Brazil: Rio to give Street Children "special ID cards" FWD

Tom Boland (
Wed, 18 Nov 1998 21:04:35 -0400
FWD 18 Nov 1998 - Associated Press


Selling peanuts in bars, begging at traffic lights, sniffing
glue or picking pockets, the street children of Rio de Janeiro
often seem to be everywhere.

Nobody knows for sure how many there are. And because few have
even the basic trappings of Brazilian citizenship, like a birth
certificate or an identity card, many die as anonymously as they lived.

"We've always had wildly conflicting numbers about how many children
are on the streets, from as few as 300 to as many as 3 million," Youth
Court Judge Siro Darlan said.

But the mystery may be ending. Darlan is coordinating a new project
involving about 40 psychology students, paramedics, photographers
and other volunteers to take the first serious census of Rio's street

For months, Darlan's volunteers cruised the streets, talking to street
children, taking their pictures and fingerprints and providing 932 of
them with special identity cards.

Darlan believes the ID cards are important because they give the
children something tangible that says they are recognized by society.
The cards have proved so popular that some kids have showed up at
Youth Court asking for them, he said.

Darlan thinks one reason for the demand is that many children believe
recognition by society means protection from the frequent beatings
they suffer at the hands of police and private security guards.

"I feel good with the card, because I feel protected with it," said
13-year-old Marcos Antonio Santos Jesus, fingering the laminated
card that announces him as part of the "assisted street population."

Others are less impressed with their newfound social status.

"Even having it with me, the police still hit us to hurt us," said Alan
Vilela Marques, 11.

Darlan thinks the 932 children registered is pretty close to the actual
number of youngsters living on the streets. But that doesn't mean the
project is over.

Among the census' more surprising findings was that almost all the
street children have at least one living parent, and about two-thirds
have both parents still alive.

"Our goal is to get the family to take responsibility for the kid,"
Darlan said.

The volunteers are now trying to locate the parents and bring them to
the Youth Court for a mandatory series of courses ranging from
personal hygiene and family planning to criminal code provisions and
the government social services available.

To ensure attendance by parents, the authorities will keep their
children in city shelters until they complete the courses, Darlan said.

"It's getting better slowly," said the judge, who conceded that solving
the problem of street kids will not be easy.

Darlan's project was financed entirely by private contributions
because government resources are stretched thin. And Brazil
continues to overlook its poor and outcast -- especially the young.

"It's not changing a law that changes the situation. You have to change
the culture," Darlan said. "And unfortunately, we have a culture where
children are neglected."

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