Girl trapped in child sex capital
ALEJANDRA would be just another lost girl on the Brazil's "highway to hell" if she didn't live in the squalid little truck stop town of Candido Sales.
The 14-year-old, whose drug-addicted mother died on the infamous BR-118 highway, is a working prostitute from the town where underage girls are raffled off to middle-aged men.
Candido Sales is one of the epicentres of Brazil's child prostitution epidemic.
Lying 1200km up the highway north west and a world away from the glitter and sands of Rio de Janeiro and Copacabana beach, the town is in Bahia, one of Brazil's poorest states.
Bisected by the BR-116, Candido Sales is clogged with trucks and heavy goods vehicles crawling by the town's bars and brothels.
Just metres away are rows of dirt brick homes where families like Alejandra's live in poverty.
The area is known as "o fim do mundo", "the end of the world".
Sex trafficking gangs target the town and poor families are vulnerable to offers of money for their little girls.
When anti-child prostitution organisation Meninadanca set up in Candido Sales two years ago, even they were surprised to find the extent of abuse of girls still of primary school age.
Town council psychologist Gleyce Farias told Meninadanca, which runs the Pink House charity, that regular raffles offered the winning ticket holder a young girl as first prize.
"Candido Sales is a small town, but every day we hear of another girl who has been sold," Ms Farias said.
"I had to stop a mother from allowing her 12-year-old daughter to 'marry' a 60-year-old man, for money of course.
"Another 13-year-old girl ended up in hospital because of the abuses she suffered.
"She told us how from the age of nine she was made to watch pornographic films, and men would pay her to touch them."
One of the "lost" young girls the Pink House workers heard about when they first arrived was Alejandra.
Living with her grandparents after her alcohol and drug-affected mother died on the highway, Alejandra had turned to prostitution at a young age.
Federal Highway BR-116 or Rio-Bahia, is also nicknamed "highway of death" by truckies due to its many hijackings and accidents.
The 4300km industrial artery stretches from Fortaleza on Brazil's northeastern coast south to Jaguarão, where Uruguay borders with South America's largest country.
It is Brazil's major highway, bringing food, electronics, cigarettes, and pharmaceuticals to Brazil's wealthiest cities including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.
It also passes through scores of poverty stricken villages and towns, to which it brings misery, drug addiction and a social tsunami of child prostitution.
When Meninadanca was first established to address the problem of girls selling themselves on the road, it found Leidiane, a skinny 11-year-old.
Leidiane's parents sent her out each night to the highway in a skimpy sun dress to sell her body to truck drivers so her family could eat.
The waif of a girl stood amid the dust and the diesel fumes on a shoulder of the highway selling herself for $12 a time, to also meet her acquired drug addiction.
Often, when truckies had finished with her, they would just push her out the door of the long drop down from the cabs of their car-carriers or semi-trailers.
In a new short documentary just released by the Pink House, Alejandra speaks of her life on the road, getting picked up, used and paid by convoy of passing drivers.
"We get inside and they ask where will you get off?" Alejandra says, standing in the dark with another young sex worker as trucks and cars roll by. "So we say where we will get off and he pays where we get off.
"He pays there and we take it and when we come back we take another truck.
"If we don't get a lift, we come back walking.
"They are bad to us, these truck drivers are perverts.
"If we don't sleep with them, they will kill us, or they might rape us.
"Or they might chop us up, they might do anything."
Pink House co-ordinator Claudia takes the video camera along a street in Candido Sales which the young girls frequent.
"There's a woman in town who picks up these girls who hang around and takes them to her house and there it's turned into a brothel," Claudia said.
"This is child prostitution, but here it's like the town is blind to this, you know."
Alejandra takes the documentary makers to the small, dingy house, where she ostensibly lives with her grandparents, and shares a tiny room with her disabled brother.
Her grandfather becomes teary when asked why Alejandra constantly runs away, and says plenty of food and rice is provided to the girl.
Alejandra confesses she loses her temper with her grandparents, perhaps because she is not the centre of attention.
"At home I talk with my mum, my grandmum who I call my mum and she turns her back and doesn't give me attention," Alejandra said. "I get so angry at home.
"I normally don't sleep at home."
Alejandra said she was "afraid" and the interviewee convinced her to return to the Pink House in Candido Sales, where girls are taught self worth and encouraged to dance and respect their bodies.
Alejandra dances with the girls and expresses a wish to become a ballet dancer, or dance teacher.
Co-ordinator Claudia believes the Pink House can work to end the child prostitution which is ruining the lives of Brazil's poorest young girls.
In the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup soccer and the 2016 Rio Olympics, media brought world attention on poverty and child prostitution among Brazilians. In particular, an image by the BBC's Panorama of two very young girls in the shadow of the Castelao World Cup Stadium in beachside Fortaleza shamed the country.
Reports said girls from the poorer states were being brought in to service workers on building the stadiums for these big events, and then for the sports fans attending them.
When a 13-year-old girl broke her leg in the Pink House, her mother threatened to sue for loss of earnings because the girl could not work the streets while her leg was in plaster.
The Pink House had to change its schedule to fit the lives of the girls, many of whom spent the entire night on the streets.
But in March this year, the young girls took part in a march against child sexual exploitation, stopping truck drivers and traffic on the motorway.
Claudia and her team are "beginning to see lives transformed as the girls start to understand their true worth … and that they deserve a happy and fulfilled future, free from exploitation and abuse".
She added: "I believe we can change this. I believe in the future this will end.
"I have faith in the little (Meninadanca has to) offer, and it's not much, just getting close to a girl like that, talk and listen."
But is it too late for Alejandra? "She's not one of the regular girls. She comes sporadically to the house.
"Often something has to happen for us to bring her to the house. She's a little difficult.
"She's still in the night. They like the night."