Brazil’s children at risk

Where inspiration meets action

Children at risk : behind the palm trees postcards of Brazil

Although human rights have much progressed in Brazil within the last past years, Brazilian children still have to face major issues which are very often not depicted in the media. Here’s an overview of what is going on behind the palm trees postcards.


Health issues in the favelas

As one out of four person lives below the poverty line in Brazil, where inequalities between the rich and the poor are vividly noticeable, the children growing in the favelas are struggling to access basic needs (such as access to drinking water or food), health care and education. Indeed, the living conditions on the spot know huge sanitary issues. Due to this insalubrity and virus outbreak from it, medical staff do not always go to these areas, which obviously worsen health problems of children and pregnant women. Although Brazil put a lot of efforts in the attempt of stamping out HIV, the virus remains, unfortunately increasing an already high child mortality rate.

Children exploitation

Unfortunately, children work is not over yet in Brazil. Often being used as fishers or in farm work (especially in sugar cane plantations and in the coal industry), young boys represent about 25 to 30% of the sector’s workforce (Humanium). Regarding the girls, loads of them start working at a very young age in domestic works. There would be around 480 000 children doing domestic work in Brazil at the moment. Moreover, women tend to get married while being underraged: this issue concerns around 36% of the girls in the country. Indeed, the decision is very often not their own and is being made by the family. These forced marriages are often responsible for domestic abuse, marital rape and dramatic psychological consequences on the girls.

As it it was not enough, the living conditions in the poorest areas of Brazil confront children to daily violence. In the favelas, drug dealers are the most feared. The very high tension between the later and police forces create a very dangerous climate for children. Not on

ly they see violence, but they are constantly exposed as collateral damages when shootings occur, especially in the north of the country. This devastating atmosphere destroys children psychological health, and even more when they are orphans. This is the case for about 3,2 million of kids, living in the street and facing this violence on their own.

Orphans are also a perfect target for human trafficking and sexual exploitation. On December 6th 2012 in Bordeaux, France, a pimp couple who forced 13 Brazilian girls to prostitution in the city’s hotels has been sentenced to 3 years in prison. Hired by Brazilians, the girls were between 10 and 29 years old, with low incomes and education. While Brazilian media did not cover the story at all, sexual exploitation of children is a huge issue in Brazil. As the use of internet is now increasing for human trafficking, it is also becoming harder to control and leaves oppressors unpunished. In addition to that, children from 5 years old are being used by drug dealers, which condition them to become ones as well when they grow up.

Indigenous people

Moreover, outside the favelas, another community is being oppressed: Aboriginal population. Living in territories covered by the Amazonian forest, the inhabitants of these lands are threatened and deported by the police. Children on the spot get no preferential treatment. Not being protected, they become an easy prey for criminals, who use them for the same purpose as we have just seen in the favelas: sexual abuse, sexual exploitation and drug trafficking. The Aboriginal population are very often forgotten as one do not gets to see them in mainstream media, but the struggle is real. As Bolsonaro promised to get rid of the community, proudly saying: “It’s a shame that the Brazilian cavalry wasn’t as efficient as the Americans, who exterminated their Indians.”, the later resists. Sonia Guajajara, the leader Articulação dos Povos Indígenas do Brasil, which represents around 300 Indigenous groups in Brazil, stated: “We are afraid of a new genocide against the indigenous population and we are not going to wait for it to happen. We will resist. We will defend our territories, and our lives.” (The Guardian). The population now gathers its strength to stand against what Guajajara names “a clear expression of the drive for social extermination.”

When police forces become the oppressors

As Humanium points out, the police is the biggest fear of Brazilian street children. If you search “Brazilian police children” on google, you will find endless videos or pictures about child murders by security forces. Although it is necessary to balance this side of the story by admitting that the Brazilian police first aims to end abuses of all sorts in the favelas, the fact that authorities’ interventions lead to the killing of children is undeniable. This results as a collective fear to be out, and thus lock the children at ‘home’, which prevents them from going to school. This is where the role of the police, in charge of people’s protection, becomes a threat for fundamental human rights such as safety and access to education. Moreover, it has been shown police interventions did not increase safety on-site, but were more likely to generate riots, especially when the operation aims to deport populations. In addition to that, several statements testify of police abuse, corruption and torture, from which children unfortunately do not escape. Just as adults, minors experience the same horrifying living conditions as inmates, for instance.The youth is thus no longer protected by the army forces, and struggles to find its way in a reality where the innocence of childhood is marred by the profound trauma of poverty and extreme violence.


Picture by Lab from


Written by Jeanne Ulhaq