Story of Child Abuse Shocks Brazil

It's a story that has sent shock waves across Brazil: A 12-year-old was rescued by Brazilian police in the central state of Goiania with severe signs of abuse all over her body. A 49-year-old businesswoman, Silvia Calabrese, has since been charged with torturing the child.

A maid working for Calabrese was also arrested in connection with the crime but denies any involvement. Child protection authorities, however, told the Brazilian press that "the child confirmed to us that she was also abused by her."

Already two other girls have come forward, accusing Calabrese of subjecting them to systematic torture while under her care. One was only 5 years old at the time, the other 15.

The details the 12-year-old girl has offered are spine-chilling: being strangled, having parts of her tongue cut off while being pulled with different tools, at one point being forced to eat dog feces.

Globo TV showed blurred images of the girl chained to the wall and signs of torture on her body, including her wounded tongue.

The girl in question had been living with Calabrese for two years. Her impoverished mother had sent her to live with the businesswoman in the hope that her daughter would be properly looked after and gain access to an education. In return, the girl would help with domestic chores.

But the girl stopped attending school a year ago. O Globo newspaper reported that when she had been attending, her teachers noticed she often appeared battered and bruised.

Such stories of domestic abuse of minors are not uncommon in Brazil. Many families who are too poor to care for their sons and daughters leave them in the care of wealthier households, hoping for better opportunities for the children.

That result is not always the case. Many of these children often become virtual slaves.

Daniela Resende Florio of the Brazilian NGO Fundação A Brinq, which works with abused children, told ABC News that these are not isolated instances.

"There are some 5,100,000 children between the ages of five and 17 who work -- around 500,000 are engaged in domestic labor," she said. "It's a hidden form of slavery. Many of them don't go to authorities, and no one knows that they are working illegally and being badly treated in these houses.

"The parents send them away so they can have a better chance in life, but these golden opportunities never arise; they are usually maltreated and often do not go to school," she continued. "They usually wind up uneducated and contracted as domestic workers when they grow up."

The parents of the 12-year-old girl, who do not live together, have since had contact with her. The father has been reported as saying that he would not have allowed the girl to be sent away and that he was prevented from seeing her by Calabrese.

Police are continuing to investigate the case, and a decision is yet to be made on whether the child is to return to her father.

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