SAO PAULO, BRAZIL
A CONGRESSIONAL committee investigating the killings of Brazilian youngsters released a landmark report last week demanding the indictment of more than 100 individuals in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo for murder.
The report, which also proposes eight pieces of legislation to protect young people's interests, marks the first time government officials have listed names in connection with the killings, which have drawn international criticism.
Those named include lawyers, former and current police officers, and one state legislator.
The report comes at a sensitive moment for the issue of children's human rights. These rights are protected by a 1990 law that is part of a new, less repressive approach to poor juveniles.
But crimes by both children and adults are keeping tourists away from Rio de Janerio, where Carnival festivities are being held this week. And in the last month, there have been a series of shootings allegedly carried out by teenagers assaulting adults in the streets of Sao Paulo.
In response, many citizens have called for better police protection and criticized the new law for being too lax.
The report is the result of seven months of work, during which the committee heard testimony about threats and specific cases of violence against juveniles. The report details the deaths of 4,611 minors in the last three years, 3,781 of whom were black.
The congressional panel claims to have uncovered the existence of at least 15 organized groups in Rio de Janeiro that have been involved in the killings, and recommends that the Federal Police investigate private security firms. In Brazil, shopkeepers often organize security forces to protect customers from robbery or other crimes increasingly practiced by young people.
At street level, the congressional report apparently had little immediate impact.
"Justice exists only for people with money, justice doesn't exist for the poor," says Rodrigo Marcos da Silva, a teen who earns $10 in a 13-hour workday for watching parked cars. Rodrigo says police both in and out of uniform have threatened his small group of street boys.
"They say the owners of [the coffee shop across the street] are losing customers because we are watching cars here," he explains.
Col. Hermes Bittencourt Cruz, chief of the Metropolitan Command of the Military Police, says beginning tomorrow he will send 80 police officers into the streets of Sao Paulo with the mission of taking vagrant young people home. The main objective, he says, is to protect children from contact with adult drug dealers and other negative influences.
Still, Brazilian juvenile experts say that shantytown homes, replete with alcoholism and violence, cannot compete against the draw of the city lights.
Their biggest goal in fact, says Alda Marco Antonio, Sao Paulo state's juvenile secretary, is to create fun programs that compete with the street, helping to increase young people's self-esteem and ultimately teaching them some of the skills they need to study, find jobs, and raise healthy families.
Public awareness of the plight of street children has grown in the last five years, but some activists wonder whether the current crime wave will damage that.
According to Ms. Marco Antonio, the recent Sao Paulo shootings were carried out by youngsters on crack under the guidance of adults. Crack is a newly arrived drug in Brazil.
Federal deputy Rita Camata, a member of the congressional committee, told the O Estado de Sao Paulo daily newspaper that Brazil's federal, state, and city governments have not moved fast enough to set up local children's defense councils, which are supposed to help reintegrate juvenile offenders into their communities.
This has left an institutional vacuum that partly explains the increase in violent juvenile crime. The report proposes that federal funds going to local governments be conditional on the creation of the defense councils, which were mandated by the 1990 law.