In preparation for a massive influx of tourists arriving for next year’s World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, prostitutes in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte are flocking to take free courses to learn English and other foreign languages.
Cida Vieira, president of the Association of Prostitutes in the city, told the Associated Press that so far 20 prostitutes in the city have signed up for the courses, with another 300 planning to join them in the classroom.
The association, a kind of “union” for sex workers claiming 4,000 members, is organizing the classes itself and trying to recruit teacher volunteers.
“I don’t think we will have problems persuading English teachers to provide services for free,” she said. “We already have several volunteer psychologists and doctors helping us.”
The city’s Mineirao Stadium, which has capacity of 62,000 fans, will be the host of six matches in the World Cup.
AP reported that the classes will commence in March and last up to eight months.
“It will be important for the girls who will be able to use English to let their clients know what they are charging and learn about what turns them on,” Vieira said.
“And for the same reasons we are also thinking of offering free French and Italian classes.”
Reuters noted that some classes will even teach Brazil’s dominant tongue, Portuguese, because many prostitutes in the city are immigrants.
Prostitution is legal in Brazil, although pimping and running a brothel are not.
A 27-year-old prostitute in Belo Horizonte named Pollyana Temponi told the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper: "All jobs require English nowadays.”
Another unnamed hooker, aged 54, told the paper: "I'm taking the course because the only thing I know is how to say 'I love you'. It's English, right? It's hard to say it. But who knows, maybe. I might fall in love.”
Twelve of Brazilian cities will hold events for the Cup, meaning that many other people, including policemen, waiters, bellboys, taxi drivers, will also have to learn the rudiments of some foreign language. Vieira insists prostitutes are no different.
"Across Brazil, lots of businesses in the private sector are getting prepared and making their workers more qualified for the Cup. Well, this is a profession, too," she told CNN.
"English will be very important to communicate with clients during the Cup. They'll have to learn how to work out financial deals and also use a specialized vocabulary with sensual words and fetishes."
The Brazilian tourist board is expecting about 10 million visitors in 2014, about the twice the number of foreign arrivals in 2010. About 500,000 of those are expected solely for the World Cup tournament.
“In a country like Brazil where prostitution is a legal form of employment, this may not come as a surprise,” said Kamy Akhaven, president and managing editor of ProCon.org, ABC News reported.
“I imagine a large influx of people working in the sex industry to come to the cities in the coming year. … There will be an influx of prostitutes matching the demand that World Cup fans would bring to the cities. That trend occurred again in South Africa [during the 2010 World Cup] where they were there again to meet the demands of mostly men -- to watch arguably the world’s greatest sporting event.”
Lurking beneath the generally boisterous festivities surrounding preparation for the World Cup and Olympics lies a darker reality in Brazil – the widespread phenomenon of child prostitution.
Last March, Brazil’s Higher Court of Justice ruled that adults having sex with children was not necessarily a crime. Since 2009, the age of consent in the country has been 14.
While the ruling sparked outrage, the Economist reported that child prostitution (which is technically illegal in Brazil) is very common. A report published in 2006 by the University of Brasília, the federal government and Unicef revealed that child sex workers exist in almost 1,000 municipalities and roadside locations. Coastal cities like Fortaleza, Recife and Rio de Janeiro are hotspots, and ports and border towns are particularly rife with child prostitutes.
According to the Brazilian Multidisciplinary Association for the Protection of Children and Adolescents, in the northeastern city of Fortaleza alone thousands of children, scarred by poverty, are engaged in the sex industry, catered primarily to tourists from Europe, North America and elsewhere.
“The community [in Fortaleza] is composed of approximately 35,000 inhabitants earning less than the Brazilian minimum wage of $223 a month,” a local activist named Joyce said, according to Compassion International.
“The homes are less than 20 square meters in size where families of up to 10 people -- between adults and children -- live together. Without any conditions of privacy, there is often the occurrence of domestic violence or sexual abuse against the small ones. Frustrated and without any encouragement, all the children want is to be far from home. So they quit studying and become an easy target for the drug dealers. … In order to maintain their addiction, they simply go to the streets.”
Exodus Cry, a Kansas City-based organization trying an end to human trafficking, estimates that Brazil has up to 500,000 child prostitutes.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.