The commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) has emerged as one of the world’s most heinous crimes. The problem affects millions of children worldwide and no country or community is fully immune from its effects. This paper reports first generation research of the relationship that exists between CSEC and the phenomenon of missing children living in and around the coastal regions of the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, the country’s richest State. Data are reported from interviews and case records of 64 children and adolescents, who were receiving care through a major youth serving non-governmental organization (NGO) located in the coastal city of Sao Vicente. Also, data about missing children and adolescents were collected from Police Reports – a total of 858 Police Reports. In Brazil, prostitution is not a crime itself, however, the exploitation of prostitution is a crime. Therefore, the police have no information about children or adolescents in this situation, they only have information about the clients and exploiters. Thus, this investigation sought to accomplish two objectives: 1) to establish the relationship between missing and sexual exploited children; and 2) to sensitize police and child-serving authorities in both the governmental and nongovernmental sectors to the nature, extent, and seriousness of many unrecognized cases of CSEC and missing children that come to their attention. The observed results indicated that the missing children police report are significantly underestimated. They do not represent the number of children that run away and/or are involved in commercial sexual exploitation.

Key Take Away Points

  • The estimated number of 9,000 missing children and adolescents per year in Sao Paulo state is under-estimated

  • Domestic violence seams to be the primary factor (50%) that accounted for a missing child's disappearance but CSEC cases were also reported by the families (5%).
  • Researchers compared police registries of missing children in the coastal region of Sao Paulo State and NGO archives of child participants in programs for children at risk. Only 20% of children with an NGO missing history report also had a police registry of the disappearance. Only 29% of children with an NGO report of sexual exploitation also had a police registry of the incident.

Author Biography

Dr. Gilka J. F. Gattás, PhD, is geneticist and assistant professor and researcher at the Department of Legal Medicine, Bioethics and Social/Occupational Medicine at the Medical College, University of São Paulo, São Paulo, SP, Brazil. Her main work is about the cytogenetics and molecular genetics in forensic and occupational medicine. Since 2004 is the coordinator of a Social program that includes a DNA databank for missing kids in São Paulo state. The “Caminho de Volta” Project also includes psychological assistance for the families and a preventive program in different areas for public and private organizations.

Dr. Claudia Figaro Garcia, PhD in clinical psychology, psychoanalyst and psychologist in the Department of Forensic Medicine, Medical Ethics and Medical Social Work and the School of Medicine, University of Sao Paulo. Responsible for clinical axis of the Projeto Caminho de Volta.

Dr. Tatiana Savoia Landini is sociologist, adjunct professor in the Department of Social Sciences of the School of Philosophy, Letters and Human Sciences at the Federal University of São Paulo (EFLCH-UNIFESP). She has made her academic studies in the University of São Paulo, where she concluded her PHD (2005) and Master degree (2000) in Sociology, and the undergraduate studies in Social Sciences (1997). Her academic activities and publications deal with the following issues: childhood, violence, sexuality and Sociological Theory, more specifically with sexual violence against children and the sociology of Norbert Elias. Her current research is on sexual exploitation of children and adolescents.

Richard J. Estes is Professor of Social Work with the School of Social Policy & Practice of the University of Pennsylvania. His major works focuses on international and comparative social welfare, populations at risk of economic and sexual exploitation, and children. Among others, his recent works include: Medical, Legal & Social ScienceAspects of Child Sexual Exploitation: A Comprehensive Review of Child Pornography, Child Prostitution, and Internet Crimes Against Children (with Cooper, Sharon W., Angelo P. Giardino, Nancy D. Kellogg & Victor I. Vieth, 2005); La Infancia Como Mercancia Sexual: México, Canadá y EstadosUnidos(The Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Mexico, Canada and the United States), with Elena Azaola (2003); and, Advancing Quality of Life in a Turbulent World (Dordrecht NL & Berlin: Springer, Inc.) (2007). Professor Estes currently is Visiting Scholar with the Faculty of Social Science of the Chinese University of Hong Kong.


This study was partially supported by the Special Secretariat of Human Rights - Presidency of the Federative Republic of Brazil (Process N° 00004.000971/2007-02); and by the Laboratory of Medical Investigation (LIM-40-HC-FMUSP) We are thankful to the Police Station - DEINTER 6 (Sao Vicente, Guaruja and Santos); João Carlos Guilhermino da Franca, Viviane Gorgatti, Elizabete Novaes staff professionals from the NGO; and Dr. Rosemeire Aparecida do Nascimento and Hugo dos Santos for the data collection.