Rio de Janeiro

The problem of child soldiers isn’t limited to wars and nowhere is this more evident than in Brazil. In almost half of the 700 favelas (slums) of Brazil drug gangs are in control. This has led to a marked increase in the number of young people being killed – 40% of all murder victims are aged between 15 and 25 years old. This is not a problem that is exclusive to Brazil – El Salvador, Honduras and other South American countries are dealing with their own drug wars.

Children as young as 10 are being recruited by the gangs to participate in their activities – they start off as drug mules and can gain promotion through the gang’s ranks. While some children are attending school others are earning €90 from the gangs. The gangs have such control over Brazil – both on the streets and in the countries prisons – that the then President called a series of attacks that the gangs carried out in 2006 “acts of terrorism”.

One of the main reasons that gangs recruit children is that if they are caught they do not serve adult prison sentences. While it is mostly boys who carry out the more vicious attacks girls play their part in the gangs. They generally start out weighing and packaging cocaine into small packages, they can then move on to record keeping and eventually buying the drugs for the gangs to sell on.

In more recent years the government have tried to clamp down on the gangs with a number of high profile arrests being made (including some police officers). However, the issue still seems to be prevalent throughout the favelas. This year with the Olympics taking place in Rio and the World Cup taking place in various cities around the country, the eyes of the world will be on Brazil – hopefully for all the right reasons.

-Michelle O’Brien
Junior Girl
Girl Museum Inc.

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