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August 23, Dilma, 12 years old, was standing on a downtown street corner early this year when a well-dressed woman asked her to come to a dance party.
Instead, the fifth-grade dropout was taken to a clandestine brothel to work with three other minors. When they tried to escape, guards beat them with a stick. Two months later, Dilma - whose real name cannot be published by order of a Brazilian judge - was freed by authorities acting on a telephone tip.
She was relatively fortunate. Hundreds of thousands of minors in Brazil are forced to spend years working as prostitutes after being recruited by agents working for a network of brothels, bars, hotels, and nightclubs, say human rights activists, child advocates, and police investigators.
Recruiting girls can be as easy as picking them up on the street, as in the case of Dilma. Most Brazilian cities have hundreds of street kids fleeing poverty, as well as violence and sexual abuse at home. Most often, gang leaders send recruiters to rural areas to lure girls to the cities with promises of jobs as clerks, maids, nannies, models, and waitresses.
When the girls arrive, they are told that they have huge debts for transportation, housing, and food, and they must repay through prostitution. In the Amazon River basin, girls have been promised jobs as waitresses or cooks in gold mine camps and then beaten or killed if they try to escape from brothels. In such remote regions, gold mine owners operate like local kings and have been known to authorize "virginity auctions," whereby new arrivals - some as young as nine years old - are sold to the highest bidder, according to Gilberto Dimenstein, author of "Girls of the Night," the first book to document the child sex trade in Brazil.