Latin America and the Caribbean

24 April 1995

Street Children: More and More Killed Everyday

By Caius Brandao
ICRI Brazil Project Coordinator

Brazil has highly progressive children's rights legislation, the world's largest and strongest movement for the rights of street children and was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Why, then, does the ever-growing number of murdered children and adolescents seem to have no end? Why, indeed, are more and more Brazilian children dying while society already has at hand powerful tools for the protection of their rights?

The answer, lamentably, is that killing children is a profitable 'pastime' in Brazil. The so called 'cycle of impunity' means not only neglect or omission, but a rather profitable corruption scheme within public security and law-enforcement agencies. Tania de Almeida, head judge of Duque de Caxias Court, delivered a powerful speech at the Street Children Hearing in Copenhagen. The judge explained a vicious circle: the powerful elite in Rio pay private security agencies to provide for its safety; these agencies are headed by police officers or chiefs of the Military Police; rank-and-file police officers, unable to live on their salaries, often moonlight, quite commonly for the security agencies; reassured by the cycle of impunity, the security agencies branch out into 'illegal' business, which as often as not, turns out to be 'cleaning up' the streets for dissatisfied merchants; cleaning up the streets comes to mean eliminating the children of the poor perceived as one of the source of Rio's modern-day problems. Judge de Almeida went on to characterize the staff of these private security agencies as largely comprised of professional killers. Finally, according to de Almeida, there are several Rio 'parlamentares', or city officials, who, once professional killers themselves, currently protect their 'successors'.

Clearly, there is a perceived benefit to killing destitute children, not only to those who directly profit from it, i.e., the hit-men. When street children die it also 'benefit' the people who paid the professional killers to clean up the streets in the first place. The benefit of children-free streets can get to be very expensive, since the killers need protection at the judicial level as well, and this is where corruption comes into play. Money and political power are the most common means of undermining the law in Brazil. Ultimately, the Children and Adolescent Act (ECA) and the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child become dead-letters. Despite well-voiced national and international outrage, murder, the most violent abuse against children, continues to go unpunished by the government. According to Amnesty International, 90% of the killings of impoverished Brazilian children and adolescents--who are mostly of African descent--have never been resolved because of the infamous cycle of impunity. As a result, the killings escalate.

On April 4, the Second Juvenile Court of the city of Rio de Janeiro, using 1994 figures which include children and adolescents from the city of Rio and the neighboring Baixada Fluminense, reported a 10% increase in the number of minors killed in Rio de Janeiro over the previous year. In 1994, 1221 minors were killed in the State of Rio de Janeiro, an average of more then three kids everyday; 570 died from gun-shot wounds, and a total of 344 were under the age of 11.

International Child Resource Institute
Brazil Project
1810 Hopkins St
Berkeley, CA 94707 USA
Tel (510) 644-1000
Fax (510) 525-4106

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