Update: Low-income Brazilian Children and their exposure to the Drug Trafficking Network

“The ‘dudes’ put the gun in our hands and we learn the job by shooting” (Marcos, 12 years old)

The employment of children and adolescents in drug trafficking has become a normalized and tragic reality with which Brazil seems to have learned to tolerate.

The substantial lack of political representation in the favelas (slums) generated what some residents call a “necessary evil.” For reasons of personal survival, a mutual and collaborative relationship has been established between the residents of the favelas and the ‘owners of the hill.’[1] On the one hand, the drug lords and their criminal organizations fulfill the role of the state and provide for the maintenance of social order, for the development of a local economy, and for the investments in leisures activities for the residents. On the other hand, the community obeys the code of silence to protect the traffickers from any police intervention. One of the residents once told me that calling the police is the last thing you should do, any crime committed within the community must be solved with the drug lords and the police should always stay out of the slums, consequently within these poor communities “impunity reigns.”

Moreover, the residents provide places for the storage of the illegal substances, and ensure the right environment for the business to happen. This transition that occured in many poor communities: from Brazilian democracy to a parallel “narcocracy,” developed an economic and social structure that (directly or indirectly) involves the residents with the illicit trade of drugs, and it turned to be the only concrete possibility of survival for many, especially for the young.

Why did you start?

E: “My mum works and the money that she gains is not enough to buy what I want, I needed to do it by myself and this is the life I chose” Vapor,14 years old.

E: “ I think I chose this because I grew up within it, I lived with the traffic since I was very young, with my cousin… with my cousin’s friend [...]. Then I started to get involved there with bad company, then I came home late at night, then when I saw I was already within this system” Soldier, 16 years old

Usually, the entrance into this underworld is gradual, it does not happen overnight, and it begins around the age of 8. Some reports have found out that the number of children entering the narcotrafficking network as employees has doubled since 2003, and it tends to increase.

Easy and fast money appears to be the main reason for dropping out of school and exchanging studies for guns and dangerous jobs. They want to economically help their families, and buy what they wish that their parents will never afford. The desire to have money and to be able to consume is correlated to the desire for ‘status,’ which gives them importance and recognition within the society they live in. In a way, it is an escape from social marginalization.

However, more than forty-percent of those kids seek a way out after a few months or years and regret their involvement with the dirty business. The motives behind their willingness to leave behind this dangerous life are related to fear: fear of dying, fear of making a mistake and being punished, fear of armed conflicts, fear of being betrayed, fear of threats. The awareness of death as a daily experience is the reality of all these children. A fear that is actually supported by statistics, as firearm deaths among young men in Rio de Janeiro's favelas increase every year. Indeed, every 1 girl 12 boys - between the age of 15 and 19 - are victims of violent homicides.

Therefore, the social and economic vulnerability given by the political conditions created in these communities deeply influence the future of these children.

Acknowledging the magnitude of the problem is key to encourage the debates within all social classes where various actors of the society (public and private) can reflect on the broad issues that this topic covers. Also, children and adolescents should not only be seen as victims, but also as part of the solution to find a breaking point together. A first concrete objective that Brazilians should propose to their communities is: to avoid increasing the vulnerability of these children and their families.


“Children on the Drug Trade A Case Study of Children in Organised Armed Violence in Rio De Janeiro” by Luke Downdey https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/sites/default/files/documents/3261.pdf

“Rotas de Fuga Lições Aprendidas s no desenvolvimento de metodologias de prevenção e criação de alternativas para adolescentes e jovens no tráfico de drogas” by Fernando Lannes Fernandes Andréa Rodriguez


Article: https://extra.globo.com/casos-de-policia/pesquisa-revela-aumento-de-criancas-entre-10-12-anos-no-trafico-de-drogas-do-rio-22936337.html

[1] Expression used in Portuguese to talk about the drug lords that have a full control (politically, socially, and economically) of the favelas

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