Street children in Brazil
By Spiros Tzelepis, Greece
Each homeless child is a wound that spots the image of the society
The cover of the book
Recently, during my classic stroll to bookshops (frequent readers will conclude in that since I have talked about it many times) I found a book by Yara Dulce Bandeira de Ataide referring to street children in Brazil. It was then that I realized that I had already read a review of it in a newspaper we usually buy at home. Immediately, it captured my attention because much have been written and told about this major problem. I remember that some years ago, a Greek TV channel had a documentary on the issue of street children in Brazil which was eye-opening; it talked about facts some of which were very shocking, and surely it was something that made the viewers reconsider their perception of the world we live in. So after all these and given the fact that I have always been interested in the problems of children worldwide, I thought to invite the author to an interview, because she has first-hand experience of the situation and she can pass all these to the readers. Let's not forget that the UN Special Session on children is still fresh in our minds since not long ago we heard again that the rights of children would be declared and secured, etc. Though these promises sound vacant when one thinks that in the 21st century, such a problem remains still unsolved.
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How did you decide to deal with the issue of street children since you have an academic career?
- I needed to write a thesis for my doctorate. So, I decided to choose the issue of street children, because it is an every day reality in Brazil. This issue became a challenge for me and I decided to work searching explanations and solutions to the problem. My book is a public denunciation of this problem. I preferred to choose a subject of public interest than a theoretical theme.
The idea emerged from the desire to testify and to document the life of these homeless children and adolescents who are in severe social risks and danger to become adult delinquents in the future. I wanted to know their feelings, their perception of the world and their way of acting and thinking; I wanted to feel through their stories of life.
What is the size of the problem in Brazil? Personally, I have heard and read a lot in my country about this issue in Brazil, but you can give us more accurate information.
- The problem of street children in Brazil is a heavy and serious one, because the social inequalities are very hard. One third of the population lives under the line of poverty earning less than US$ 80,00 per month. The children and adolescents of these families do not have other options, then go in the streets to beg some kind of help to live. These families generally are misadjusted and domestic violence is very frequent, forcing the children to go away, to the street, as a way to escape family aggression and maltreatment.
Which are the causes for this phenomenon? What happens with the families of these children?
- There are multiple causes for this phenomenon. The severe level of unemployment, the neo-liberal government policies, the domestic violence, the high levels of illiteracy of population, poverty are among them. These families generally are misadjusted, with social and psychiatric problems, such as alcoholism, violence and other mental disturbances.
What is the age of these children mainly?
- The children start going to the street usually at the age of 8 and remain there until their 14s or 15s, when, if they do not receive any social or psychological help, they may become delinquents.
What is the attitude of the Brazilian society towards them?
- The society rejects and is afraid of these children and adolescents, considering them as a danger for the security of the community. Some persons try to help them by giving some panhandle, food, clothes and other stuff. There are few humanitarian institutions maintained by groups of people interested in helping these children. Some NGOs and religious groups help, too, and they do a good job.
Others, like me, write books, articles in magazines, talk in classes in schools and universities and try to portray the gravity of this social problem in order to wake up the conscience of people and of the politicians. Something like a fight and construction with words, instead of swords.
What is the government doing to eliminate the phenomenon?
- The government maintains institutions of custody for delinquent children and adolescents. There are laws and codes to protect infancy and adolescence. There are special tribunals to attend these children. The government try to improve and extend the assistance to homeless families and children, and try to improve social conditions like public health, habitation, transportation, education, etc. But the problem is too big and the public money is too small. So, all this effort is not sufficient to resolve the situation. And, unhappily, the problem is growing up.
What left a lasting impression to you from your contact with these children? How do they themselves face this situation and what do they think?
- The contact and familiarity with these children showed me a dramatic reality that exposed their social abandonment and suffering, mostly in the scaffold of the victims than in the podium of the hangman or cruel man. They are victims of a cruel and dehumanized society that abandons its children, putting at risk the country's future. Many of these children, really, were "working in the streets" to support their families. Many of them had faith in the future and hopes of a new life, and have a heart ready to receive love. If they are considered a lost generation, then the guilt is with the society.
Do you think there is a solution to the problem and if yes which?
- Yes! This actual child generation that lives in the streets may be saved and rescued of the danger of adult delinquency. It depends on the politicians, on the government, on the NGOs, on the society and on themselves. It is necessary to solve the social problems, education, public health, employment, residence, ways of communication, help and orientation to the families; there should be violence control, humanization of the society and of the police and in general, emphasis should be given to all the things that will improve the quality of life. But, unhappily, to build these happy work it is necessary to invest much money. And, we don't have the necessary money to construct this new world.
Is there something that the international community can do to help and in particular the youth that produce action around the world?
- Yes! Everyone can help. The International community is helping through many NGOs, like UNICEF, UNESCO and others, and a good work is being done. Religious institutions are good allies in this social work. Presently, the society is more conscious of the problem. It is discussed more frequently and the social injustices and inequalities are denounced in congresses, in the press, in books and in the universities. Its necessary that each citizen feel responsible for all children and adolescents in the streets and do what he is able to do, engaging in the ideal or utopia of a world with more social justice, humanitarian feelings and love, much love, in the place of violence.
How do you think your book will help towards this direction?
- My book is my contribution to the world referred above. My word is my sword. With it I fight, denouncing without wounding or hurting, but with trying to construct a new world of peace, love and without violence and inequalities.
My book denounces the situation and shows our reality calling the attention of my students, politicians and of all the society, encouraging everybody to do what they can do and encouraging discussions in order to find solutions. Each homeless child in the street is a wound that spots, stains and blemishes the honor and the image of the society.
My 3rd book - CLAMOUR OF THE PRESENT: ORAL HISTORY OF HOMELESS FAMILIES - about this same issue, will be presented now, in the VI Congress of Oral History, in São Paulo, on the 28th of May. This new book represents the continuation of my efforts to help my children and my adolescents, now with the focus on family.
Reconstruction: July-August-September 2002
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