in organizing the introduction and insertion into the sex industry abroad. These networks also guarantee childcare of the children who stay in Brazil.  Without denying the existence of criminal groups, the Guarulhos researchers identified that the connections that these networks make is quite similar to those present in Brazilian international migration in general.

One of the main arguments used to prevent Brazilian women from entering the European continent is the lack of sufficient funds for a tourist trip. However, the Guarulhos team noticed that those who were not admitted tended to be situated in a lower socioeconomic level in relation to those who were deported.

Furthermore, they observed that in the majority of cases, the arguments used to deny entrance to the country were based solely on mistrust. It is not a coincidence that innumerous depositions refer to the discrimination of Brazilian women by customs officials, a discrimination based on an image of Brazil and of Brazilian women stigmatized by the idea of prostitution.

When examining the cases of deported women who admit to being a part of the sex market in Europe, the majority was deported because they were in a situation of irregular migration, and not because they were prostitutes. According to the Guarulhos researchers’ observations, the majority was perceived to have a higher educational level, a higher economic level, and was more attentive to body image/presentation.  A Brazilian federal police officer who works in Guarulhos commented to one of the researchers that “the pretty women didn’t come back,” a clear reference to the importance of appearance as a criterion in the migratory bureaucracy[14].

We suggest that the Interministerial Work Group, which is developing the National Plan to Combat Human Trafficking should keep the existing lines of communication open with organized civil society and with international agencies that address this subject, such as the United Nations Office against Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the International Labor Organization (OIT), the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the International Migration Organization (OIM)[15], and the United Nations Fund for Children (UNICEF)[16]. In the specific case of the OIT, it is fundamental to partner with the Project to Combat Human Trafficking.

We also suggest that the Interministerial Work Group take the accumulation of resources that are already available into consideration, from reports produced as a part of the aforementioned SNJ-MJ/ UNODC agreements, to the recommendations of the Mixed Parliamentary Commission on Sexual Exploitation (2004) and Illegal Emigration (2006).  In the specific case of sexual exploitation on the Brazilian border, it is necessary to consult the reports and recommendations of the International Labor Organization (OIT), as a part of the Program to Prevent and Eliminate Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Adolescents in the tri-border region (Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay), and of the Subregional Plan for the Prevention and Eradication of Child Labor in the MERCOSUL countries[17].

Examining human trafficking involves many possibilities for errors, especially when referring to prostitution and sexual exploitation. What we know today about the subject is merely the tip of the iceberg. In this article, we seek to make the discussion more complex and demonstrate how important it is to listen to those who are involved, especially when we are developing public policies for their protection.  The poet Nei Duclós, in a poem titled “Lesson of Passage,” affirms that the world does not have a correct side and that all of the edges can be stepped on[18]. We hope this serves as inspiration to all who work in the defense of human rights of people who are discriminated against because of their migratory situation or because of their insertion into the sex market, as victims or professionals.



Relatório Final da Comissão Parlamentar Mista de Inquérito criada por meio do Requerimento nº 2, de 2005–CN, “para apurar os crimes e outros delitos penais e civis praticados com a emigraçãoilegal de brasileiros para os Estados Unidos e outros países, e assegurar os direitos de cidadania aos brasileiros que vivem no exterior”. Brasília, 2006.

Relatório Final da Comissão Parlamentar Mista de Inquérito criada por meio do Requerimento nº 02, de 2003-CN, “com a finalidade investigar as situações de violência e redes de exploração sexual de crianças e adolescentes no Brasil”. Brasília, julho de 2004.



Trafficking in Persons Report . June 2006


Outubro. Instituto Estadual do Livro do Rio Grande do Sul, 1975.



Prostitutas, "traficadas" e pânicos morais: uma análise da produção de fatos em pesquisas sobre o "tráfico de seres humanos". Cadernos Pagu, no. 25, Campinas, julho/dezembro de 2005.

PALMEIRA, Moacir e ALMEIDA, Alfredo Wagner Berno de

A invenção da migração. Projeto emprego e mudança sócio-econômica no Nordeste. Convênio UFRJ/FINEP/IPEA/IBGE. Vol. 1. Rio de Janeiro, Museu Nacional, 1977.  


Relatório Final do Seminário  Nacional “A Política Nacional de Enfrentamento ao Tráfico de Pessoas”. Brasília, 2006.


Indícios de tráfico de pessoas no universo de deportadas e não admitidas que regressam ao Brasil via o aeroporto de Guarulhos. São Paulo, agosto de 2005.


O Tráfico de Seres Humanos para fins de Exploração Sexual no Rio Grande do Sul - Informe de Pesquisa. Porto Alegre, junho de 2005.

[1] North American law designed to combat all domestic and international human trafficking.

[2] Do not confuse with “migrant trafficking,” defined in the Additional Protocol regarding the Combat of Migrant Trafficking by Land, Sea, and Air as “the promotion, with the objective of obtaining, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, by the illegal entrance of a person from another nation state, of which this person is not a citizen or permanent resident.”

[3] Art. 231 – International human trafficking—To promote, intermediate, or facilitate the entry of a person who comes to practice prostitution in national territory, or the departure of a person to practice prostitution abroad.  Art. 231-A—Internal human trafficking—To promote, intermediate or facilitate the recruitment, transport, transfer, housing or shelter of a person who comes to practice prostitution.

[4] Art. 239. To promote or assist in the realization of an act used to send a child or adolescent abroad without observing legal formalities or in order to profit.

[5] Of these, 131 are international routes, principally directed to: Spain (32 routes); Holland (11 routes); Venezuela (10 routes); Italy (9); Portugal (8); Paraguay (7); Switzerland (6); United States (5); Germany (5); and Suriname (5).

[6] Survey of the cases, inquiries and judicial processes registered in Federal Justice Courts and the Federal Police Superintendents of the four States of the pilot project, between December of 2000 and January of 2003; study carried out in Guarulhos International Airport in 2005, with the purpose of detecting the presence of Brazilian women and transgendered people who were objects of human trafficking for sexual exploitation, who return to Brazil because they were deported or not allowed to enter; and a study realized in Rio Grande do Sul with the intention of developing a map of international trafficking routes of people in the State, starting with the findings of the Study on Trafficking of Women, Children, and Adolescents for Sexual Exploitation in Brazil (Pestraf), from 2002. This is available at: (Last accessed October, 2006).

[7] In São Paulo (2003), Ceará (2004), Goiás (2004) and Rio de Janeiro (2005), Mato Grosso do Sul and Pará. The project supported the development of regional workshops for police, together with the National Secretary of Public Safety (SENASP), the International Labor Organization (OIT), the Special Secretary of Human Rights (SEDH), the Federal Police, the National Policy Academy, the Federal Public Ministry, the Special Secretary for Women’s Policies (SPM), and other partners.

[8] Campaign materials include the reference number for denunciations, the National Sexual Exploitation Hotline (0800-99-0500, now number 100), coordinated by the Special Secretary of Human Rights, with support from Petrobrás.

[9] The following organizations were among those who participated in the event or sent contributions to the plan: ASBRAD, Assessoria da Mulher – Goiânia,  CECRIA, CEDECA, Centro de Proteção Cora Coralina Asses. da Mulher, CFEMEA,  CHAME , CIRANDA, Confederação das Mulheres do Brasil, DAVIDA, IBISS-CO, ILADH, IMDH, Liga Brasileira de Lésbicas, Partners of America, Projeto Trama, Serviço da Mulher Marginalizada, SODIREITOS, União Brasileira de Mulheres, and Violes.

[10] The Work Group will be integrated with the President’s Special Secretary of Human Rights; the President’s Special Secretary for Women’s Policies; the President’s Special Secretary of Policies for the Promotion of Racial Equality; the President’s Civic House; the Ministry of Justice; the Ministry of Social Development and the Fight against Hunger; the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Employment; the Ministry of Agrarian Development; the Ministry of Education; the Ministry of External Relations; the Ministry of Tourism; the Ministry of Culture; and the National Law of the Union.

[11] The Davida non-profit was created in 1992, with the objective of organizing prostitutes, being active in the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and AIDS, promoting research and defending the permanence of sex workers in historic areas that experience revitalization processes.  In 2002, the category of prostitutes was included in the Brazilian Classification of Occupations, in the Ministry of Work and Employment.  The organization supports the law project, currently in Congress, which regulates the profession.  

[12] Actually, this deserves its own chapter in this human rights report; there is still much to do in Brazil in terms of protecting the human rights of Brazilians who live abroad.

[13] The report is defined as “exploratory research,” the field research of which was realized between March and April, 2005, the subjects of which were Brazilian women who were deported from or not admitted to Europe, who arrive at the Guarulhos airport in Brazil. According to information provided by the Federal Police Department, in 2004, close to 22,500 deported Brazilians who returned were registered (people who were already in the country of destination and were sent back to the country of origin because their papers were not in order) or not admitted to other countries (people whose entrance was refused at the destination country). Of these, approximately 15,000 returned to Brazil via Guarulhos airport. The rest arrived at airports in Belém, Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro and Porto Alegre. Of those who arrived at Guarulhos, approximately 33% were women. In accordance with this information, among these deported persons, there are cases of people who did not have the proper visa, or who were actually trafficked and who were being sexually exploited.

[14] The report concludes by defending the accomplishment of work on various fronts to assist Brazilian migrants who are deported from or not admitted to Europe, eventually involved in international human trafficking, or at risk of involvement. The suggestions range from the creation of permanent assistance teams in Brazilian airports (offering information about existing resources in the destination country, including the Brazilian Consulates abroad supporting those who return after not being admitted, directing them to necessary assistance services, etc.) to the joint proposal of Brazilian Consulates in European countries with the police and European non-profit organizations who deal with migrants with illegal status and those in prostitution and human trafficking situations.

[15] See the report La trata de personas en el Paraguay (2005), from the International Migration Organization (OIM), which provides a great deal of information about Brazil.

[16] See the report Situação das Crianças e dos Adolescentes na Tríplice Fronteira entre Argentina, Brasil e Paraguai: desafios e recomendações, produced in 2005 by UNICEF/The Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (TACRO).

[17] In terms of MERCOSUL, it is fundamental to extend the discussion to the rest of the countries in the agreement, because they face the same problems that are the cause of many situations of exploitation of their citizens abroad: poverty and the lack of opportunities. The installation of the MERCOSUL Parliament in December 2006 presents an important possibility for dialogue and exchange of experiences.  One can see that the MERCOSUL Parliament will be a great political space for the civil society of the Southern Cone.

[18] Every time I see a river/It seems like on the other side/Is Argentina   

The loaded rafts of childhood/Disappeared from my sight/But the bridge remained/As an eternal promise/That all edges can be stepped on

The world does not have a correct side/Therefore there is a solid bridge/Over all waters

(“Lição de Travessia”, Nei Duclós, 1975)

[1] “The movement to end trafficking in persons is more than a human rights objective; it is a matter of global security”. In Trafficking in Persons Report/2006, published by the U.S. Department of State.

[1] Anthropologist, member of the Commission on Ethnic and Race Relations of the Brazilian Anthropological Association and of the Social Thought Research Group. Author of A Pobreza no Paraíso Tropical – interpretações e discursos sobre o Brasil (Relume Dumará, 2004).