By Anastasia Moloney
BOGOTA, Jan 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Truck drivers are part of the problem in the widespread sexual exploitation of children in Brazil along the nation's highways but they now are becoming part of the solution, experts say.
Once truckers are trained in children's rights, attitudes toward exploitation change and they are less likely to have sex with children once they learn it is a crime, according to research by the charity Childhood Brazil.
Brazilian truck drivers frequently pay for sex with children and teenage boys and girls at truck stops and loading areas, the charity said.
One in five said they had had sex with a child, and nearly three quarters said their colleagues had done so, according to interviews with 342 truck drivers in 2010, it said.
Nearly 85 percent said it was common to see the sexual exploitation of children and teenagers along highways and at truck stops.
"Truck drivers weren't seeing children as children," said Anna Flora Werneck, program coordinator at Childhood Brazil, on Thursday.
"There was an unawareness about sexual exploitation as a serious violation of child rights," she said in a telephone conference call with journalists and researchers.
But more than a third of the drivers interviewed said they did not have sex with children because they knew it was wrong, compared with 20 percent who said so five years earlier, it said.
More than one million truck drivers have received training and nearly 1,500 businesses have signed a pact against sexual exploitation of children in the past eight years, the charity said.
Childhood Brazil, part of the World Childhood Foundation, conducted its interviews in 2010 and in 2005.
They revealed drivers would have sex with children when they saw no shame attached and drivers had sex with children who would not question their performance to boost their self-esteem.
A 2014 report by the United States Department of Labor on Brazil said while there were no overall figures available, "the commercial sexual exploitation of children is a large problem throughout Brazil."
The problem was particularly acute in tourist areas in the cities of Fortaleza, Manaus and Rio de Janeiro and at highway stops, it said.
"Young girls are victims of commercial sexual exploitation at rest-stop bars in Caracarai, a highway stop on the route from Manaus, Brazil to Venezuela," the report said.
Childhood Brazil and federal highway police have mapped out nearly 2,000 risk points for the sexual exploitation of children along the country's highways.
Childhood Brazil has focused on providing training for truck drivers at companies that employ them. About 60 percent of cargo transported along Brazil's highways is done by private companies.
At first, companies resisted, Werneck said.
"Companies didn't want to have their brand related to sexual exploitation, to something so ugly," she said. "Now we are finding that companies want to show they are helping."
As drivers often listen to the radio on the road, weekly shows also are being used to raise awareness, the charity said.
Children are more likely to be sexually exploited at truck stops and rest areas with little or no lighting and no security guards and at places where alcohol is sold, the research found.
At truck stops with better conditions, and services such as television rooms and internet access, the "search for sex decreases," Werneck said.
(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney, editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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