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Children of the Favela

Children of the Favela

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Published by David Alton

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Published by: David Alton on Dec 13, 2010
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Children Of The Favela: Brazilian bloodbath in a nationasleep
By David Alton
February 2004
 In the 1990s the world woke up to the horrifying reports of children routinely shot dead onthe streets of Brazil.  Many assumed that those days had been consigned to the pages of history.During a recent visit to Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Recife and Olinda with a delegation fromthe international charity Jubilee Action, I discovered with dismay and anger that the carnagecontinues.  If flourishes in a climate of fear, silence and official collusion.  The streetsliterally run red with young Brazilian blood.We began our mission by making a quiet pilgrimage to the church of Our Lady of Candelaria,
in Rio. It was here, in July 1993 that six police officers opened fire on agroup of street children who were sleeping in some doorwaysopposite the church.  Today, a small cross, with the names of theeight boys who died, has been erected in front of Candelaria.  Their silhouettes have been etched in red onto thesurface of the street.  Those dead boys, some as young as eleven,were Paulo Silva, Marcos Alves Silva, Paula Oliveira, AndersonPereira, Leandro Conceicao, Valdevino Almeida, Gambazinho andthe poignantly named Marcelo C. Jesus. (Seeing the image of Jesusin the form of these children, nailed again to a cross, should surelybring to mind His angry declaration that those who hurt a childwould be hurled into the depths with a millstone around theirnecks.  The secretive death squads and those corrupt policemenand officials who co
ntinue to collaborate or acquiesce in the quiet assassination of Brazil‟s
young people should be reminded of that admonition every hour of every day until the killingstops. The scale of the killing is almost unbelievable.)Alessandro Gama, Co-ordinator of 
Brazil‟s National Movement of Street Children, says that
between 4 and 5 adolescents are murdered daily; that every 12 minutes a child is beaten; that4.5 million children under 12 are working; and that 500,000 children are engaged in domesticlabour.  In 40% of crimes children are the victims.  The massive proliferation of small arms isa central cause.
One of the movement‟s activists told me, „It is easier for a child to get a gun
than to get a bus-
 Alongside the greater accessibility to guns, wha
t has changed since the 1990‟s and deepened
the crisis, is the emergence of a ruinous drugs culture. Formerly, Brazil was simply a transitcountry for the notorious producers of Columbia, Bolivia and Peru.  Today, Brazil ranks onlyafter the USA as the second biggest consumer of cocaine.
In Rio‟s 680 favelas – 
where about
25% of the city‟s 12 million people live – 
this has led to the emergence of no-go areascontrolled by rival gangs such as Red Command and Third Command, who organize and armthe children.
Children as young as four have guns and are used as „little planes‟ – 
to use thejargon of the street- trafficking drugs and messages between sellers and buyers.
Although there has been no formal declaration of war, the children caught up in the escalatingviolence are child soldiers by any other name.A young Englishman, Luke Dowdney, supported by Save The Children, has graphically
documented the changing shape of the favelas in his “Children of the Drug Trade: a Case
Study of Children in Organised Armed
Violence in Rio de Janeiro.”
Chillingly he adds that a
child‟s chance of dying here is “eight to nine times greater than in the Middle East.”
 I went into one of these favelas in the north of Rio and had a chance to hear some first handaccounts of the consequences of this undeclared war.  I promised those I spoke to that Iwould not use their real names.
 The people who live in this particular district aredescendants of the
Daily life inthe
slaves who settled
on Rio‟s hillsides after emancipation in
the             nineteenth century.  Many of them areblack Rodrigo told me that he had come here, as a 10-year-old, from the countryside.  He had noeducation and remains illiterate.  He made aliving carting water up the hill and by feeding thepigs. Later he got a job carrying boxes of beer. Hemarried and together they had several children.Approached by one of the drug gangs he becamea dealer and spent four and a half years in prison,
where: “You‟re alive and dead at the same time,”
he told me.Prison conditions are a nationaldisgrace.
Rodrigo‟s cell was so over 
-crowdedthat they took turns to stand and sleep.An 11-year-old, nicknamed Cicero, and old before his time, interposed that
, “The prisondoesn‟t teach you anything good.
It‟s a university of crime.
You‟re living with criminals
even worse than you.
The drugs in prison are worse than outside.”
Rodrigo‟s oldest boy is also illiterate and is now in jail.
The other children are on the fringesof crime.
One of Brazil‟s powerful figures, Senhor Luiz Conde, Rio‟s former mayor who now serves asdeputy Governor in the state of Rio, repeats the tired formulary that “There is a school placeavailable for every child,” and admits that, “The prisons are very bad, a nasty inheritance of the past.”
The reality is that many children are not in school, that some are too frightened totake places in schools situated in areas controlled by rival drug gangs, and that those inschool often get a mediocre education at best.Codne exudes an air of complacency and irritation, passing responsibility to other arms of 
government or to the failure of “society as a whole” to tackle the problem.
Throwaway lines
like, “There are more non
-governmental organ
izations than street children” and “It‟s easier toarrest Saddam Hussein than to arrest a drugs baron” say more about their author than his
targets.Rio has no integrated or co-ordinated strategy for eradicating its reputation as human charnelhouse; a city whose streets are an abattoir, awash with the blood of its young people.
In a surreal, Kafkaesque remark, Conde‟s opposite number at the city hall, Senhor AntonioVales, Rio‟s deputy mayor, told me that “violence is not under the jurisdiction of the
In the grandeur of what was once the sumptuous British Embassy in Rio, Vales said
that he couldn‟t comment on any of the fundamental issues because they were “too sensitive”and that there was little point them talking to the military police because, “
Those talks are not
very fruitful.”
 These are not bad men but nor are they brave.
In the favela, I was reminded of the prophet‟s words that, “Where there is no vision, thepeople perish.”
The merry-go-round of buck passing in Rio is like a carousel, which passesfor coherent good government and courageous political leadership.Probably the best hope for breaking this inertia and for imposing a nationwide strategy in
Brazil‟s 26 states remai
ns President Lula Da Silva, who was elected with 61% of the vote andbecame President in a wave of optimism in January 2003.  Lula has himself 
and veryunusually for Brazil
risen from deep poverty and obscurity; but already there are inevitabledisappointed voices asking where is the change.  If Lula cannot make the arms of governmentrespond to this crisis he will deservedly lose his reputation at home and abroad.
I was struck by the remark of one youngster in the favela who told me that, “The only way
go up in society is to go through the trafficking of guns or drugs.”
The role models are youngmen with designer clothes and brand new motorbikes. They earn phenomenally more throughthe drugs trade than their fathers.  But, if they come to represent the only ladder on which theyoung can climb out of destitution, Lula will end up presiding over a dead country.  It isimpossible to reconcile rhetoric about social justice and opportunity with the reality of corpses lying like litter in the streets.It would be unfair if this account did not refer to the positive and hopeful initiatives thatshould provide men like Conde and Vales with a blue-print for concerted action.  They could
do worse than to heed the calls of Jubilee Action‟s partner in Rio, Sao Ma
rtinho, whoadvocate the need for an integrated programme of action.  We did see evidence of anembryonic strategic approach in the city of Recife.A piece of sculpture in the heart of that city recalls the time, thirty years ago, when deathsquads routine
ly killed opponents of the country‟s military dictatorship.
The sculptor has left
the defiant words, “Torture – 
never again,” to exhort those who see his work to cherish the
fundamental human rights that should be the corner stone of any democracy.Near Recife, is the ancient Portuguese settlement of Olinda.  Here, in 1537, the PortugueseGovernor, Duate Coelho, established Olinda as the first capital of the State of Pernambuco.  Simultaneously, the Jesuits built the first churches and provided the firstopportunities for higher education in Brazil.  In 1582 the Benedictines established the truly

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