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Tuesday, 12 December, 2000, 23:23 GMT
Sex slavery: One woman's story
A favela in Rio de Janeiro
Many women are lured into slavery from poor areas of Rio de Janeiro
By Isabel Murray in Brazil

According to the United Nations, 'trafficking in persons' is the third most profitable activity for organised crime - only illicit arms dealing and drug trafficking are more lucrative.

To combat this type of slavery, the UN is holding a Convention against Transnational Organised Crime this week in Palermo, Italy.

United Nations records show that Brazil is currently the largest exporter of women slaves in South America.

We are forced to work as prostitutes if we want to eat

Simone Borges Felipe
The Brazilian Government has no official numbers, but the UN and the Helsinki International Federation of Human Rights say that 75,000 Brazilian women are being forced to work as prostitutes within the boundaries of the European Union.

Most of these women come from the states of Goiás, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Those who leave are often young women who go abroad in search of a better life - like Simone Borges Felipe, who went to Bilbao in Spain when she was 25 years old.

Attractive offer

Simone's father, João José Felipe, lives in Goiânia, in the state of Goias. He remembers his daughter telling him she was going to work in Spain, where she had been promised a salary of $2,000 a month. This was a lot of money by the standards of her family.

The offer had been made by two girls originally from the same city, who turned up once in a while with the offer of work abroad.

But as soon as Simone arrived in Bilbao, she phoned home to say that the reality was very different to what she had imagined.

Prostitute waiting for a client
Many of these women end up as unpaid prostitutes
"We are all kept here like prisoners. We work in a club, they have taken away our documents, we are forced to stand around in just a tiny thong bikini, and it's cold," she told her father, Mr Felipe, overr the phone.

"We are forced to work as prostitutes if we want to eat. And 35 women sleep in the same room."

Lonely death

After almost three months of distraught phone calls, Simone told her parents that she was coming back to Brazil. But shortly before she was due to travel, they received a phone call from Spain to say that she had died from tuberculosis.

With the help of the Brazilian Federal Police and Interpol, Mr Felipe managed to bring his daughter's body back home. He says that all the autopsies carried out showed clearly that Simone had not had tuberculosis. He suspects that his daughter was killed in order to prevent her from telling others what she knew.

The owners of the club where Simone worked in Bilbao were arrested, but released after paying bail.

The ONU conference in Palermo will discuss the creation of international mechanisms to control the trafficking in human beings, so that stories like Simone's are not repeated.

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See also:

12 Dec 00 | Europe
UN tackles organised crime
08 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
Sex slavery "on trial" in Tokyo
30 Nov 00 | Asia-Pacific
Sex slave loses compensation bid
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