Highway To Hell: The Road Where Childhoods Are Stolen, by Matt Roper
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Kregel Book Tours in exchange for an honest book review.]
This is a book about a tour of sorts, a chronological examination of a long stretch of BR-116, the part of the highway running from Governador Valadares to Fortaleza, over 1000 miles away. It is a deeply troubling and graphic account of the corrupt and pervasive nature of the systematic exploitation of girls for lust and profit, with deep political implications that is kept largely hidden because of Brazil’s desire to be seen as a growing and advancing nation. Needless to say, the story of the widespread abuse of young Brazilian girls by their own families, by truckers and tourists, as well by policemen and politicians and businessmen, would put a damper on that story. Nevertheless, this book is also about the idealism and decency of a few Brazilians, as well as the author (an English journalist), and an associate of his who happens to be a Christian Canadian country singer, moved because of what their eyes saw and their hearts felt to make a difference in a horrible situation.
Much of the book involves the author, along with others, driving to obscure towns along the route of BR-116 and looking at various aspects of the child prostitution that exists there. One sees, for example, the grinding poverty of many families, the intense violence these prostitutes suffer, including rampant promiscuity, gang rapes, orgies, attacks from older prostitutes who don’t like their business taken by younger children, drug and alcohol addiction, early pregnancies and forced abortions, truck accidents, and violent murders. One sees the logistics of child prostitution, where a pool of girls is prepped for such work through generational behavioral patterns and very early abuse within the home, combined with the lure of profit and expectations of honoring parents by selling oneself to others, along with the use of sex as a currency to gain transportation via truckers to others towns along that same highway as well as to gain street credibility with other teens and the money to buy positional goods like clothing and electronics. Moreover, all of this evil is done almost in plain sight, with the lack of prosecution by police, children’s councilors, and the justice system of anyone involved in any of these crimes. Even known and admitted murderers are free to walk in public because their victims are child prostitutes, some as young as nine or ten years of age.
Although this story is about Brazil, much of what it says would also be true of other nations where child trafficking is a major problem (Thailand springs readily to mind, given what I saw there for myself). Even the efforts that Brazil has made to develop its economy and serve humanitarian aims has created difficulties. For example, where previously all people in various small towns were immensely poor (an equality of poverty), the unequal distribution of wealth has led to intense competition over how to obtain Western commercial goods, and prostitution has become a major way that poor families support themselves, their addictive behaviors, and their desire for social advancement. This has led to small villages serving as sources of young girls as (relatively) unspoiled prostitutes for the corrupt desires of the wealthier and more powerful in larger cities, sometimes hundreds of miles away. Another irony is that former Brazilian president Lula’s socialist desire to help provide pensions for the elderly, to keep them from starvation and privation has given many of those same elderly men the means to purchase the sexual favors of very young children, often within their own family. Thus a desire on the part of humanitarians to help the plight of the elderly has made life more difficult for children, robbing them of their innocence and hope and pushing them along a road of self-destruction, unless they should happen by providence to meet with some outside help along the way. It is impossible not to grieve for people in such a state, and to pray that God’s kingdom will come, and that He will be merciful with those who have suffered and just in avenging the sins committed against them.
What prevents this very grim book from being entirely gloomy is the idealism of the author (and his traveling companion, country singer Dean Brody, who also wrote the foreword to this book) in encouraging those idealistic elements within Brazilian society, in talking to and befriending children who have fallen prey to child prostitution (in one case leading to an adoption of one girl), as well as in the building of institutions that affirm the worth and dignity of Brazilian girls through dance. These efforts are certainly modest, given the pervasive and massive evil within Brazilian society (and other societies also), but they are a start. In order to tackle such issues in Brazil and elsewhere, one must help girls to see their own worth and to act accordingly, must encourage others to help protect the virtue and honor of vulnerable children, must encourage families to treat their offspring with respect and honor and to teach them to respect and honor others. In doing so, these evils may be arrested and reversed in time. It is not an easy task, but it is an immensely worthwhile one, to turn the Highway To Hell into a Road To Redemption.