Our partner project O Pequeno Nazareno from Fortaleza in North-East Brazil have hosted a “Change Summit” in the nation’s Capital presenting to Government for a new policy for children at risk of the streets across Brazil. They lead the national network of street child organisations from all 27 states which is at the forefront of guaranteeing street children their rights throughout Brazil. Street Child United are supporting the campaign and attended the summit accompanied by journalist Beth McLoughlin who wrote the following piece:
An NGO which works with boys from the Brazil team in Street Child World Cup has presented the government with their national plan to tackle the problem.
O Pequeno Nazareno united charities, ministers and social workers from across the country in a two-day summit in the nation’s capital Brasilia. Among the proposals they are calling for is the release of data compiled by the government profiling street children in Brazil, an essential move before creating a policy for street children.
A UN report called for Brazil to urgently draw up a national plan for its street children population (which is estimated at 24,000) back in 2009, but it has still not yet happened.
One of the particular challenges facing O Pequeno Nazareno and other civil society groups right now is a bill currently going through Brazil’s parliament to reduce the age of criminal liability, meaning more young people could end up in Brazil’s overcrowded prisons.
It is a fate that could have easily befallen Vinicius, 16. Fed up with being hit by his mother at home in Fortaleza, he started hanging around the streets aged 10. Soon, he would spend the night there, returning home in the mornings, and then frequently not returning at all.
“I took marijuana, solvents and cola (a solvent-based drug),” he says. “I did it to make friends. I robbed to get money for food and drugs.
“The worst thing was being hit by people. A man thought I was going to rob him once, and gave me a black eye. When I was on drugs, I didn’t know what I was doing.”
Support workers from O Pequeno Nazareno found Vinicius, and convinced him to leave the streets and stay in a rural home for former street children, away from the dangers and temptations of Fortaleza city centre.
Now, he works in another NGO in the mornings, and studies at night. He dreams of having a family of his own in the future.
“Before, I didn’t have hope. After the Street Child World Cup, I felt more confident. I don’t have any desire to rob anymore.
“I have no idea if the children who were on the street with me are still alive.”
Without a policy to help people like Vinicius, death or the prison system are certain routes for many.
Though the figure of 10,000 is often cited, the current number of children living on Brazil’s streets is unknown.
“We’ve been presenting proposals and suggestions for 10 years,” said O Pequeno Nazareno’s Adriano Ribeiro. “Now we need to put the pressure on.”
National Secretary for the Promotion of Children’s Rights Angelica Goulart was at the two-day event in Brasilia.
“We need to respond to the needs of street children,” she admitted. Research into the profile of children who end up on the streets, who they are and what drives them there, has been conducted, but there is as yet no date for the information to be released.
A combination of fragile family structures, poor access to services such as social assistance and the dominance of organised crime in many parts of Brazil leaves vulnerable young people in danger of being exploited by criminal gangs.
Many escape to the streets to get away from the threat of gangs who control the areas where they live.
“People threatened to kill me just because I looked at them in my old neighbourhood,” Vinicius explained. “Now, I just go straight from work to college to my home.”
Unicef is one of the groups who has added their voice to those opposing the change in the law regarding the age at which under 18s will be sent to prison if they are found guilty of crimes.
“They want to change the constitution, and bring down the age, but this will just make our prisons even more overcrowded. Organised crime groups will target younger and younger people,” Mrs Goulart added.
O Pequeno Nazareno has also created working groups with ministers from different departments to see how best civil society can help to create a more unified approach towards children at risk of living on the streets.
280 former street children representing every state in Brazil were at the event in Brasilia, which represented the work of more than 280 charities and more than 800 social workers who work with street children nationwide.
“When ever people come across me they laugh. It seems like my mouth is zipped because they talk for us. I wish they could give us a chance to talk for ourselves.”
“No child should have to live on the streets and I fully endorse this campaign giving street children a voice to claim their rights”
“It was a privilege to be invited to the launch of the Street Child World Cup at Downing Street. It gives children a voice through football, sales a platform to express their rights and celebrate their abilities – I’m proud to add my support.”