Jesus called them to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.”- Luke 18:16
The FIFA World Cup began last week and consequently Brazil has been in the media spotlight for the past few weeks. There were some reports circulating in the social media that homeless children are being killed in some cities in the Northeast of Brazil. One particular news article in a famous UK newspaper (the actual name of the journal is not relevant to this post) reported that in numerous Brazilian cities prepubescent homeless girls were prostituting themselves for food. When they cannot get money for food, the homeless children resort to glue sniffing to numb their hunger pangs. The report contains many appalling stories of abuse and violence that the children face daily. In another report, there were claims that many as six thousand children are being killed by off-duty policemen hired by the local businesses. I cannot comment on the veracity of the report because I do not work in that particular city. However, I have my doubts. We work closely with many social agencies including the human rights agencies and such news, even if it occurred in another cities, would be brought to our knowledge.
Our children here sniff paint thinner and use hard drugs. They can be as young as ten and so far we have no reason to believe that any of them prostitute themselves. We also know that no one uses drugs to forget their hunger pangs. Most of the time the children are given food by the local restaurants and sometimes the children get so much food that they waste it. The news media tries to sensationalize something that is doubtful and, if it is true, it is perhaps isolated. They are trying to exploit a sad situation and sell fabricated stories. The question is why do they need to go to such extent. Isn’t the fact that there are homeless children disturbing enough? Is this just a symptom of a systemic problem of society in which people will only respond to a certain situation when it is extreme and depraved?
Yesterday afternoon the city was more agitated than usual because of a Brazilian game. Offices closed early and even the banks closed after lunch. Everyone was rushing home to catch the game at 4 p.m. We were doing our regular rounds in the streets and saw some of the children walking towards the center where there is a large screen on which the games are going to televised live. They were all sniffing paint thinner. We noticed that one of the boys was walking a little strange. We asked him what happened and he said that he dislocated his arm and possibly broke something. He was in pain but claimed that it was getting better. We insisted that he needed to go to the doctor but he refused. We are not allowed to take him to the hospital by force; only his parents can do this. The boy’s name is Diogo (10 years) and he recently came to the streets. His older brothers, Daniel (11 years) and Dreyson (12 years) have been in the streets for a few months. Their parents never once came to look for them. We strongly doubt that his parents are going to take him to the hospital. We were greatly disturbed and we kept insisting that he needed to go to the doctor but it was pointless. He was too young to understand anything that was happening to him. Yet he was in the streets. His brothers have no idea that their brother is seriously hurt. They were too high on thinner and too excited about the upcoming soccer game. They were not going to listen to us today. The World Cup is on their mind. We left them a little sad and disturbed.
We decided to go to another area where some of the children usual stay and found Vinicius and his sister, Ana Paula. These children are new to the streets. We met them about a month ago. Their mother is a squatter in one of the abandoned buildings. We are not certain but their mother gives us the impression that she is mentally challenged. She does not seem to be aware of her surroundings most of the time. Vinicius and his sister spend the whole day in the streets unsupervised. Vinicius is 10 years and his sister is only 7. Today, it was particularly worse. Their younger siblings were with them and one was two and the other was three and their mother was no where to be found. Vinicius was responsible for the three and he has no clue what he was supposed to do for them. He wanted to play with me but I had to refuse. His younger sister soiled her pants and needed to be changed. She was not wearing a diaper. The poor girl was crying. The mother was not around. The other children did know what to do and we are not allowed to do anything. We stood there with the children and waited. It was a sad scene but we were helpless. There is really nothing out there for these children that is going to make their lives better. If they were taken away from their mother, they might be separated from each other. They would not understand why they cannot be with their mother. We are not sure that the mother would understand either.
This was our day today. It was disturbing and sad. We don’t need to sensationalize the harsh reality of these children. Children of all ages should not be in the streets but they are here. We thought the numbers would decrease during the World Cup but it seems to have increased. There are more children below 13 years. They are surrounded by drugs and violence. They are vulnerable to all kinds of evil. They are not going hungry nor are they prostituting themselves but they are abandoned. I think this alone is disturbing and we don’t need to sensationalize anything.