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The number of tourists who seek Brazilian beaches grows each year, particularly along the northeastern coast. Paralleling this growth, and fueled by it, is the increasing incidence of sexual exploitation of children and teenagers in Brazil’s tourist areas. Recognizing the inadequacies of the Brazilian government’s efforts to reverse this trend, Ana Paula drafted the first Brazilian Tourism Code Against Child and Adolescent Sexual Exploitation. She works with the business community, taxi drivers, and university students as well as relevant federal, state, and local governmental bodies to assure compliance with the code.

This profile below was prepared when Ana Paula Felizardo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2005.


The number of tourists who seek Brazilian beaches grows each year, particularly along the northeastern coast. Paralleling this growth, and fueled by it, is the increasing incidence of sexual exploitation of children and teenagers in Brazil’s tourist areas. Recognizing the inadequacies of the Brazilian government’s efforts to reverse this trend, Ana Paula drafted the first Brazilian Tourism Code Against Child and Adolescent Sexual Exploitation. She works with the business community, taxi drivers, and university students as well as relevant federal, state, and local governmental bodies to assure compliance with the code.


In 2001, Ana Paula Felizardo created the Brazilian Tourism Code Against Child and Adolescent Sexual Exploitation. It is a formal declaration of voluntary adherence that combats the sexual exploitation of minors by guiding and regulating the ethical conduct of companies, citizens, and services linked to the tourism industry. It also spells out the central principles of protection of children and adolescents in the Federal Constitution and the Statute of the Child and Adolescent. Two years later, Ana Paula founded the citizen organization Resposta to broaden the code’s scope and create a system of monitoring and rewarding those companies that adhere to the code. Resposta targets businesses linked to tourism and their employees, national and international tourists, taxi drivers, tourism students, and civil society.

By framing the problem as a community problem, Ana Paula encourages community members to invest their time and energy into an effort that will ultimately benefit them: They become the monitoring agents. Much like a neighborhood watch program, community members cooperate to monitor sexual exploitation and report businesses or individuals that are engaged, directly or indirectly, in the industry. Ana Paula’s approach draws citizens, financial institutions, and universities together to design solutions, raising the bar of responsibility and accountability in stopping the sexual exploitation of minors.


The State of Rio Grande do Norte, situated in the northeast region of Brazil, is home to nearly three million people and rimmed by 400 kilometer of stunning beaches. Natural beauty has invited economic development in the state, reflected in its Gross National Product (GNP) growth, one of the highest in Brazil in the last 10 years. In 2003, an estimated 46,000 tourists disembarked from charter flights in airports in the State of Rio Grande do Norte. Ana Paula argues that the 110 percent increase in charter flights over the last decade is especially relevant to understanding industry growth because charter flights (including recently initiated flights from the United States) seem to be the preferred means of entry for foreign travelers with an interest in sexual exploitation.

While tourism plays a central role in the region’s economic development, there is great concern regarding protection of children and adolescents who are sexually exploited due to the irresponsibility of some sectors of the tourism industry. Often, business owners are aware of child exploitation but deliberately keep it under cover because, at the end of the day, they profit from the business it brings. Some are directly involved in facilitating the practice. Hotels are known to keep portfolios of young girls; inns take in young women who prostitute themselves and let them take tourists into their rooms; massage houses are proliferating in great urban centers like São Paulo and Rio de Janerio and continue to hire younger and younger girls; taxi drivers take tourists and facilitate the encounters. More recently, sexual exploitation has caught on over the Internet, where children’s pictures are frequently requested in sex chat rooms.

The Brazilian government has shown little interest in taking action. There is no specialized prosecuting office in the District Attorney’s Office or in the Court of Justice that receives claims regarding commercial sexual exploitation. Currently, the Judiciary Power fights the hardest, performing crackdowns in motels and hotels that work with underage prostitutes. However, by the time officials are knocking down doors, it is usually too late. Businesses are rarely held accountable. Little is done to target the root of the problem and involve the community. Public administrators simply lack the strategies and resources they need to effectively battle and prevent child and adolescent sexual exploitation.


In 2001, Ana Paula Felizardo began by drafting the Brazilian Tourism Code Against Child and Adolescent Sexual Exploitation to regulate the ethical conduct of companies, people and services linked to tourism. This code draws from an earlier declaration drafted by World Tourism Organization and an international network of citizen organizations working to end child sexual exploitation that identified solutions but did not prescribe how to implement them. Ana Paula’s code is prescriptive in that it establishes ethical policies regarding sexual exploitation of children, training people involved with tourism in Brazil, establishing a clause in contracts with suppliers in which the commercial exploitation of children is disallowed, providing information to travelers, and providing information to key people in the various tourist destinations.

After the code was consolidated, Ana Paula developed a plan to carry out the monitoring of this code and formed her organization Resposta. Its two large partners, Bank of the Northeast and Potiguar University, helped develop the work with two important constituent groups: businesspeople and college students. The bank created a Tourism Development Pole (“Costa das Dunas”), which includes sixteen municipalities in the coast of Rio Grande do Norte and invests significant sums in developing local infrastructure. Most importantly, it offers strong links with businesses and the local government, facilitating Ana Paula’s work with hotels, inns, and travel agencies.

The first joint effort with Universidade Potiguar drew in students in a campaign in the international airport of Natal, in partnership with the Federal Police, in order to publicize the code. Students in tourism courses still carry out the campaign in the airport and in beaches, carnivals, and other spots in the city. Lectures and coursework on ethical tourism are now common. Further, the university helped in the translation of the ethical code into six languages for advertising materials for supporting hotels. The next step is to involve students in the communication school who are also responsible for commercials and advertisements and also for disclosing certain information about companies in the media and on the Internet.

The citizen organization Resposta created a Monitoring Committee for the Code, composed of twelve members responsible for evaluating whether companies adhere to the code and publicly manifest their wish to respect the rules of citizenship and denounce any affiliation with sexual exploitation activities. The approved businesses or organizations are required to authorize employees and/or associates through training, courses, and lectures. A representative from the committee also evaluates the company’s advertisements and practices before the Federal and State Justice and the Children and Youth Courts. If everything is approved, the company is certified with a Paulo Freire Seal for Ethics in Tourism (this seal verifies that the companies proved to be ethical and serious in combating child and adolescent exploitation). This seal is valid for two years (and may be renewed after a new evaluation). To maintain the seal, businesses must preserve their efforts against sexual exploitation, creating internal committees and agreeing to take part in Resposta’s various training courses.

Since June 2003, 67 companies have received the seal and 30 others are undergoing the evaluation process. There is also a database of “best practices” being developed for these companies. Resposta has already recruited hundreds of people willing to volunteer their time in some way and, perhaps its greatest victory, has ensured that all companies that receive the Sebrae Seal for Quality in Tourist Services must officially adhere to the Code of Conduct as well.

Resposta also works within the school of taxi drivers in Natal, through which every taxi driver must pass before receiving their license. Currently, Resposta teaches one of the classes, and drivers must attend it in order to receive their license and the seal of adherence to the code. To date, 147 taxi drivers have been trained. Resposta is beginning to work with distribution networks of gas stations to incorporate this topic and to reach truck drivers who are largely responsible for sexual exploitation of children and youth in the interior of the state. Now, Ana Paula is establishing a new partnership with the organization “Natal Voluntários,” which has a database of 3,000 people from civil society involved in voluntary actions and who will start to work in monitoring the Code of Conduct. Ana Paula is selecting 25 people who will be trained according to Resposta’s methodology.

Since this work began, some practices have changed in the city of Natal, such as the reservations system in hotels, bar companies regulating their parties in the Youth Court, a decrease of alluring advertisements, charter airlines distributing campaign material during their flights, and more structured positions from the government. Resposta was also influential in taking the Parliamentary Investigation Commission (CPI) for sexual exploitation to Rio Grande do Norte, proposing the creation of the Parliamentary Front for Children and Adolescents, mobilizing and implementing a law that requires motels to advertise that sexual exploitation is a crime, fighting for the creation of an intelligence division within the Civil Police Department to investigate sexual exploitation, and for suggesting a Specialized Prosecuting Office in crimes against children and adolescents.

Currently, the MBA Association of the University of São Paulo is systematizing the work of Resposta. Ana Paula has begun to work on the first publication in Brazil aimed at tourism employees on the topic of sexual exploitation, which will facilitate the dissemination of this model inside and outside the country. Until now, the work was concentrated in consolidating the model in Rio Grande do Norte. However, Bahia, Ceará, São Paulo, and Pernambuco have already begun the process. For this, they have the support of the Inter-American Development Bank, the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Save the Children, Hospitality Institute, and the World Childhood Foundation. Before long, Ana will produce videos in six languages to be viewed in international aircrafts and thus increase visibility and adherence to the code. She also intends to join Fundação Abrinq in order to strengthen Resposta’s public policy department.


A daughter of farmers from the interior of Ceará, Ana Paula was raised by her older siblings. Being 16 years younger than her last brother, she lost contact with her mother, who moved to another city due to health problems. Living in Recife with her brothers, who were already at university, Ana learned to love books and museums at a very early age and began writing to authors of children’s books at the age of nine. Her childhood and teenage years were marked by her leadership and maturity.

She was considered a model student and was often chosen as class representative. In 1994, her sister Dilma, whom she saw as a second mother, moved to the city of Natal and founded Casa Renascer, an innovative social center for street girls and their mothers. This work led Dilma to be selected as an Ashoka Fellow. Since that time, Ana Paula worked in Casa Renascer, first as a volunteer, then as a coordinator and finally as vice president of the organization.

In the beginning, Ana’s work was related to supplementary mathematics and English lessons, as well as in the logistics of activities with the girls. In 1997, Ana Paula entered law school and started working as a Legal Social Worker for Casa Renascer, developing activism in social movements which included the National Movement of Human Rights, where she was regional director for two terms, the Committee of Entities Against Hunger and for Life, the Forum for Defense of Child and Adolescent Rights, and the Women’s Forum of Rio Grande do Norte. In 2000, she left law and devoted herself entirely to working for Casa Renascer.

While her work to combat the sexual exploitation of minors began as one of many responsibilities at Casa Renascer, Ana Paula soon felt the need to dedicate her time fully to this work because she did not want the code to be just another set of unobserved laws or her work to be limited to workshops for increasing awareness. She founded the Resposta in 2001, an initiative that requires her full-time energy.